Though it may be out-muscled by its across-the-street neighbor Millennium Park, the multifunctional park that is visual anchor of Lakeshore East brings a soothing touch of country living to the $4 billion mixed-use complex.
The park, a sanctuary in the heart of the expanding New East Side, is evolving as envisioned as the naturalistic front yard for thousands of people who are and will be living and working in and near the growing urban village.
Designed by internationally acclaimed landscape architect James Burnett in collaboration with Chicago-based Site Design Group to allow a wide range of vegetation to flourish, it presents an assortment of unique variations that enhance the pedestrian experience. The crown jewel of the community, it has been named the best new park in Chicago by Chicago magazine and the city’s best new open space by the Friends of Downtown.
From its bountiful six-acre central meadow/playground to its numerous, intimate seating areas, the park that has been dedicated to the Chicago Park District provides a combination of comfort and exciting sensory experiences that are both relaxing and energizing.
The challenges and constraint initially presented by the community’s topography — a three-story vertical grade differential between the north and south ends of the park — were actually transformed into an integral part of the park design.
The unique changes of elevation facing the developer, Magellan Development Group, prompted the creation of a monumental staircase that provides a panoramic view from above of the entire park aptly named the Grand Overlook. It was an inevitable certainty that the residents and workers of the many high-rise buildings that surround the park applaud the pastoral view of this abundant open green space.
While its 500 newly planted trees of more than 220 varieties and more than 100 varieties of plants and flowers, ornamental gardens and water features substantiate its claim as a botanical garden. It is an active park with a playground on its great lawn, a children’s playground with safe play surfaces of recycled rubber tires and a dog park that delights the dogs as well as their owners.
The park also conforms to high standards of safety and security. Mindful that it was created to join the Chicago Park District public park system, it was designed as an enjoyable facility that is both functional and sculptural in form and yet practical to maintain and serve as a public amenity.
The design and programming of the park entailed diverse factors such as separating a children’s play area from a dog park to analyzing where people sit and congregate.
Planning details ranged from zoning the park to take advantage of existing views and topography for what was to be the heart of Lakeshore East community to conducting shade and shadow studies to determine how to optimize comfort throughout the seasons.
If the park can properly be described as magnificent by day, it can easily be called magical at night. That is especially true of the water gardens that animate the space and are ultimately the crescendo of the park.
The children’s play park includes interactive water features and play structures on colorful safety play surfaces. The play area is bordered by shade arbors and seating for parents to observe their children. The centerpiece is a computerized spray fountain that children can run through.
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