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.

According to Chicago Park District Director of Planning and Development Gia Biagi, "fences go up at the end of summer of 2012 . . .  The current goal is finish the work in two years, and have the the new park open for summer of 2015."

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.

In survey feedback from the public, over 50% rated providing space for special events as "Not important", while over 70% rated both providing "Space for Quiet, Relaxation, and Repose" and "Retain and improve views of Grant Park, the city, and the Lake" as "Very Important"

"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."
So the current design is a combination of passive and active spaces, of built-up landforms that reduce noise and wind in the interior of the park while providing expanded views of larger Grant Park and the lakefront.

"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."
Balancing this complexity is a "visual sense of welcome," said van Valkenburgh.  "You want to see deeply into the park.  You don't want it to be too mysterious at the corners.  You want to know what's up ahead as a major part of making an urban park welcoming."

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.
"Rock climbing as a possibility," said van Valkenburgh.  "We also liked the idea of a temporary ice rink in that area.  The problem with skating, of course, is what is it in the summer?  We didn't want to have a big water area, so we liked this idea of a skating ribbon which goes away in the summer.  It just becomes a path that you walk on.  Instead of a rink that you go around in, this is more of a meander.  Potentially that could be an area where we include the outdoor cafe [in the summer]."

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.


Anonymous said...

Looks tasteful.

I don't really have a problem with the current Daley Bi, though it does look rather dated.

Anonymous said...

Daley Bi has always been, even before Millennium Park, a lackluster uninspired space with a concrete bunker of a field house. Don't sugar-coat what is obviously a needed renovation. The fact that the entire park will be essentially erased because of the waterproof membrane was inevitable. NIMBY’s that fought against the Children’s Museum didn’t want ANYTHING to change the 70’s-style park although it was well known that a major renovation was going to happen regardless… now everyone will be paying for this work.
These plans appear to be favorable to modernizing the space, but wait until the local residents catch wind of their tennis courts disappearing, or the trees being eliminated, or the blessed flower beds being removed, or, god-forbid, the creation of attractions for the masses (AKA poverty children). Then the final design will be transformed to appease those that participated in that survey vying to have space for Quiet, Relaxation, and Repose… which has been a perfect place to harbor the homeless.
I look forward to participating in events related to North Grant Park, and will be a voice of ALL Chicagoans and not the local NIMBY’s that would rather have the space to themselves.

Lynn Becker said...

How to good to hear that the museum propagandists are still pitching the bs.

Yes, the fieldhouse is a concrete bunker. Therefore, the argument went, don't make it better - just add more! Another, bigger, bunker, for the Children's Museum. (And if you actually believe that the Children's Museum was ever going to be in a position to bankroll a new $20 million field house, could I interest you in buying the Gehry bridge?)

Trees and flowers? Kill 'em, they're the NIMBY's friend.

Quiet, Relaxation and Repose? Code words for homeless lovers, including, apparently, Michael Van Valkenburgh, whose new design carefully incorporates those qualities.

Fieldhouse and rink aside, the characterization of Daley Bi as an unattractive space: false. The "Voice of All Chicagoans" as wanting to make every part of the park a carnival for a special interest: also false. According to every published poll, opposition to the museum's land grab was massive and city-wide.

Your side almost always wins. This time you lost. Get over it.

Anonymous said...

To reply from your answer; I'm not on any side over this... my point was to express my disappointment in the behavior of the people against the CCM and their efforts to block ANY changes to this site. When I expressed that the park was going to be eliminated regardless of the decision on the CCM (due to the waterproof membrane), I was verbally attacked… over and over. And BTW, that poll you love to bring up was biased and did not represent all of Chicago.

A dialogue really needs to happen defining the real purpose of this portion of Grant Park: is it for the people of Chicago or the local residents? Then those individuals that are adamant about any changes might rethink their resistance. Plus, progressives like myself, can confidently express our support of improving this space without the risk of being attacked.

Anonymous II said...

This is an interesting debate.

Even though it's part of the city's "front yard," Daley Bi is also a neighborhood park.

If people in Ravenswood, for instance, have a say in what happens to their park, shouldn't the people who live along Grant Park have a say in what happens to their park without being called NIMBY's or, worse, racists?

Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

Grant Park is a unique situation being downtown and part of "Chicago's front lawn" and cannot be compared to any other park.

Whose fault is it that the developers of the condos along E. Randolph didn't include greenspace?

Does that mean that the residents of these buildings assume the sole use of this portion of Grant Park? I don't think so...