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The Loop’s smallest park: A place-making success story

Chicago Loop Alliance shows that tiny spaces can have a big impact

It’s hard to think of the Loop as an area starved for public open space considering its closeness to Grant Park and Chicago’s lakefront. That said, Prizker Park — the only official park located within the Loop proper — is in pretty poor shape and has even been offered up as a possible candidate for high-rise redevelopment. Even downtown’s well-known hardscaped plazas do little to engage visitors on a human scale and often fail to provide an environment that invites exploration, relaxation, or reflection.

Chicago Loop Alliance (CLA) set out to reverse this trend when it collaborated with Chicago’s Department of Transportation and the Mayor’s Office to create a so-called activated median on State Street between Wacker and Lake. Known as "Gateway to the Loop," the micro park opened in mid 2013.

While the CLA place-making project may not be the absolute tiniest park in the city (that honor falls to the 6-by-9-foot plot of land at the Illinois Institute of Technology campus known officially as Park 474 ), the small space makes a big impact in the Loop by offering something rarely found downtown: public seating. After three short years Gateway has proved itself as a success and is popular among locals and visitors alike.

A pop-up park on the median of State Street isn’ the only unexpected place Chicago Loop Alliance has been working it’s place-making magic. The group is also behind ACTIVATE — an annual summertime initiative that temporarily brings a party-like atmosphere to Loop alleyways after dark thanks to art installations and live performances. The final ACTIVATE event is scheduled for October 13th. Learn more and sign up for notices regarding all future Loop Alliance programming here.

A photo posted by Marco (@msqrd) on