Millennium Park Was Not a Mistake

IMG_2600Chicagoans can be very short-sighted. While our sensible, practical attitudes usually work in our favor—take, for example, our perfectly gridded streets and the fact that we were able to reverse the flow of the river to avoid swimming in and drinking our own excrement—these attitudes tend to diminish our romanticism, our imaginations, and our risk-taking.

And, do you remember when the city was building Millennium Park, how outraged people were at the expense, at the extravagance, and at the sheer uselessness of the place? And now think. When your out-of-town friends visit Chicago, you can count on all of them posting pictures of themselves under the Bean (oops, Cloudgate). When you’re hosting your in-laws, you take them to the beer gardens and for strolls through the gardens. And when you happen to be downtown on a sunny day with some time to kill, it’s a great place to go.

What I enjoy most about Millennium Park and neighboring Grant Park are the cultural attractions. Usually free or at least affordable, these are great excuses to get out of the house and be a part of a movement bigger  than oneself. For example, last week Katie and I went to the "Wanderlust Yoga in the City" event.

Full disclaimer: although Katie and I have partaken in yoga practice before and enjoy it, we are hardly “yogis.”

We enjoy bloody red meat and beer and aren’t exactly “in harmony” with our spirits and nature. (This fact was audible by the fourth damn time the yoga instructor at YITC made us go into Chair Pose, and rather than “breathing through it” or “finding the strength in our cores” to stay stable, we chose to curse violently and accuse the instructor of sadism.) But regardless, we had a great afternoon. Even though the air temperature hovered in the mid-50s, we enjoyed this day that connected us with other people and helped us appreciate a community that we normally wouldn’t associate ourselves with. We also enjoyed all the free samples of health food that vendors handed out, because we’re cheap like that.

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Yoga in the City is just one event on one day, and admittedly an event that only appeals to a small subset of people. But that’s the great thing about Millennium Park and Grant Park; at some point, there’s something for everyone. I’ve played softball on the diamonds; I’ve listened to classical music at Pritzker and blues, jazz, and even Michael Franti and Spearhead farther south; I’ve cultivated my palate through Chicago Gourmet and Taste of Chicago festivals; and I’ve just plopped myself down on a park bench and people-watched for a solid amount of time. Spending time in these parks makes you want to invest more in the city, to give as many people as possible the opportunity to come together and enrich their lives, whether through exercise, food, music, or even an afternoon playing in the fountains.

So as the city works to renovate the new Maggie Daley Park just east of Millennium Park, as it seeks funds to plant flowers in the medians on Michigan Avenue, and as it supports our museums and cultural institutions, please don’t be short-sighted. Recognize that these current investments perpetuate generations of cultural appreciation, open people’s minds, and create a world-class city that people travel thousands of miles to visit. Believe me, I wish the state and city were better with its money (as a teacher whose retirement fund is basically a big question mark, I mean this on a very personal level), but there are ways to fix this financial mess; taking the money away from parks and public cultural institutions is not the answer.

What are your favorite events to go to in the city? And how do you feel about the city spending its money on them?

 

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Filed under: Community, The Loop

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