AIA Chicago Advocacy Update: Damen Silos

Photo: Block Club Chicago

Damen Silos, a unique, 23.4-acre State-owned property at a critical point along the South Branch of the Chicago River, has been vacant since 1977. Given its potential to reactivate the South Branch between Pilsen and McKinley Park, several organizations, as well as AIA Chicago members, are calling for the site to be preserved and reimagined.  

Over the past year and a half, AIA Chicago’s Advocacy Committee has developed a new Advocacy Action Matrix to help us assess, consider, and determine how the Chapter can best amplify critical issues of preservation, climate action, and equity aligned with our Strategic Plan and values. With other local organizations leading the way on this issue, the Advocacy Committee has used the Matrix to rank the Damen Silos issue as a Tier Three issue. This means the Chapter is amplifying the issue among our membership.  

Important concerns have been raised by members and other environmental, land use, and neighborhood-based organizations regarding the redevelopment of this publicly owned property without any community engagement. Formerly industrial river frontage can be an asset to a healthy community and city in ways not imagined in the past, but a transparent and participatory public engagement process must take place to explore the site’s potential. Can this property, vacant for almost 45 years, serve a higher use that provides enduring value to its neighbors while allaying concerns about citizen health and long-term resiliency? We believe so.  

According to a November 7, 2022 story in Block Club Chicago, the site is under contract for sale by the State of Illinois to asphalt producer MAT Limited Partnerships, which is planning to demolish the old silos and construct a new headquarters. MAT also has a plant in McKinley Park which was recently the site of a protest by its neighbors who say it is polluting the community, a charge the company denies, as reported by Block Club Chicago on October 20, 2022. 

AIA Chicago member Philip Enquist, FAIA, wrote an opinion piece published in the Chicago Sun-Times on November 13, 2022. He and 11 other architects started a petition last week “from the Chicago architecture community concerning the future of the Damen Silos site” to “urge the State to withdraw from the sale of this land and to give the communities of McKinley Park, Pilsen, and Bridgeport the right to decide its future for themselves.” We invite you to read it and consider adding your name

If you are interested in advocating for action with AIA Chicago, please let us know at membervoices@aiachicago.org. We want to hear from you so that together we can positively impact the region. We look forward to working with you on issues that impact the built environment and public policy in Chicago and other local municipalities. 

Arathi Gowda, AIA, AICP 
AIA Chicago Board of Directors, VP of Advocacy (2022)  

Natalie Hicks, AIA 
AIA Chicago Board of Directors, VP of Advocacy (2023 slate candidate)   

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