With the Midwest’s winter thaw underway, Minneapolis residents have an eye to the outside. But for the 40 percent of the city’s downtown workers that walk, bike, or ride transit to their jobs throughout the winter, public spaces play a year-round role. Downtown transit stops in particular see tens of thousands of Twin Cities denizens on any given weekday, yet their designs range from utilitarian to downright unwelcoming.
In a few short years, the term placemaking has migrated from wonky urban planning circles to neighborhoods across the country—that communities come together around public space is no groundbreaking observation, but when successful the idea can be revolutionary on a local scale.
So hopes Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council, who this weekend will sponsor “Old Place New Tricks,” a bid to “activate” neighborhoods from Englewood to Ravenswood with public space interventions that range from a “healthy eating happy hour” to “Selfie Sunday.”
ArtPlace America, a non-profit comprised of national and local foundations that provides placemaking grants, has awarded its latest round cash—nearly $15 million to implement projects in 79 communities around the country. This year, 31 percent of grants will go toward projects in rural communities, essentially doubling the amount allocated for similar projects last year.
The Metropolitan Planning Council in Chicago announced the winners of its “Active Union Station” competition, which is meant to enliven the railroad hub’s underused public spaces. Although it’s the nation’s third busiest train station and gets more daily traffic than Midway Airport, Chicago’s Union Station remains basically a waypoint on a longer trip.
Although it gets more daily traffic than Midway Airport, Chicago’s main rail hub remains little more than a waypoint for most people—a bustling transit station buried beneath an often empty Beaux Arts volume.
The Metropolitan Planning Council wants to change that. Their new placemaking contest, Activate Union Station, calls on architects, landscape architects, planners and designers of all stripes to submit ideas for a design-build program that will enliven the underused West Loop hub.
Dubbed “The Gateway,” the portion of State Street between Lake Street and Wacker Drive features shaded tables and chairs in what the city is calling its first “People Plaza.” Flowerboxes, banners, and bright red and blue colors lighten up the otherwise utilitarian median. While the spot’s central location is probably its greatest asset in attracting visitors, satisfying views of downtown’s architectural gems impart some elegance to the straightforward design.