O'Hare retail makeover needs more

March 02, 2012 |
Rob Cassidy

For long-suffering air travelers who come through Chicago's O'Hare International, some good news: the city is finally upgrading the retail and passenger amenities with a $26 million improvement to Terminal 5, the international terminal. See the article in today's Chicago Tribune "Grand designs in store for bustling O'Hare" by Naomi Nix.

For a supposedly "international" airport, O'Hare is a joke when compared to truly global hubs like Germany's Frankfurt or France's Charles de Gaulle. Retail developer Westfield has been brought in to upgrade concessions, and there's talk of an "urban garden" - an oasis for weary travelers - and a short-stay hotel for those who have a long layover to catch a nap and a shower. These kinds of amenities are long overdue at O'Hare.

Equally overdue is multilanguage signage. How O'Hare (and, for that matter, Midway) can call itself an "international" airport is beyond me, when the only language on directional signs is English.

As a New York transplant who has been proud to call Chicago home for nearly four decades, I've enjoyed seeing the "internationalization" of Chicago that occurred under Richie Daley, a trend that is further validated with the NATO/G8 summit coming here this spring.

But it's an embarrassment to consider what international visitors must think of us when they see only English-language signage welcoming them and guiding them through the maze that is O'Hare.

Maybe Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino and Mayor Emanuel can find a few bucks in that $26 million to put up some wayfinding signs in Spanish, Polish, Japanese, Mandarin, French, and German. BD+C

Rob Cassidy | Building Team Blog

Robert Cassidy is Executive Editor of Building Design+Construction. A city planner, he is the author of several books, including “Livable Cities,” and was a co-founder of the Friends of the Chicago River.

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