Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Views from the Park Bench: One for the Millennium: For Years, City Parks Have Taken a Backseat to Competing Municipal Projects. Chicago's Landmark Public Space Could Shift the Momentum

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Views from the Park Bench: One for the Millennium: For Years, City Parks Have Taken a Backseat to Competing Municipal Projects. Chicago's Landmark Public Space Could Shift the Momentum

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In January 1954, in an orange grove far outside Los Angeles, ground was broken for Disneyland. Fifty years later, in July 2004, on top of a railyard in the heart of Chicago, the ribbon was cut for Millennium Park.

Two very different parks, each causing an enthusiastic uproar. Together they may well serve as the cultural landscape brackets of the Baby Boom generation.

From the moment Disneyland opened, it became the new paradigm of a park experience: corporate, programmed, extravagant, rural, flawless, and electrifying. It was not a coincidence that after Disneyland opened, the old urban park systems--unprogrammed, democratic, unpredictable, and free--began grinding down relentlessly everywhere from Franklin Park in Boston to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

There was something unprecedented in the air and it was exciting: The park experience could be sanitized! Social classes could be segregated! Suburban backyards would meet most of the old city park needs, and Disneyland--or the concept of Disneyland--would pick up the rest.

Now those original Disneyland children have gray hair, aching backs, and worn-out knees. The thrill of spending $400 for a family day trip to an amusement park hasfaded. The back yard has become a hassle and the stairs to the second floor tedious. A condo downtown might be a lot of fun, particularly if it's near that fabulous new Millennium Park.

No thrill rides, but their more mature equivalents: eye-popping sculpture, wonderful fountains, weekly concerts, a sumptuous garden that changes with the seasons, theater, bicycle parking, ice skating in the winter (Do you think we can still skate?), two restaurants, a serpentine bridge that will wow visiting relatives, a constant stream of interesting humanity to watch and, finally, a sense of being back in the center of things.

Millennium Park has exploded onto the American urban park scene with an impact not felt since Central Park was unveiled in 1859. Numerous wonderful parks opened in the interim, but the Millennium phenomenon is due to a "perfect storm" of location, artistic luminosity, politics, and controversy, all greased by fantastic sums of money and fanned by the extraordinary publicity machine of America's most competitive city. …

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