Chicago Mayor Talks Parks: Mayor Daley Opens Up about Park Land, Recreation and the Importance of Citizen Involvement

Article excerpt

Richard M. Daley has been Mayor of Chicago since April 1989. Under his leadership' more than $11 billion has been invested in capital improvements to schools, parks, mass transit, city buildings and infrastructure. He has reformed the Chicago public schools, reduced crime and improved the quality of life for Chicagoans.

He has accomplished this by reinvesting in the city of Chicago, including parks and recreation. Under his leadership, the city has added 120 new acres of park land, instituted a city-wide recycling plan, planted more than 400,000 trees and created an urban oasis in Millennium Park.

We asked the mayor to share his experiences with urban parks and recreation, and how other cities can replicate his successful Chicago model.

Q: Since you took office, the city of Chicago has seen tremendous growth in park land and open space. Why do you think preserving these areas is important?

Daley: Parks and open space play a big role in the quality of life of Chicago. I constantly urge residents to get involved and work in every way for a better Chicago and a healthier planet. It's a wonderful legacy to leave for future generations.

Q: Millennium Park was finished in 2004, and is considered the largest public/private undertaking in the history of Chicago. Can you tell us about the idea behind Millennium Park and how it came about?

Daley: Grant Park had long been considered "Chicago's front yard" with gardens, recreational fields, Buckingham Fountain and the Art Institute of Chicago. However, until the creation of Millennium Park, the northern end of Grant Park had a 16-acre eyesore of railroad tracks and makeshift parking lots. It seemed to represent the last millennium more than the current one.

Today, Millennium Park is a 24.5 acre celebration of art, architecture and landscaping where Chicagoans come together in the park to enjoy jazz, classical, gospel and world music concerts, dance performances, a photography exhibition, garden tours, festivals and more.

Q: How does the finished product compare with the original idea? Are you happy with the outcome?

Daley: The original plan included a band shell, a theater, a reflecting pool and landscaped walkways. It was a nice plan, but it wasn't bold enough for Chicago's business and civic leaders. In April 1999, the Pritzker Foundation agreed to donate $15 million toward this outdoor music pavilion, which now bears the family's name. To ensure it would be no ordinary band shell, they hired a famous architect, Frank Gehry, to design it. Once that was announced, Chicago's donor community kept going, and the result is what we see today.

Millennium Park is hailed around the world as one of the finest public spaces any city has ever developed and is regarded as one of the most ambitious and successful public/private partnerships ever undertaken. And that's a real tribute to our city and to all the people who made it happen.

Since its opening in July 2004, it has become one of Chicago's most popular destinations--for both residents and tourists. In addition, the park has also already spurred the growth of businesses and residential developments in the surrounding area. …