Grant Park

Between Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, downtown Chicago
Chicago, IL

Submitted by: Laura Swartzbaugh

This lakefront city park serves as Chicago's "front yard."

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Why It Works

Grant Park functions as Chicago's "front yard," including both programmed activities such as the Jazz, Blues and other music festivals, summer dance lessons, art exhibits, concerts, and 16 inch softball leagues as well as simple green space, various distinct gardens, and the magnificent Buckingham Fountain. Now that Lake Shore Drive has been re-routed, Grant Park also provides a direct, walkable link between the Loop and the Museum Campus, which includes the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium. Spending a summer evening listening to world-class music at Jazzfest while gazing up at the wall of lit-up historic buildings along Michigan Avenue is a truly magnificent urban experience.

What Makes Grant Park a Great Place?

Very accessible by foot, bus, subway. Also has visual appeal from a distance, and links cultural, retail, and commercial activities with recreational open space and historic landscape design.

Under the current Mayor Daley, the plantings have been extraordinarily beautiful - lots of visual appeal. Seating can be lacking, especially if you forgot your picnic blanket. It is a large park; some areas are better travelled and thus feel safer than others. There are usually women as well as men present; children too.

Again, some spaces are used more frequently than others. There is a wide range of activities and choices.

Depending on the activity (if planned), the people present represent different aspects of an extremely diverse city. But more mixing takes place during Jazzfest, Bluesfest, etc than during other programmed events. Residents often bring visitors to walk along the lake, to Buckingham Fountain, and to the Museums adjacent to the Park.

History & Background

In 1835, citizens successfully lobbied to protect the open space that is now Grant Park from lakefront development. The site was officially named Lake Park in 1847. To combat lakefront erosion, the Illinois Central Railroad agreed to build a protective breakwater in exchange for permission for an offshore train trestle. After the Great Fire of 1871, the area between the shore and trestle became a dumpsite for piles of charred rubble, the first of many landfill additions.

In 1901, the city transferred the park to the South Park Commission, which named it for Ulysses S. Grant. Architect Daniel H. Burnham wanted to build a formal landscape with museums and civic buildings, but construction was stalled by mail-order magnate Aaron Montgomery Ward, who sought to protect the park's open character. In 1911, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in Ward's favor. New landfill at the park's southern border allowed construction of the Field Museum to begin, and the park slowly evolved. In 1934, the South Park Commission was consolidated into the Chicago Park District, which completed improvements using federal relief funds.

At the turn of the 21st century, the north end of Grant Park is undergoing a multi-million-dollar facelift, as old rail beds are transformed into Millennium Park, a major landscape and festival site.

Contact Info:

Chicago Park District: 312-742-PLAY

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