My “funemployment” exploration of Chicago continues (thanks to Calitexican for introducing me to the term). Yesterday I headed downtown on Oma to meet with the client in my pro bono case. Afterward, I headed to the 24.5 acre Millennium Park. Although the park is in a prime downtown location, bordered by Lake Michigan and Michigan Avenue, until a decade ago it was nothing more than a railroad bed. The existing park was built over the tracks. Unlike the neighboring Grant Park, which is comprised primarily of unadorned grass and trees, Millennium Park is a wonder of cultural attractions.
Cloud Gate is the centerpiece of the park, a 110 ton stainless steel sculpture by Anish Kapoor that reflects the cityscape and the clouds above it. Most people refer to it by the less glamorous name, “the bean.”
After Cloud Gate, the Crown Fountain is the next to capture visitors’ attention, two 50-foot glass block towers opposite each other with a reflecting pool in between where children love to play. The towers project images, a rotating collection of Chicago residents’ faces. Their eyes blink and lips smile. Occasionally they become fountains. My 5-year-old nephew had a ball in here last summer for over an hour. I’ve also spotted the actor Aaron Eckhart taking pictures here.
The 5-acre Lurie Garden splits off into multiple gravel footpaths for visitors to walk peacefully among the flowers. Wishing wells line the path on both sides.
The Frank Gehry designed Pritzker Pavilion is an amazing outdoor music venue with sound quality as fantastic as its architecture. The Pavilion hosts big-name concert acts such as Tori Amos and Death Cab for Cutie, as well as loads of free musical events. Every day this summer at noon there is a free concert (perfect for tourists and residents on lunch break) and in the next three weeks there will be free evening performances by Chicago’s jazz ensemble, opera troupe, and ballet troupe.
The Art Institute of Chicago, one of the nation’s premier art museums, sits next to the park. Recently a new wing was added for modern art and the design included this pedestrian bridge to carry visitors from the park to the museum in safety and style.
The Frank Gehry designed BP Bridge is a 925 foot winding pedestrian bridge that connects Millennium Park to Daley Bicentennial Plaza, where there are tennis courts, flowery gardens and another ice rink.
The Boeing Galleries contain a collection of sculptures like the one below, constantly changing to display new ideas.
In the winter an ice rink overlooks Michigan Avenue. The rink is free to skate in and visitors can rent skates for a low fee. Of course, the rink is not set up in September, but you can see pictures here from Trisha’s visit in February. During the summer, the area is used for al fresco dining.
Finally, the park contains the McDonalds Cycle Center, an indoor facility for secure bike parking with super clean locker rooms and showers. I stopped by to cancel my membership, since I no longer need to park my bike there while working across the street.
At times, I felt like a park attraction, too, as groups of older women came up to talk to me about my bike. I saw one person take a picture of me and Oma. I love how my bikes open up people to talk to me – living in the big city, I sometimes miss the polite interactions with strangers at which Southerners excel. Maybe tourists will return home and say, “In Chicago women ride bikes in dresses and pearls!”
No amount of words can describe the beauty of this public space in the middle of the city better than the sounds in this video: children laughing, water flowing, people talking, and music wafting from Pritzker Pavilion’s free Tuesday noon show.
More brilliant city planning like this, please!