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Lee Bey

African American writer and architectural critic Lee Bey was born on October 20, 1965 in Chicago, Illinois. Bey attended Lindbloom Technical High School. When Bey was fifteen years old, his father passed away. This became a turning point in his life, and he eventually transferred to Chicago Vocational School where he prepared for a career as a printing press operator. Motivated by a teacher’s compliment about his writing, Bey decided to become a journalist.

Bey attended Chicago State University, where he worked under academic advisor Donda West and poet, author and Third World Press publisher, Haki Madhubuti. He then transferred to Columbia College’s journalism department. After graduation, Bey began his professional career as a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago. He moved on to the Daily Southtown in 1990, and two years later became a general assignment reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. By 1997, Bey had become one of Chicago’s foremost architectural critics alongside the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin, writing about issues of architecture and urban planning in his weekly column for the Sun-Times. He held this position until 2001, when he was selected as Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning and Design for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Under Daley, Bey became involved in a variety of issues that ranged from housing developments to architectural preservation.

Bey is an outspoken advocate of “new urbanism,” the style of metropolitan development that favors integrated commercial and residential buildings, a grid-style layout, and a friendly, inviting design. Bey has also written regularly about various historical Chicago architectural sites on his website, He has presented before the American Institute of Architects, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Historical Society, and appeared on television programs including Chicago Tonight and Fox News Chicago. He has written for various architectural publications, including Dwell and Architectural Record, has contributed to Chicago Architecture: History, Revisions, Alternatives, Visionary Chicago Architecture and 20th Century Chicago: 100 Years, 100 Voices.

Bey stepped down as Director of Media and Government Affairs for the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill on December 29, 2006 to pursue personal interests like completing his book, doing some consulting and working on photography and writing assignments. On August 1, 2007, Bey became the first African American Executive Director of the Chicago Central Area Committee, an influential, fifty-year-old civic organization composed of about seventy-five of Chicago’s most prominent downtown businessmen who are concerned with the architecture, urban planning, transportation and economic viability of the Loop. He also teaches an architecture and politics class at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Bey was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 24, 2006.

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Robert Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School

James Madison Elementary School

Charles P. Caldwell Elementary School

Chicago State University

Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Lindbloom Technical High School

Columbia College Chicago

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Read It Like You Hate Me.

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Pizza (Deep Dish)

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Architecture critic Lee Bey (1965 - ) has written articles for the Daily Southtown and Chicago Sun-Times. He is the former Chicago Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning and Design and was Director of Media and Governmental Affairs for the architectural firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.


City News Bureau of Chicago

Chicago Sun-Times

Southtown Economist

Chicago Mayor's Office

Skidmore Owings & Merrill

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<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Lee Bey's interview, session 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Lee Bey lists his favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Lee Bey describes his childhood in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Lee Bey describes his parents' childhoods</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Lee Bey describes his maternal grandparents</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Lee Bey describes his paternal grandparents</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Lee Bey describes his education in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Lee Bey remembers the death of his father</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Lee Bey recalls transferring to Chicago Vocational High School</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Lee Bey remembers his introduction to journalism</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Lee Bey remembers attending Chicago State University</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Lee Bey describes the sights and smells of his childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Lee Bey remembers admiring the architecture of Chicago with his father</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Lee Bey describes the impact of his father's death</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Lee Bey describes his mother's occupation</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Lee Bey recalls his sense of responsibility upon his father's death</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Lee Bey remembers his admiration of Mayor Harold Washington</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Lee Bey recalls racist propaganda against Harold Washington</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Lee Bey remembers Harold Washington speaking at his high school graduation</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Lee Bey remembers his college newspaper advisor, Donda West</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Lee Bey remembers his decision to transfer to Columbia College</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Lee Bey describes his mentors in college</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Lee Bey remembers working at City News Bureau of Chicago</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Lee Bey describes the history of the City News Bureau of Chicago</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Lee Bey describes what he learned at the City News Bureau of Chicago</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Lee Bey recalls his progression at the City News Bureau of Chicago</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Lee Bey remembers his internship at the Chicago Sun-Times</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Lee Bey recalls how he joined the staff of the Southtown Economist newspaper</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Lee Bey remembers meeting his wife, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Lee Bey remembers meeting his wife, pt.2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Lee Bey reflects upon the aftermath of Harold Washington's death</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Lee Bey remembers his return to the Chicago Sun-Times</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Lee Bey recalls learning of the statutory rape accusations against Mel Reynolds</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Lee Bey talks about being limited as an African American in the newsroom</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Lee Bey remembers investigating Mel Reynolds' statutory rape allegations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Lee Bey remembers covering the murder of James Jordan, Sr.</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Lee Bey describes the trial of Mel Reynolds</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Lee Bey describes the emotional impact of the Mel Reynolds story</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Lee Bey remembers becoming the Chicago Sun-Times architecture critic</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Lee Bey recalls being chosen as an editorial columnist because of his race</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Lee Bey remembers writing about Girl X in Cabrini-Green Homes</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Lee Bey explains the issues of race he hoped to reveal by reporting on Girl X</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Lee Bey describes his emotional response to writing about child abuse</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Lee Bey explains why he started writing about architecture</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Slating of Lee Bey's interview, session 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Lee Bey describes how he transitioned to writing solely about architecture</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Lee Bey recalls being honored for his series on Chicago's Pullman Historic District</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Lee Bey explains how his column differed from those of other architectural critics</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Lee Bey recalls being the first African American architectural critic</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Lee Bey remembers how his column was embraced by the black community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Lee Bey talks about the role of architecture in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Lee Bey explains the historic significance of the Pilgrim Baptist Church</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Lee Bey compares Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church and Pilgrim Baptist Church</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Lee Bey recalls the fate of Chicago's African American architectural landmarks</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Lee Bey explains why preserving African American architecture is important</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Lee Bey remembers being asked to work for Mayor Richard M. Daley</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Lee Bey reflects upon his decision to work for Mayor Richard M. Daley</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Lee Bey remembers directing the renovation of Chicago's Soldier Field</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Lee Bey remembers public reactions to the Soldier Field renovations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Lee Bey reflects upon the results of the Soldier Field renovations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Lee Bey remembers saving the Metropolitan Community Church building, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Lee Bey remembers saving the Metropolitan Community Church building, pt. 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Lee Bey remembers joining the staff of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP</a>

<a href="">Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Lee Bey describes the benefits of working at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP</a>

<a href="">Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Lee Bey talks about his interest in photography</a>

<a href="">Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Lee Bey talks about teaching architecture at University of Illinois at Chicago Circle</a>

<a href="">Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Lee Bey describes the need for greater diversity in the architecture industry</a>

<a href="">Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Lee Bey considers the characteristics of African American architecture</a>

<a href="">Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Lee Bey describes potential projects for African American landscape architects</a>

<a href="">Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Lee Bey describes his book, 'The Paper Skyline'</a>

<a href="">Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Lee Bey talks about the design of Chicago public housing projects</a>

<a href="">Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Lee Bey talks about New Urbanism</a>

<a href="">Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Lee Bey describes urban planning in Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois</a>

<a href="">Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Lee Bey reflects upon his life</a>

<a href="">Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Lee Bey describes how he would like to be remembered</a>

<a href="">Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Lee Bey reflects upon his legacy</a>







Lee Bey remembers his introduction to journalism
Lee Bey talks about New Urbanism
A funny thing happened. My senior year at CVS [Chicago Vocational High School; Chicago Vocational Career Academy, Chicago, Illinois]--had a teacher, Thomas Doyle [ph.], God bless him, too--$$(Laughter).$$--because I really liked this teacher, his English class, so he let us write essays. So because he would let us write and, you know, and encourage us to think, I did some of my best work in his class. One day, it was March of 1983--I graduate in June of '83 [1983]--he's handing back papers. I need to write something about, you know, you know, you know, defense issues and the Cold War. And stuff was still hot then, and military buildup--I mean, this was just--this country have--all this stuff was still hot then. We had to write a paper that argued one side of the case or another, and had to balance it against some social issue, essentially asking the question, why spend all this money for [U.S.] military when there's your social need to, and all, all that kind of stuff? And Mr. Doyle is handing back papers, March of '83 [1983], and he hands the paper, and he says, you know, you're a good writer. You ever think about journalism? And he keeps on, and as he's passing out the papers.$$What, just like this--$$Exactly. He's throw-, and I cannot tell you what that did. I mean, I thought, journalism, journalism--yeah, and all of a sudden, it made, it made sense. I mean, and it--had he not said that, I don't know what, I don't know if I would have ever come to that conclusion.$$I would be speaking to [HistoryMaker] Lee Bey, the print shop owner?$$Exactly, the print shop owner, that's right or the, or the out-of-work print shop owner maybe. And, and I thought, this is it--journalism. Aww, that, that's what I want to be. I could write, I always could, I could always write well, and I kind of liked newspapers, reading, and the stuff like that, so I thought this is it. About two weeks later, I'm in print shop, and there's a guy named Darryl Alexander [ph.] who's one of the students there. I haven't seen Darryl since we graduated.$$That time--$$And--$$--but you still remember his name?$$--I still remember his name, and here's the reason why. He's, he's printing up something and doing something. And in the next room, he has this paper called the Englewood Express [ph.]. So, I said, "What's that?" He says, "Oh, this?" He says, "This is the Englewood Express--this is the paper that I write for." I said, "I didn't know you wrote." And he says, "Yeah." He's like, "I go there on weekends." So, I said, "Well, I want to write, too." I said, "How do I, how do I get into this?" So, he says, "Well, the next meeting," staff meeting was that weekend. He says, "Why, why don't you meet me there?" So, I rode my bike from 83rd [Street] and Constance [Avenue]--$$What kind of bike?$$It was a Schwinn World, a ten-speed bike--my mother [Lula Dixon Bey] had bought me for being for, you know, for trying, for putting through the effort to, you know--$$To be, be a good boy?$$--to be a good boy. And I, I love this bike. I still dream about this bike even, even to this, even now. And I rode that thing from 83rd and Constance all the way to the Kelly Branch Library at 61st [Place] and Normal [Boulevard]--$$What?$$--where, where upstairs this thing is. I get there and it dawns on me, I don't have a chain. So the librarians let me actually bring the bike in. I mean, today, that would never happen, but bring it, bring it. So, I go up there, and there's the staff of the Englewood Express. And it was headed by this guy, Larry Muhammad, young guy who was--I worked for the Defender [Chicago Defender]. And I think I worked for one of the dailies, and, and I worked for the AP [Associated Press]. And he was--remember, he was thirty-six years old, had an [U.S.] Army coat, and a silver Honda Civic with a, with a stick shift. And I thought he was the coolest guy in the world. And, and if he'd--that day, if he'd told me to march into the lake [Lake Michigan], I would have done. it. And, I--$$So, you're a little impressionable?$$A little impressionable, that's right. And I, I thought he was just the coolest guy. So, you know, so we get, and we meet, and he says, welcome aboard. And, and I show my writing, and, and that, that start, that started it. So, as much as I regretted, you know, leaving, having to leave Lindblom [Robert Lindblom Technical High School; Robert Lindblom Math and Science Academy, Chicago, Illinois]--think of why not--(unclear) with a hot poker for the most part. I mean, had it not been for that, and going to CVS and meeting, you know, the people in those circumstances, I never would have found journalism.$$That is a very interesting kind of convoluted (laughter)--$$Yeah (laughter).$$--but, ultimately, a very beautiful story. I like that.$$Thank you.$I know that you are scheduled to speak, or you just spoke at a, a New Urbanists conference. I, I printed it out, and now I can't remember (laughter). But is, is that something that you're, you're part of--are you part of that movement? Do you like some of it what it represents?$$Sort of--I, I kind of looked at the movement, you know, and sometimes I play, and some-, sometimes I, I don't. New Urbanism is a sense that they would--yeah, right, that it's, it's embodied in this. The, the idea of New Urbanism is that, essentially, we, we built cities and suburbs, especially all wrong, and that we have to return to the planning of these areas--the things we all know makes sense. You know, perpendicular street, low-scale housing, you know, it even goes as far as putting jobs not far from where you work, to put the emphasis, emphasis back on the pedestrian, and the, the human experience, and not so much in suburbia, getting in cars, and driving all over everywhere. And in the city, of having, having people, particularly public housing residents, live in high rise buildings. You know, it's, it's a good thing and, and you would think--well, who can argue with that? Why--who can argue with that? But, you know, it, it still bears to be seen of how some of these things play out in, in the city. I mean, will a person who, in the long term, wants to live next door to a person who lives in public housing, or vice-versa, will a person who is familiar with public housing want to be stuck on a block with a bunch of snoots? I mean, he, he may not, he may not want to. And, and if New Urbanism is more than just a cosmetic approach to solving a problem--if it is just a cosmetic approach to solving a problem--make a building look like this, make a street go this way without some kind of life into it--you run the risk now of doing what the original public housing did back in the '50s [1950s]. Believe it or not--$$I never thought of it that way.$$--believe it or not, these, these tower, these, these public housing high rises that we hate, set far back off from the street, no streets surround it, so sort of marooned in the, in, in an acre, you know, acres of land, was actually part of a utopian vision for cities that the French architect planner, Le Corbusier, thought of in the '20s [1920s], the idea being that, that somehow people crammed up in cities and living in a, you know--my house is in the back of yours. And you can walk through your unit to get through mine--that idea of putting everyone, putting everyone in a tower with equal access to, to, land and that kind of thing, was, was a good thing. And this was, this was utopia. And the efficiencies of a tower and elevators, and all, and all that kind of thing would be, would be somehow good. And, of course, it works when you put rich folk in a tower, but it doesn't work when you put poor folk in a tower, and don't take care of the tower once you get them in there. So--$$(Laughter) That's a strange, crazy thing.$$Yeah, and funny how that works though? So, so these ideas are hatched with, you know, with the noblest of intentions. But sometimes when they meet the real world, they fail, and the guy who hatches them, he just says, oh, yeah, I was wrong. And the people who live there are the ones who have to suffer through this thing.$$I guess because we've seen the most recent flare-up is in France in the high rises, the, the public housing outside of, of Paris [France], and actually across France, the same thing--$$Exactly.$$--and Le Corbusier is French.$$He's from there. And, you know, and it's the same thing. Those, those places in Paris, those suburbs are cut off physically from jobs. I mean, they, they're isolated. They're like reservations. And, and I mean, so it's, so it's very much, very much the same, the same thing.$$Yes. So, we have a great experiment that we see does not work. But I never thought about New Urbanism as not working, but putting it in its historic place that, yes, it has the potential. Now, I know there's like one small aspect of it I wanted to address like, in, in the suburbs, what they call those snout houses where the, the most prominent feature is the garage.$$Is the garage, right, yeah.$$And so, and the, the response to that are planned communities like Seaside [Florida]. And I'm forgetting another one.$$Celebration [Florida], I think, is one (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Celebration, right--$$--yeah, um-hm (simultaneous).$$--(Simultaneous) that incorporates those almost that you were speaking of before.