Millennium Park a Rare Victory for Urban Planning
By Adrian Gamble via Skyrise Cities
As a large Great Lakes city with an industrial past that has evolved to a metropolitan urban centre, the Chicago waterfront was burdened with a legacy of short-sighted urban planning. The convenience of private enterprise and the movement of goods and services was long prioritized over the public interest for the best part of the last 200 years, with a large swath of railway tracks, factories, and other heavy industrial uses along the central waterfront. This became all the worse in modern times with the addition of elevated expressways, which were once seen as a beacon of progress. But then, something changed.
In 1997, then Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that the City of Chicago would acquire the air rights above the Illinois Central Railroad tracks which were located in a large open-air railway trench that had effectively cut the majority of downtown Chicago off from the Lake for the last 140 years. Over the next seven years, massive efforts were made to reclaim nearly 25 acres of prime central waterfront lands from their industrial past, creating what many have called a modern urban planning success story. Tracks were covered and buried under newly created parkland, and a team of international architects, headed by Toronto-born Frank Gehry, were handpicked to create a series of galleries, event spaces, and public pavilions for what would be named Millennium Park, its moniker selected for the future-forward approach to civic planning from which the new public space has taken its inspiration.
Fast-forwarding to today, Millennium Park, along with the rest of Chicago’s world-renowned waterfront, is home to many of Chicago’s most famous attractions, such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium, and Field Museum, which have become the darlings of the Windy City. Within Millennium Park itself, Anish Kapoor’s ‘The Bean,’ known officially as the ‘Cloud Gate,’ has captured the imaginations of tourists and passersby alike since its unveiling in 2006. Beyond the Cloud Gate, the Gehry-designed BP Pedestrian Bridge and Jay Pritzker Pavilion are among the most photographed, made famous for their distinctive, futuristic designs.
Millennium Park is an urban planning success story by almost any standard, and especially so given the drastic evolution that took place between the original industrial rail yard and current waterfront gem.
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