Millennium Park in Chicago

Photo of Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
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Photo of Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation

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Millennium Park
Formerly:Lakefront Gardens
Formerly:Illinois Central Rail Yard

Michigan Avenue at Randolph, Chicago, Illinois, Millennium Park 60601
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Completed four years late, and $325,000,000.00 over budget, Millennium Park was worth the wait. Though it occupies a small space, what was done with that space is remarkable. Instead of the great sweeping lawns and formal gardens implemented in many other parts of the city, Millennium Park is a feast of things to see, hear, feel, and do. It's a municipal mall of art, music, and nature.

The park consists of a dozen attractions spread over five distinct regions. The effect is to create an urban playground our of what was once only a rail yard. The rail yard still exists far below the surface. In fact, when one is strolling through the apparently natural grass of Millennium Park, it is hard to believe what is going on beneath. The grass grows on a layer of four feet of topsoil. Beneath that is styrofoam, and other layers of man-made materials keeping the park from collapsing into the cavern below. Standing in the 25-acre park may feel like Terra Firma, but in reality you're 45 feet above the existing rail facilities, a parking garage, an underground bus expressway, and more. The people who built the park managed to do so while trains continued to run 24 hours a day. The park rests on a system of girders and caissons suspending it above the tracks. The challenge wasn't merely putting in pilings. The rail lines were powered by overhead electric wires which had to be replaced without disrupting daily commuter traffic. The engineering challenge was heightened by changing political whims and structural realities as the people putting the park plan together decided to add items like the Cloud Gate sculpture and the Crown fountain, each adding many hundreds of tons to the weight that would have to be supported by the concrete and steel beams spanning the train tracks.

Most urban parks are envisioned as oases from technology and workaday hubbub. At the time of its openning, however, visitors to Millennium Park were encouraged to bring their cellular telephones and dial a special park phone number (+1.312/742-2004) which serenaded them with music appropriate to the venue in which they were standing.

Like so many other pubic projects in Chicago, the park became a political boondoggle almost immediately from its inception. It became bogged down in bureaucratic turf battles, allegations of graft, and cost overruns. Few dispute the notion that Millennium Park was created at the behest of Mayor Richard M. Daley as a self-promotion tool. It was his vision that guided the process, and his forceful nature that managed to push it through in spite of the obstacles involved. Naturally, all of the promotional material for the park bore his image at the time it opened. Some speculated that he might want to re-name it "Daley Park" in honor of himself. That speculation was mostly laid to rest when the mayor ordered Meigs Airport bulldozed in the middle of the night in order to create another massive park on the lakefront. Some feel the future of that land will be his lasting legacy.

The park consists of the following major facilities:

Cloud Gate
The sculpture that stole the show. When this was unveiled, it immediately became a beloved symbol of the city.

Pritzker Pavilion
The architecturally, acoustically, and visually stunning band shell. People sitting close to the stage hear the orchestra live. People on the Great Lawn hear an electronically delayed reproduction of the music delivered in time to coincide with the delay of echoed sound coming from the stage.<br>

The Crown Fountain
Another delightfully strange addition to Chicago's public art stage. The faces of 1,000 Chicagoans are projected on giant screens one at a time. At the end of each person's display, they purse their lips and water shoots out of their mouths.<br>

BP Pedestrian Bridge
Another height illusion, and another Frank Ghery masterpiece. The deck is made of nice tactile wood while the rest of the bridge is framed in curving futuristic aluminum. It appears as thought the ends of the bridge are lined with pleasant shrubs, but in reality these are the tops of trees planted far below.<br>

McCormick Tribune Plaza
Ice staking during the winter. An outdoor restaurant during the summer.

Wrigley Square
Home of the Millennium Monument -- an homage to a similar colonnade that once stood on this corner.

Quick Facts
  • Construction start: 1997
  • Construction finish: 2004
  • Cost: $475,000,000
  • Type: Public Space
Timeline
  • September 8th, 2005: A bit of controversy surrounded the closing of Millenium Park for the day. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. paid the Chicago Park District $800,000 to rent the park for a private party. $300,000 was earmarked for day-to-day operating expenses. The rest for free concerts and other activities for the general public.
  • August 8, 2006: In a controversial move, Allstate Insurance Company rented out the majority of Millennium Park for a private party at a cost of $400,000. While the insurance company did have a permit for the park, Chicago Police were surprised when Allstate contractors started blocking off public streets and sidewalks. Local residents were locked out of their homes for hours late into the night while Allstate's suburban bigwigs partied. The final insult came at 11:00pm when a private fireworks show was set off, thundering through the skyscraper canyons of the Loop, waking up thousands of people. It apparently never occurred to the suburban-based insurance company that people actually live in downtown Chicago, and that the company's actions might wake up tens of thousands of men, women and children. At least one local resident cancelled his Allstate insurance policy and switched to a company that has a better history of being a good neighbor.
Notes
  • The city of Chicago contributed $270,000,000.00 to the construction of Millennium Park. Another $205,000,000.00 was donated by private individuals and foundations.
  • Cloud Gate was originally supposed to be the centerpiece of the Lurie Gardens, but was moved to its own space because park planners feared tourists would trample the garden.
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