By John Ruberry
“And it starts up north from Hollywood, water on the driving side
Concrete mountains rearing up, throwing shadows just about five
Sometimes you can smell the green if your mind is feeling fine
There ain’t no finer place to be, than running Lake Shore Drive
And there’s no peace of mind, or place you see, than riding on Lake Shore Drive.”
Aliotta-Haynes-Jeremiah, “Lake Shore Drive.”
As I’ve stated many times before Chicago is a city in decline. Decades of rampant corruption and fiscal malfeasance, particularly with woefully unfunded public worker pension plans in regards to the latter, have placed Chicago in a bankrupty-in-name only status. The bleak future is now. Chicago can’t keep kicking the can down the road, whether that road is Michigan Avenue or Lake Shore Drive.
Chicago’s woke mayor, Lori Lightfoot, who is halfway into her first term, has made Chicago’s situation worse with her overreaching lockdown response to COVID-19 and her feeble response to two rounds of summer rioting in 2020. The city’s murder rate is high. The quality of education provided by Chicago Public Schools is low and has gotten worse because the Chicago Teachers Union keeps pushing more convenient, for the teachers of course, remote learning lessons.
Politicians, particularly liberals, are adept at adopting symbols, as author Tom Clancy pointed out to Bill O’Reilly in an interview shortly after the 9/11 attacks. “The general difference between conservatives and liberals is that liberals like pretty pictures and conservatives like to build bridges that people can drive across,” Clancy said to O’Reilly. “And conservatives are indeed conservative because if the bridge falls down then people die, whereas the liberals figure, we can always build a nice memorial and make people forget it ever happened and was our fault. They’re very good at making people forget it was their fault.”
Okay, no bridges have collapsed in decline-and-fall Chicago. But some City Council members are lining up behind a proposal to rename Lake Shore Drive for Chicago’s first non-indigenous resident, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable. He opened a trading post at the mouth of the Chicago River at Lake Michigan around 1790.
About the Chicago City Council: Since 1973 over thirty-five of its members have been sentenced to federal prison.
Little is known about DuSable although it’s believed he was born in Haiti around 1750. In 1800 he sold his home and the land around it; the property ended up in the hands of John Kinzie, the first recorded European-American to live in what is now America’s third-largest city. One of Chicago’s first streets was named for him, but DuSable was forgotten, wrongly in my opinion, for many years. But his legacy caught up and surpassed Kinzie’s. There is the DuSable Museum of African American History on the city’s South Side, DuSable High School, a DuSable Park near the site of his former home, and a bust of DuSable on Michigan Avenue, even though because there are no known contemporary renderings of DuSable–no one knows what he looked like. Oh yeah, we were talking about bridges. The Michigan Avenue Bridge downtown was renamed for DuSable in 2010.
There are some urban streets that are iconic. Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, Fifth Avenue in New York, and Bourbon Street in New Orleans. And Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.
Lake Shore Drive–it has had that name since 1946–is a fantastic driving road. Fifth Avenue, for instance, is a better walking street. Chicago’s early leaders, post-Kinzie, made the wise decision to keep the Lake Michigan waterfront open, and most of it is park land–with Lake Shore Drive. When I have out-of-town guests I always make a point of taking them on a trip up and down Lake Shore Drive. The response I usually receive is from them, “I had no idea Chicago was so beautiful!”
Of course if the road is renamed for DuSable, the views will be just as pretty and Lake Michigan will be equally blue. But Lake Shore Drive is in essence a brand name. An iconic one. Why mess with that?
The Chicago Tribune editorial board has suggested a sound alternative–renaming Millennium Park, which abuts Lake Shore Drive, for DuSable and merging it with DuSable Park. Mayor Lightfoot has a good idea too, renaming the Chicago Riverwalk, which arguably has no name, for DuSable. But Lightfoot has gained, many say earned, a lot of enemies in her short time as mayor. They oppose the Lightfoot’s proposal because of their dislike for her. Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass, the only reason in my opinion to subscribe to that paper, offers a superb knockdown of the Lake Shore Drive renaming proposal, which brings up many of the same points I have mentioned. Also, Kass, as I have done, has excoriated Lightfoot’s woke Chicago Monuments Project, which has placed, among other items, five Abraham Lincoln statues “under review.” Yep, right here in the Land of Lincoln.
Destroying symbols is important to liberals too.
Those against the renaming Lake Shore Drive find themselves in a trap. In this cancel culture environment opponents of DuSable Drive will be called racist by the virtue signalers–even though they are not. Sears Tower, when it opened four decades ago, was the tallest building in the world. The naming rights of it were purchased by a British firm and it’s official name is now the Willis Tower.
No one I know–and I have a large circle of relatives, friends, and acquaintances–calls this iconic structure anything but the Sears Tower. No one. A DuSable Drive faces the same fate. Except nobody has ever called a Willis Tower-denier a racist.
I’m with the Tribune and Lightfoot on this controversy. Rename Millennium Park, which has only been open since 2004–because of delays and cost overruns it opened well after the millennium began–for DuSable. And rename the Riverwalk too for DuSable. It’s another relatively new city attraction, it opened in stages beginning in 2001.
And I have my own idea. The former Meigs Field, a small lakefront airport abruptly closed by the midwife of Chicago’s pension crisis, Richard M. Daley, is now known as Northerly Island Park. I suspect that Daley wanted that space named for him. If Millenium Park keeps its moniker–then rename Northerly Island Park for DuSable. Call it DuSable South–a twin of the other park.
Don’t mess with success Chicago. But the city, like the state of Illinois, has a habit of making bad decisions. Call it tradition.
John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.