Two years in the making, and with a price tag of $60 million, Maggie Daley Park opens this weekend with an ice-skating ribbon and elaborate play areas. The park and its playground sit on 16 acres adjacent to Millennium Park; it’s named in honor of the former culture maven and late wife of mayor Richard M. Daley. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.—famed for their Brooklyn Bridge Park—designed the site.
“A good park balances active and passive uses,” says Nicole Sheehan, a project manager in the Chicago Park District, who oversaw development and construction of the new green space. And is this new park is no exception. According to Sheehan, Maggie Daley Park features several interactive spectacles—such as two climbing walls and upside-down trees—as well as serene shady spots once the newly planted trees—1,000 of them—grow in.
Here, Sheehan takes us on a tour of the Valkenburgh-designed park and its amenities.
1. Come as you are: There is no grand entrance. Like all Chicago public parks, visitors can access the space from all corners. There is even a connection to the underground pedway system.
2. Meander this way: Unlike the orderly grid of nearby Millennium Park, Maggie Daley Park is full of curving, indirect pathways that encourage a stroll through the unfolding landscape. “There is a sense of discovery,” says Sheehan.
3. Seasonal rotations: Winter months feature an ice-skating ribbon (think a lazy river made of ice). When the ice melts in the spring, two 40-foot high climbing walls will open—one for beginners and another for experts.
4. Light masts: Michael Valkenburgh’s unique lighting system— tripod-shaped structures— does not look like the typical streetlamp. The 13 light masts “are meant to be an artistic gesture,” says Sheehan, “but also provide moon lighting across the lawns.”
5. Play environment: The playground can accommodate 600 kids, with unique areas for different age groups.
6. Garden nodes: The play environment has several distinct thematic zones, or garden nodes. The Enchanted Forest, for example, evokes an Alice in Wonderland-like experience, with a cluster of mirrors that will make you feel like you’re inside of a kaleidoscope, and upside-down trees made of salvaged Honey Locusts.
7. A playground classic: Despite the park’s bells and whistles, swings are “still by far the most popular piece of playground equipment,” says Sheehan.
8. Engineering: The 16-acre park is actually a giant green roof, says Sheehan. It sits atop a parking structure. In order to prevent the park from collapsing on the garage beneath, the design team hauled in 75,000 cubic yards of Geofoam, a dense but light material that undergirds the entire park. Planting soil was placed atop the foam. The site also exists on a sloping hill, so the park design incorporates curving walkways, rather than stairs, to navigate the unusual topography.
9. Plenty of green: Bring your lunch, because after scaling the climbing walls, you can relax in a picnic grove.