An Inspired Use of Public Space: Chicago’s Millennium Park

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.

Oma in the Park

Oma in the Park

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.”


Cloud Gate

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 Face Fountain

The Crown Fountain

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.

Garden Row, Prudential and Aon Towers

Lurie Garden, Prudential and Aon Towers

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.

Pritzker Pavilion

Pritzker Pavilion

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.

Pedestrian Bridge to Art Museum

Pedestrian Bridge to Art Museum

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.

BP Bridge

BP Bridge

The Boeing Galleries contain a collection of sculptures like the one below, constantly changing to display new ideas.


Boeing Galleries Sculpture

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.

Rink in Winter

Rink in Winter

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.

McDonald's Cycle Center

McDonald's Cycle Center

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!”

Lawyer on a Bike

Lawyer on a Bike

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.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Millennium Park Life on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod

More brilliant city planning like this, please!

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15 thoughts on “An Inspired Use of Public Space: Chicago’s Millennium Park

  1. E A says:

    Awesome post! Wish I could spend my afternoons in the park. Thanks for reminding me of the free evening concerts this month. Summer’s not over yet. ;-)

  2. grambev says:

    Chicago is just beautiful and full of surprises.

  3. “funemployment”! What a great term. That is a wonderful park, and it’s good that you have the opportunity to enjoy it. Jobs come and go, but these fleeting experiences are priceless.

  4. Music says:

    That looks fantastic, esp. the Cloud Gate! I haven’t travelled to your part of the world yet. Dottie, thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving your encouragement, I’m taking baby steps with starting cycling again now. :)

  5. Steven Vance says:

    That’s a wonderful closing photo of you and your bike.

  6. Dean Peddle says:

    You live in a beautiful city. It’s a shame the Cubbies will never win the World Series!!!

    Sorry…had to say it :)

  7. Sigrid says:

    funemployment – lived it and loved it. cheers to that!

    • Sigrid says:

      and might I add…working our asses off in this country has gotten us real far. we have health care ‘options’ that keep getting worse and a majority of our citizens are out of work. well done America! keep it up!

      again – funemployment rocks. when else in your adult life will you get a break like this? enjoy!

  8. sara says:

    How is it that I have lived and traveled overseas but have never been to Chicago? Really, that has to change. Yea for you for taking on a pro bono case. You are looking ratherly lawerly in that snap.

  9. chibikegal says:

    love the pearls, they go so well with Oma!

  10. lorenza says:

    Great post, I feel I know Chicago a little now ;) I have never visited America yet so it’s great to see what a fantastic city it is! Amazing park :) btw I love your outfit, so elegant and timeless, great combination with Oma!! xxx

  11. Man says:

    I love thee types of posts that “explore” cities through the eyes of the locals.
    So what was your client’s response when you rode up on a bike in a dress?

  12. calitexican says:

    i love this post! such a great intro to chicago! i need to make it out there during the summer. i usually am there in the fall/spring time.

    here’s another lawyer on a bike. SF’s own city attorney dennis herrera wearing the best shirt ever on bike to work day: “one less lawyer in a car>” :)

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