Sunday, November 13, 2011
Reinventing Daley Bi
The clock is ticking on Daley Bicentennial Plaza. The approximately 20 acre rectangle east of Millennium Park and south of Randolph is about to be destroyed and rebuilt, an action made necessary by the need to replace the deteriorating waterproofing membrane that seals off the huge parking garage below.
Biagi spoke at an October 26th public forum where a clear picture of the design of the new park, while far from finalized, began to clearly emerge. The first major change was that the scope of the project is now confined to the area of Daley Bi. The Cancer Survivors Garden stays, as does the "Peanut Park" between that garden and Lake Shore Drive, although it stands to be commandeered as a staging area during the period of construction.
Also confirmed by Biagi: "My notes say, 'what's going on with the Children's Museum?' Well, they're not coming to Grant Park," a remark that evoked loud approval from the audience. "I didn't intend it to be an applause line," said Biagi, "but . . . "
The current Daley Bicentennial Plaza fieldhouse is also staying. The Chicago Children's Museum had proclaimed - risibly, considering their almost complete ineptness in fundraising - they would simply throw in a new $20 million fieldhouse as part of a deal to let them construct a new subterranean museum in Daley Bi. The Museum pulled the plug on that fantasy early in the battle, and sights are now being lowered.
"We're not talking about anything major," said Biaggi. "We need to stop the bigger problems of leaking and make the building a little more operable. We are interested in looking at the facade of the building, too, in a way that it would relate better to the park and the design ideas we have here. So it's a pretty light touch on the building aside from the major it's got to stop leaking, it's got to be functional and that's something we're going to see if we can fit it into our larger capital improvement program to try and fund that project."
Biagi said that for rebuilding the 20 acres of Daley Bi, "We have a little over $30 million to do this project. That money comes from the revenue from the transfer of the parking garage to the city and then on to private vendor of the garage. Part of that exchange included a set aside of about $35 million for this project . . . It started at 35 and then with design fees and a couple other things we're just a little over 30. in terms of what we have available to build a park." Biagi didn't out rule lining up corporate sponsors to help defray costs.
Landscape architect Michael van Valkenburgh presented the latest iteration of the park design.
Presently, Daley Bicentennial is an extension of the formal composition of the larger Grant Park.
North Grant Park, as the reincarnation of Daley Bi is being called, will be something completely different. As you can see from the illustration at the top of this post, the goal is to create a park filled with varied program that strikes a balance between the passive and the active.
"Most people", said Van Valkenburgh, "were very appreciative and laudatory about Millennium Park, but the main thing they said was we don't need to repeat the things that Millennium gives us. We want things to complement, so we're using Millennium and go over the Gehry bridge and want other things to do over there. We heard that in the public meetings and the questionnaires definitely back up this notion of more passive things to do, and things you don't have to spend money on."
"We all go there to see things," said Van Valkenburgh. "We like to feel the space. We like a lot of borrowed landscape, especially Grant Park to the south, and the lake to east, and so getting people up on higher ground where they can look out and borrow that visual landscape is an extremely important thing . . . making hills - not crazy-high hills, but a kind of rolling topography."
The park designs includes both a "passive axis", from sw to ne, emphasizing natural landscape and a boundless sense of space, and an "active axis", from se to nw, encompassing more urban and civic aspects.
Van Valkenburg is also looking to include in North Grant Park, the "very best playgrounds that any park in America has for kids, and that doesn't mean that we won't use any traditional playground equipment. There are some things that are universal. I don't know any kids who don't like swings, but it can't only be swings and slides and things like that."
After the presentation, the assembly broke up into three groups to ask questions and offer feedback on the plan. What about the tennis courts? Will the paths be wide enough to accommodate bikes? Will parents be able to watch their kids easily? There was no shortage of opinions and concerns, not infrequently in conflict.
When former Mayor Richard M. Daley talked of Daley Bi as being a "nowhere", he was indulging himself in the kind of willful, malicious ignorance that became a hallmark of his last years in office. Make no mistake: Daley Bi is a wonderful, calm counterpoint to the hyper-activity of Millennium Park. That wasn't a failing. That was a virtue. But while there's still a long way to go, and a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong, Van Valkenburgh's redesign holds out the promise of building on that quality to create a new North Grant Park that's every bit as remarkable in its own way as Millennium Park.
You can check out the entire October 26th presentation for yourself, in the "albums" section of the North Grant Park website, here.