Millennium Park is 24.5-acre park in the middle of downtown Chicago. A project long in development, it converted on old rail yard and parking garage into a park with cutting edge sculpture, landscape architecture and outdoor performance space. In the process, it became a destination for Chicagoans and tourist, raising Chicago’s stock as a green city. Ed Uhlir, Director of Design, Architecture and Landscape for the park answered some questions about how the project came together.
Pritzker Pavilion in Millenium Park. Image via flickr.
What has the reaction been to Millennium Park?
Millennium Park is an unqualified success, having welcomed more than 16 million visitors since opening in July 2004. In 2006 Priceline.com rated Millennium Park the number one summer tourist destination in the country, radically jumping from number 35 in 2005. People love the architecture, the interactive sculpture, the landscape and more importantly the vast variety of free public programming. Additionally, Millennium Park has also become an international press phenomenon showcasing Chicago and Millennium Park to the world.
I know that for a while, there was some debate and controversy about the cost of the project. What have been some of the economic impacts of Millennium Park on downtown Chicago?
The economic impacts have been enormous. A study, which we now think understated the impact, was completed in 2005. It stated that the value of the surrounding residential property values would increase by $1.4 billion over a ten year period ending in 2015 and the increase in tourism dollars over that same period would be $2.6 billion. Perhaps more important is the social benefit of Millennium Park. Chicagoans now have a new destination to bring friends and visitors for which the almost universal response is pleasure and joy, and it is democratic and free. Chicagoans and visitors of all ages, ethnicities, languages and incomes are able to share spaces and cultures together.
Did Millennium end up with unexpected uses…ones that you didn’t foresee?
The Park was designed to accommodate unanticipated uses, including the installation of temporary tents that house the summer-long Family Fun Festival each year and the Boeing Galleries that showcase temporary exhibitions throughout the season. We did not foresee the huge crowds of people that would come to the Park for recreation and programs and the impact that has had on the landscape and facilities. We have made adjustments to the landscape, added programming and increased the budget. We also did not anticipate the huge demand to use images of the Park in advertisements and commercials. We want to promote the park and Chicago, but we don’t what to trivialize and commercialize a great designed space.
What’s the lesson here for other cities?
There are many lessons to be learned. Governments, cities, not-for-profits and others from all over the world are coming to Millennium Park to gather information and see if the model will work in their own locations. The most important lesson is that high-quality park space in the right location can have a huge economic and social impact. Secondly, to create a space like Millennium Park you need the private sector to significantly participate because government alone cannot do it. Lastly, to quote Daniel Burnham, the great Chicago architect and planner, “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood…Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”