Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Public Consultation

For those of you not living in Montreal, the hot topic of the last week has been the mayors decision to rename Parc Avenue along with Bleury Street to Robert Bourassa Avenue. Many people are furious for a variety of reasons. Some are upset because they feel Parc is an integral part of the collective memory. Some are upset because another avenue is being renamed for a politician. And others are unhappy because they don't feel Mr. Bourassa was deserving enough to have a major thoroughfare named after of him. But the biggest reason people are upset is because the mayor made the decision without public consultation. He did not consult the general public, nor the local community leaders, nor the local elected officials. He decided it within his administration then announced it to the public as a fait-au-compli.

While I completely agree with this last point, I also feel a tinge of guilt. You see, seven years ago I was on the other side of the coin. One day my supervisors came up to me and asked if I was interested in working on the New Chicago Bears Stadium. Growing up as a Bears fan, it was a dream come true. The only thing that could top it would be a worlds tallest building or work on Wrigley Field. It was very beginning stages so I could have the chance to see the building from start to finish.

As with other projects, it is not always in the best interest of the project for the public to know about it until the development reaches a certain point. Many times the goal is to have a well thought-out project before it goes under the microscope of public scrutiny. While other times it is to advance a project to a point so that the public could not prevent or distort the project from being built. Sometimes this is done for the developers financial gain, and sometimes it is done to prevent a good project from being designed by committee. A perfect example of this is the site of the World Trade Center. Daniel Libeskind designed a wonderful soaring building that has now been completely redesigned by David Childs and pressures from every possible person connected to it. It will still be a good building, but quite likely not a great building.

This was the worry with the Adaptive Reuse of Soldier Field. The concept and design of the project were extremely bold. Gutting a classical lakefront landmark and placing an ultra-modern stadium situated in and spilling over the existing facades. The project was quietly developed over a couple years, then when it was getting close to ready for construction, it was opened for some public hearings. But the mayor and his connections helped get the project approved with some additional funding. Many in the public were furious, particularly those who did not like the mayor to start with. The project went through the wringer of public opinion only after it had been approved and started construction. It was called the "mistake by the lake" and an ultra modern toilet bowl. People were generally polarized as either loving it or hating it. Even to this day.

Personnally, I'm not proud of that aspect of the project. Though I had no part in ramming it through the approval process, I did keep my mouth shut about it for a couple years. Why? I felt it was a great project. Something the city would be proud of. A better stadium than any other in the league. Plus it was so unique with an unconventional layout and design. And I still feel very strong it is a great building. Not only for the spectators, but also the guy walking or driving alongside it.

After it opened, the camps were still divided. But it seemed that many, especially the spectators, liked the new stadium. Though the one thing that remained and remains a sore point with so many was the lack of public consultation. In very rare instances, something good can come of it, but for the most part the public must be able to have their voices heard. Who knows how many more people would like the project had they not felt it was shuffled in behind their backs?


Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to write you about the new stadium. The hubby and I got a chance to see it close up for the first time a few weeks back with some of your family, and we loved it. It didn't lose the feel of the original, and yet felt very modern as well. The views of both the field and the city are breathtaking. We were 5 rows from the top of the stadium, and the fans are every bit as ardent there as they are near the field. The climb up was worthy of Walter Payton's brutal running hill (on this old and out of shape climber), but I loved it. I had been to the previous stadium, and I think your design team did a great job. I love that every single seat in the place has an unobstructed view. Our seats were great, even at that height, the company awesome, and the Bears were victorious. Shouts of "Superbowl! Superbowl!" echoed through the walking tunnels on our way out. Just a great experience, and I must commend you on your part in it.

Anonymous said...

It is a great sightline venue from the fans point of view. Without the demands of fitting the modern design within the existing structure that proximity to the field would not have designed.
Two design flaws are the difficult access to those high seats and most of the restrooms are not easily accessible. I also wish we had a retractable cover to facilitate the big NCAA and Superbowl type of events.
That said, how can I complain when the family's mark has been made on the project. Our name is forever on the cornerstone. It is a great source of joy for me personaly when I tell others of your role in the project.

Da Elder