WHEREAS, The City has determined that it is useful, desirable and necessary that the City acquire for fair market value those four certain parcels of real property located in the vicinity of Midway Airport [including] Midway Parcel 150, commonly known as 5600 – 5608 West 63rd Street…The Parcels are being acquired by the City for public purpose and use, namely, as a Runway Protection Zone or a Runway Safety Area, or both, as recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”)…It is hereby determined and declared that it is useful, desirable and necessary that the City acquire the Parcels for public purpose and use in furtherance of the City’s ownership and operation of Midway Airport…If the Corporation Counsel is unable to agree with the owner(s) of a Parcel on the purchase price…then the Corporation Counsel may institute and prosecute condemnation proceedings in the name of and on behalf of the City for the purpose of acquiring fee simple title to the Parcel under the City’s power of eminent domain.
Did you get all that?
Let me reparse it: the city wants to buy up this building and tear it down.
I am, by my nature, a conservative person, in the purest sense of the word: I believe in conserving things. I believe in using what you have, instead of throwing it out. I believe in adapting, repairing, restoring, re-using. I abhor the waste of physical resources.
When charged with the awesome responsibility of managing a resource as vast as Midway Airport, however, people have an unfortunate tendency to think in grandiose terms. Plans are made by drawing on maps, made from a God’s-eye perspective, rather than from the point of view of persons on the ground. If the plan’s not big enough, just move some lines, gobble up a little more land. In the so-called City of Big Shoulders, virtually any scheme can be superficially justified by trotting out Daniel Burnham’s threadbare aphorism about how one should “make no little plans”.
Or maybe I’m looking at it backwards; perhaps this is petty bureaucracy run amuck, an old-fashioned case of government CYA – following the letter of FAA standards, no matter what, because if you don’t, someone could come around pointing a finger at you.
Regardless, here is a plan that has certainly stirred my soul, though not for the better.
Midway Airport, like it or not, is located in the city. Not even in the suburbs, but in the city – right in the middle of it. It is landlocked. And like all such institutions, it has a civic responsibility to be a good citizen, to work with what it’s got and work with its neighborhood, rather than tossing it out or grabbing up more.
Unleashing the threat of eminent domain upon one’s neighbors, regardless of what the FAA recommends, is not being a good neighbor.
The author of the original letter also mentions a fear that a terror attack could be unleashed on the nearby National Guard station from the building’s upper windows. I am unable to source this comment; however, if it is true, it is absolutely the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Even if these hypothetical terrorists actually gave a crap about Midway Airport (hint: they don’t, especially not with internationally famous O’Hare right up the road), why on earth would they try to attack an obscure National Guard post that nobody can even knows is there? These would have to be the most ineffectual terrorists ever. Even if somebody did want to blow the place up, what’s to stop them from just lobbing some grenades over the fence instead?
This is the kind of panic-stricken “thinking” that prevailed in the days after 9/11, when people talked about making skyscrapers airplane-proof. You don’t make buildings airplane-proof; you prevent planes from flying into buildings. And you don’t tear down the neighborhood to protect it; you adapt your behavior to avoid endangering it.