This is what it looked like in 2006, a flat, usually deserted expanse of fenced-in lawn:
This is what it looked like just this past February:
Now Pritzker Park, at State and Van Buren, is finally open, shorn of its unwelcoming fencing. The trees and the plantings still look a little sparse, but with time they should fill in. Last Saturday, there was only one other person taking respite in the quarter-block space, but with DePaul just across the street, you'd like to think it will become more popular, especially once all its amenities are in place.
The concrete edgings for the planted spaces are inscribed with quotations from a large and eclectic group of writers which ranges from Richard Wright, to Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, and that jolly Nazi philosopher and prince of polka Martin Heidegger. Poor Walt - his words are partially obscured by a garbage receptacle, but he still fares better than Indira Gandhi, whose name is covered over with black tape, as is that of Sandra Cisneros, whose name was misspelled "cisenos."
Right across from the library, and no one could find a proofreader?
"You can never have too much sky," is the Cisneros quotation. The park's planners have apparently came to a parallel conclusion that you can never have too much flat concrete. Although the northern half of the park is generously landscaped, the southern half is disturbingly barren. All the tall trees that lined Van Buren were uprooted and removed. Reports are that a large chunk of the expanse is to be turned over Chicago's bus shelter king JCDecaux for concessions and a cafe to be designed by New York's Robert A.M. Stern Architects. Let's hope Stern comes up with something more graceful than his stubby-limbed bus shelters strewn throughout Chicago's streets. "Removable seating" is also promised, on the website of park designers HoerrSchaudt landscape architects.
Even in its current schizoid, unfinished state, however, the new Pritzker offers a welcome change from a site that suffered from not-so-benign neglect until the city transferred ownership to the Park District in 2008. The old fencing and abutments basically negated the value of the openness by shearing it off from the surrounding streetscape. Now, movement flows unimpeded, and both Thomas Beeby's Harold Washington Library and the re-emerging beauty of Holabird & Roche's 1894 Old Colony Building get a welcome frame of space and perspective.
Even more importantly, Diane Legge Kemp's brawny Library Loop L station, which previously seemed uncomfortably shoehorned between the library and the fencing, now has room to breath, and the station and its rustic arcade offers a graceful hem-like transition from the park to the library's massive facade.