The American Planning Association (APA) puts out annual top 10 lists for Great Streets, Neighborhoods, and Public Spaces. Last year, Pullman was recognized for its leading role in master-planned communities. This year, Chicago nabs two spots on the Public Spaces list: Union Station and the Chicago Botanic Garden. One has obvious architectural merits and the other is a true people place. We've no quarrel with recognizing Union Station's brute dominance and Great Hall for, well, being pretty great. That 219-foot barrel vaulted skylight is nothing to scoff at. But the statement by APA CEO Paul Farmer in a news release that "art and function are masterfully intertwined" raises eyebrows. Yes, it's a busy intermodal hub. But no, travelers don't get to enjoy the most artistic elements of Daniel Burnham's design. Until a reworking undoes the mistakes of the modern underground wing, functionally detached from the Great Hall, Union Station will continue to exemplify disjointedness.
The no-brainer selection to the APA's list is Glencoe's Botanic Garden. Only 40 years old, the place is a masterful reuse of 385 acres of "degraded marshy lowland" beside a highway. For context, that's almost twice the size of Humboldt Park. You can bike there along the North Branch Trail from points south, hop the Metra, or just pull off the highway. Most impressive are the cost of admission and attendance levels: free without a vehicle, the garden is the fifth busiest in the country despite its relative youth and decentralized siting.
·Great Places in America: Public Spaces [APA]