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A magnificent new book, “Chicago, From the Sky: A Region Transformed” by Lawrence Okrent, has a short but significant section on Evanston. Mr. Okrent is an urban planner, a planning consultant and an articulate, measured voice heard for many years in Evanston. A long-time Evanston resident with a master’s degree from Northwestern University, he is a Chicago-based urban planning and zoning consultant who, after 10 years of affiliation with the architects Skidmore Owigs & Merrill, established his own practice in 1979.
He was, first, the planning consultant on the McDougal Littell building on the south side of Church Street immediately west of the train embankment. Mr. Okrent followed this with consulting on the Church Street Plaza movie theater/commercial and residential complex. Most recently he was the planner for the Mather Foundation who recommended the old Georgian Hotel be torn down, as it could not be rehabilitated and stood in the way of intelligent planning.
As part of his own practice, Mr. Okrent flew over and photographed much of the Chicago metropolitan area. The work included a short but significant section of Evanston and shows how, after the 1960s, when the City set aside its long-held eight-story height limit, development produced a highly compact, pedestrian-friendly city center. The recent aerial photo clearly shows the richly varied architecture of the well-defined downtown standing opposite the leafy residential neighborhoods.
The downtown development is beautifully illustrated in four partial photos the author took in 1985, 1997, 2002 and 2009 that chronicle development from the first two high rises (the bank and the Rotary buildings) through the new CTA station; from the Church Street Plaza to the most recent Sherman Plaza.
This is not only a highly informative historical document. It is also a most beautiful book, favorably reviewed on Channel 11, as well as by Blair Kamin, architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune.