Millennium Park is awesome, but Chicago needs a Bryant Park too

When I get back from New York City, there is not much I want to bring back home with me. I love to visit the neighborhoods, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, but it’s fine for them to stay there until my next visit. And I am relieved to leave the crowds and souvenirs. But here is what I saw at noontime, in New York City’s Bryant Park that I wanted to bring home to Chicago:

An old timey Carousel turning to music while children rode horses, frogs, etc.

Shelves of children’s books nearby

A cart full of games to play in the park and tables to play them on

A juggling lesson

A putting green

Tables for chess players, chess pieces ready

Ping pong tables

An author discussing his newest book before a small gathering of listeners

Giant umbrellas labeled Bryant Park Reading Room, with carts of books

The Pentanque where men played boules

Old time piano being played under its own little canopy

Gazebos selling food, surrounded by seating of many kinds – granite benches, bistro tables, Adirondack chairs, many others

Two restaurants at one end of a large open green

Behind them, a New York City library

At the other end a fountain with seating all around

Above the paths through the park are a canopy of trees, the London Plane trees

It was juggling only because I was there on a Wednesday. On another day it would be tai chi, or yoga, or fencing, knitting, decoupage, fly fishing, modern dance, birding tours, or Brazilian Portuguese classes, each sponsored by a different company or group, and held weekly.

After work you may find an accordion concert, Shakespeare production, musical chairs, bingo, dancing. And then there’s the weekly film festival, and Broadway in Bryant Park.

The park guidebook offers pages of adult fare from weekly book clubs to sustainability programs to story times to how to write the perfect college essay. And more kids’ activities on the weekends.

All events, all ages, all interests. On this particular day, they had life-size cut-outs of the New York Rangers at one end of the green, and a large stage at the other, ready for a rally late in the day before their first Stanley Cup game, but we don’t need to dwell on that.

Let’s dwell instead on how we could develop a Chicago version, and where we could put it, and of course how we could pay for it at this point. As much as I love Millennium Park and the 4 or 5 million visitors it draws a year, I’d love to see our own version of a Bryant Park right in the middle of the city where those of us who live here could come back regularly to learn and play and hang out together, something more particularly for us than for the tourists. Really, who would miss a chunk of Grant Park if it went to such a purpose? And we wouldn’t need to invent it all – Millennium Park and Grant Park already provide several of the same offerings. Or is it just me who’d like to bring this one little piece of New York home?

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