The entire development of Dearborn Park is only two Chicago blocks wide* from east to west, and extends no more than six blocks in length from north to south. Each phase spans three blocks in length, being physically separated from one another by Roosevelt Road, formerly an elevated expressway ramp which was brought down to an at-grade boulevard at the start of the second phase. Taken together, the two phases fit neatly into an envelope bounded by the existing Chicago Street grid. Dearborn One was begun in 1974. With over 1,200 residential units and a series of consistent-looking buildings with unadorned Modernist facades, the appearance of Dearborn One today is that of a neatly-planned, low-rise Olympic Village at the center, surrounded by 70s-style high-rises.
Because its development occurred at a time when all of the land surrounding the site was either railroad yards or the as-of-yet unrenovated factories and warehouses of Printer’s Row, the cautiousness of its developers and planners is reflected in its design. In some respects, this part of the neighborhood has the quality of being a walled, though porous fortress. It has one means of entrance and egress, at the intersection of State and Ninth Streets. The State Street edge is formed by two and three story townhouses behind landscaping and fences. As if guarding this entrance, two high-rise buildings — one of which is a high-rise for the elderly — flank the entranceway from State Street into the development area. Wrought iron-fencing and masonry buffers such as brick walls and the windowed sides of the buildings surround the rest of the site. In this sense, one can imagine how this gives a total reassurance of security which would have offered to early skeptics in its overall design. Dearborn Two, began its construction in 1989. In contrast to the first phase, Dearborn Two is distinguished by being entirely low-rise and gardenlike, with a mixture of single family houses, townhouses, and stacked townhouse flats.
With an edge at Roosevelt Road for its northern boundary, it extends south for three city blocks to 15th Street. Although it too has one vehicular entrance point from State Street at 14th Street, the boundaries of the development are softer. Rows of new, single family detached houses front State Street with no more than a low ornamental railing and electronically locked gate into each front yard. The organization of the site is set by two internal streets running the length of the project area, and parallel to the city streets outside of its boundaries. The second phase, which shows a fuller evolution of the ideas used in the first will be the principal focus for this discussion hereafter. The area of Dearborn Two is approximately 27 acres. At both its northern and southern ends are open parks. The north park has the feel of an open village green. It is the setting for a public elementary school and a playground at its northern edge, and is edged by a row of trees, overlooked by houses from three sides. Roosevelt Road which is the boundary of the site to the northernmost side to the “green”, is conveniently masked by the placement of the school, while also providing a service area behind the school, up against the roadway. The south park is more formal, with a playground and a walkway system linking the residential clusters surrounding it on three sides. At the southern end, in stark contrast to the new development surrounding it, the park is visually unbounded and opens onto a figurative no-man’s land of the undeveloped “south” South Loop and beyond. Both the unclosed southern end, and the poised alignment of interior streets to the theoretically-connectable city grid, are reminders that the potential for further development into the southern “frontier” beyond the park, as well as the possibilities for making connections to the rest of the city, are future scenarios for development. Several housing types exist within Dearborn Two, indicative both of the variegated target markets and of the influence of separate development companies which have built here. These housing types range from rows of townhouses and walk-up condominiums flats, to variations on the single family detached house. All of the units are for-sale properties — there are no rental units built as such — and several, if not all of the styles built, represent somewhat innovative prototypes for residential buildings.