Nov 14, 2016
BY: and
THEME: Point of View

Facilitating the Future of South Grant Park

Between 2002 and 2015, Grant Park in downtown Chicago has seen the completion of major public amenities and new destinations such as Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park with support from and response to a wide-ranging spectrum of public and private interests. Overall, design and construction since 2002 has varied within the Park, from natural landscaping, to sculptures, to a one-of-a kind ice skating rink surrounding a climbing wall and a gigantic playground.

However, many strategies from the Grant Park framework plan have not been fully realized. The South Grant Park area – bound by Michigan, Roosevelt, Balbo and Lake Shore Drive – seems to have received the least amount of improvement, and that’s where this story begins.

Over the summer, Perkins+Will with Friends of Downtown and site design group, ltd. convened a charrette at The Cliff Dwellers (the Chicago-based organization supporting local arts and culture) to assemble a unique group of influential stakeholders including the Chicago Park District, Grant Park Conservancy, Metra, UIC Great Cities Institute, Keep Grant Green, Friends of the Parks, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Department of Transportation, Chicago Department of Planning, South Loop Living, South Loop Neighbors, APA IL, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Metropolitan Planning Council, and local resident associations.

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Perkins+Will, Friends of Downtown, and site design group facilitated this locally-charged, community-oriented discussion, with three overarching goals:

1) Solicit ideas for improvements to the Park from short-term, low-cost, easily implemented initiatives, to more costly, long-term, significant transformations.

2) Discuss an attainable number of strategies to move forward that advance the Park’s mission and purpose.

3) Prioritize the feasibility of implementations.

Using these goals as foundational touchstones, the charrette kicked off by addressing development along the north and south edges of the Park, which has seen a dramatic increase in residential activity including the development of the River East neighborhood at the north and museum campus residences at the south. Current development trends were discussed that suggest thousands of additional residential units will be built along the south edge of the Park and that South Grant Park will continue to grow in importance for neighborhood use, while remaining a global destination.

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The kick-off also included a presentation on the history of the park, relevant information from the original 2002 framework plan, current land-use surrounding the park, transportation and access issues, and the significant events held in Grant Park throughout the year like the Chicago Marathon, Taste of Chicago, Blues Fest, Lollapalooza, and the Black Hawks victory rally (which any fan knows Chicago has seen many of in the last decade).

“Blue sky” conversations ensued, followed by more focused group work and presentations, with ideas homing in on increasing the quantity of natural park area, continuing to develop an iconic destination, establishing a gateway or “hub” at the south end of the park, and improving Columbus Avenue to serve as a connector rather than barrier. Unanimous recommendations included improvements to wayfinding and simplifying and improving bike and pedestrian networks through the park, adding east-west connections across the Metra tracks. Additionally, the blended groups identified several studies and investigations that need to occur, such as economic analysis of various events and uses, traffic studies, and understanding what funding mechanisms are available. The groups discovered the lack of this data was the greatest hurdle for prioritizing any of the proposed updates.

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At the conclusion, the groups felt the proposed physical updates to the Park also required a decision-making process and an established set of values that would inform policy, design decisions, funding, and navigating the sensitive issues between larger scale regional event programming of the park and fulfilling the needs of the local neighborhood.

To carry this initiative forward and continue the conversation about how to position Grant Park for the future, there was an equally well-rounded, comprehensive presentation and discussion at The Cliff Dwellers in September.  Working with Friends of Downtown and site design group, we are now in the process of creating a schedule for additional community input including town-hall style meetings, online surveys, and other events to solicit input from a much larger group of stakeholders and residents whose voices need to be heard.

In getting in on the ground floor with this transformative project, all parties hope to play key roles in helping the iconic park realize its next phase of development. Stay tuned for more as the conversation continues and progress is made.

Have a suggestion for the future of South Grant Park? Leave a comment and let us know!

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