Ungoverned Infrastructure; Unplanned Civil Engineering

I’ve stumbled across a great case for infrastructure studies: Chicago’s Pedway.

Against the order of the grid city of Chicago, the disorderly pedway was a surprisingly organic and inconsistent “vision” of civil engineering with no grand oversight or centralized control mechanism to insure maintenance, cleanliness, and so on. It was fascinating, and because a number of major metropolitan areas have them, comparisons for sake of research would be plentiful. This is an untapped case with tons of potential.


Pedways are pedestrian walkways and they are both above ground and below; in Chicago’s case, it is a combination of the two. Here’s the upshot for us:

  • there is no overarching vision for this walkway infrastructure (and few accurate maps); 
  • there is no basic understanding of the total cost of this;
  • it is still being developed;
  • it is privately produced and owned (in sections) but explicitly designed for the public;
  • it is not goverened other than in approximately 30 meter sections (which mirror, often, the building above or below);
  • it is sectioned by revolving doors (so that the pedway does not just become a massive wind tunnel);
  • it is inconsistently developed over time (some sections are less than a year old while others are decades old);
  • nobody owns it, although it is maintained in sections, but this means that there is nobody to “ask” if you want to film it; 
  • they connect elevated train stops, but with no apparent logic;
  • legal codes within the walkway are not fully deveoped or understood;
  • and, despite many more oddities, it is inconsistently available for public use, meaning that two contiguous sections might be open during different periods of the day…

So, you can go on tours, which span from artistic and philosophical in nature to practical and even humorous in nature (I took this tour; Margaret Hicks is an ex-comedian who gives a great tour through “Chicago Elevated”). Here is a description of the “loose infrastructure” in Chicago:

Chicago’s Pedway, a series of heated walkways, passages and tunnels, serve as the backdrop for an amusing and enlightening tour of some of the hot-spots (or a least warm-spots) of downtown Chicago.  The tour focuses on interesting anecdotes and tales about some of the great buildings downtown, but it’s also a study of the city underneath the city. The Pedway is a  strange and wonderful place and adds so much to the city’s personality. These are great tours for Chicagoans who want to learn more about the city and for tourists who want a full Chicago experience without ever going outside.

Here are some pictures from my experience in the “loose infrastructure” of Chicago’s Pedway


3 thoughts on “Ungoverned Infrastructure; Unplanned Civil Engineering

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  2. Pingback: Uncommon Walking Tour of Bristol | Installing (Social) Order

  3. Indeed — their overlapping physical and conceptual logics is what makes them such an interesting set of comparisons because they are, in a literal sense, so juxtaposed they are woven into one another.


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