Projects Leveraging Public/Private Synergies

    The Bloomingdale freight rail line shut down during the 1990s, leaving behind a 2.7-mile (4 km) elevated corridor running through the northwest side of Chicago. Trees and flowers sprouted through the railroad ties, and area residents began scrambling up the tall concrete embankments to hike the abandoned route. Then neighbors organized to galvanize the city’s stalled rails-to-trails project. Their efforts helped bring in federal and nonprofit resources to create a bike/pedestrian path twice the length of New York City’s High Line, with new community-serving parks alongside.

    Although not all public/private partnerships involve such strong grassroots involvement, the following ten projects—all built during the past five years—showcase a variety of creative approaches to bringing the public and private sectors together to provide sorely needed infrastructure, economic revitalization, transit-oriented housing, and community resources. Projects include spaces where tech entrepreneurs can collaborate, two massive hospitals, mixed-use developments that incorporate a library and a fire station, and a theater for touring Broadway shows.

    1. The 606
    Chicago, Illinois
    For years, the city of Chicago sought a way to turn the Bloomingdale Line’s former elevated rail corridor into open space for the four adjacent neighborhoods, one of which had the city’s least amount of open space per capita. Area residents formed the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail and reached out to the local office of the nonprofit organization Trust for Public Lands, which helped involve municipal agencies and civic groups, gather extensive public input on the design, and obtain federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds to convert the corridor for bicycle and pedestrian use. City agencies and private donors contributed funds as well.

    Brooklyn, New York–based Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates added variety to the flat, 14-foot-wide (4 m) trail by reshaping the topography, creating lower and higher points, and installing a meandering two-lane bicycle path flanked by jogging trails. Multiple wide ramps along the 2.7-mile (4 km) length enhance access, and new parks at key junctures accommodate uses such as a playground, a dog run, a garden, and an observatory. Named for the first three digits of the zip codes that the neighborhoods share, the trail opened in 2015.

    2. Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building
    Boston, Massachusetts
    Dudley Square, the commercial heart of Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, went into decline in the 1960s. In the late 1980s, the elevated rail line serving the square was dismantled, but Dudley Station remained a major bus transfer point. The city brought in Sasaki of Watertown, Massachusetts, and Delft, Netherlands–based Mecanoo to transform the historic Ferdinand Furniture Building across from the station. The project grew to incorporate the adjacent Curtis and Waterman buildings, also constructed in the late 19th century. The design team restored the facades and linked the three buildings with curving walls of textured brick.

    Completed in 2015, the new complex houses the headquarters of Boston Public Schools, with multiple floors open to the public, including shops and restaurants on the first floor, meeting space on the sixth floor, and a roof terrace. The second floor includes a startup incubator created through a public/private partnership with the city and the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based nonprofit Venture Café Foundation. Funding came from grants from the city and from federal New Markets Tax Credits provided through a variety of sources.

    3. Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM)
    Montreal, Quebec, Canada
    The Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM) is billed as the largest public/private partnership project in Canadian history. The university-affiliated teaching hospital, a not-for-profit corporation largely funded by taxpayers, partnered with the Collectif Santé Montréal consortium to realize the complex, which spans two city blocks and incorporates universal design principles throughout. To break up the visual mass, the building is configured as two volumes—a six-story tower and a 22-story tower—connected by an aerial passage.

    Below grade, the facility connects to a subway station. The campus includes large-scale public art and incorporates historic artifacts: the reconstructed steeple of an abandoned church, erected in 1865, and two walls of a house built in 1871, both of which previously occupied the site. Designed by the local offices of CannonDesign and NEUF Architect(e)s, the first phase was completed in 2017. The second phase, slated for completion in 2021, includes a conference center, offices, ambulatory care spaces, and additional parking.

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