Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin’ town….so goes the famous song. Growing up in this thriving Midwest city I never really appreciated the truth of those lyrics. I worked downtown in the “Loop,” and although I spent many lunch hours strolling Michigan Avenue and the lakefront, it never dawned on me that Chicago was a truly spectacular metropolis. It took moving away, growing older, and returning to visit downtown’s magnificent Millennium Park for this fact to dawn on me.
Millennium Park didn’t exist during the years I lived in Chicago. Grant Park had been built along the shores of Lake Michigan in the mid-1800′s in response to lobbying by citizens who feared commercial development along the lakefront, but the land between Grant Park and the rest of downtown was occupied by a wide swath of Illinois Central railroad tracks that remained a blight on an otherwise attractive landscape. It wasn’t until 1997, when Mayor Richard M. Daley directed his staff to develop plans for a new music venue to be built over the tracks, that the idea for Millennium Park was conceived.
The results are nothing short of spectacular. Today, the 24.5 acres that comprise the park include a winter ice skating rink, Lurie Gardens, the interactive Crown Fountain, and the hugely popular Cloud Gate sculpture, which Chicagoans have nicknamed “The Bean” for its resemblance to a giant coffee bean. Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the most sophisticated outdoor concert venue of its kind in the United States, is the centerpiece of the park. Free concerts and events that are as diverse as the city itself are held at the pavilion: fitness classes, classical music, jazz, world music, theater, reading circles, ethnic festivals, and dance are just some of the events scheduled throughout the year.
Bringing the project full circle, the BP Bridge was constructed between Millennium Park and Grant Park to the east, providing incomparable views of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan from its 925-foot-long elevated walkway of brushed stainless steel panels. New York may be “the greatest city in the world” and LA may be “home of the movie stars” but with its ethnic diversity, cool neighborhoods, visually stunning architecture, and friendly people, I’ll take Chicago any day.
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels