Millennium Park
Formerly:Lakefront Gardens
Formerly:Illinois Central Rail Yard
Michigan Avenue at Randolph, Chicago, Illinois, Millennium Park 60601 United StatesPrint this page   •   Share this page

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
  • 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.
  • 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.
Your Thoughts

There are four comments.

  The "park" is suitable for locals as a place to eat their bagged lunches, or for commuters to park their bikes.I feel sorry for any tourist that comes to Millenium Park expecting to do or see anything besides the two main sculptures, but mainly the Bean.Naming 12 "attractions" is a gross deception. A pedestrian bridge or a concrete set of columns will do little to endear a family with children to the park. Yes, they are architectural elements, but that alone does not make them attractions, except for those of us interested in architecture.For families with children, beware, once the kiddies splash in the fountain sculpture base, and look at themselves in the Bean, you are pretty much done, except for the $10 burgers and $5 ice cream.If you are lucky there will be a family activity in one of the temporary tents they set up, which has nothing to do with Millenium Park, except that the tent is on a bit of empty park space, the tent could otherwise have been put anywhere.As someone that travels to Chicago and has meetings in the building overlooking Millenium Park, and as a "foreigner" I can call Millenium Park what it is -- it's a place where corporations come to hold events with the City and Park as backdrop. But that's the buy in, give me this, get that.I'm not saying don't visit, I'm just saying if you are coming with your family, don't expect much, you'll surely wonder what all the hype is about -- unless you have tickets to one of the swank tent events.

Gio Mascolino - Friday, May 6th, 2011 @ 11:10am  

  Burnham would have been amazed if he saw his vision of Chicago's lakefront today, because it came true with the addition of Millennium Park. It's a great park with the Pritzker Pavillion and The Bean.

Brent Kampert - Monday, December 1st, 2008 @ 11:32am  

  A refreshing change of pace in this day and age. Sure, they could have built another skyscraper or two, but this was a great addition to the city. It's like an oasis of green in a concrete jungle. Thanks Chicago!

Dave - Monday, December 31st, 2007 @ 2:34pm  

  A must see! I love Millennium Park, truly a great place. I would argue that it is one of the best, if not the best urban parks in the world!

Redline - Wednesday, March 29th, 2006 @ 5:40pm