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Bennett Park brings new playground, dog runs, and lush landscaping to Streeterville

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The two-acre green space is officially open

A group of VIPs stand on an outdoor stage in a grassy park and cut a blue ribbon with gold scissors.
The 2-acre green space is officially open to the public.
Jay Koziarz

On Tuesday developer Related Midwest, 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly, and the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR) cut the ribbon on Bennett Park, a new two-acre publicly accessible but privately owned green space next to the One Bennett Park residential high-rise.

Designed by Brooklyn-based landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA)—the group behind Chicago’s Maggie Daley Park, The 606 trail, and Obama Presidential Center—Bennett Park includes two dog runs, a shaded grove with seating, a bermed “lawn bowl,” and a children’s play area with slides, huts, a saucer swing, and a timber climbing forest.

Named for architect Edward H. Bennett, who co-authored the influential 1909 Plan of Chicago with Daniel Burnham, the parks operates more or less in-line with regular Park District hours. The dog areas will be open to the public 24 hours a day.

An overhead view of a park surrounded by high-rise buildings. There’s a playground with slides, play huts, and a climbing forest plus two concrete dog runs and a circular green lawn with raised edges.
Bennett Park is divided into several “rooms” that denote different activities.
Jay Koziarz

“Creating a great place”

The new Streeterville park sits atop an underground parking garage that served as a staging area during One Bennett’s construction. Before that, the site bordered by McClurg, Peshtigo, Grand, and Illinois was home to the less successful Parkview West green space that saw little action beyond occasional use as a dog run.

“This space was here, but it wasn’t utilized very well,” explained Related Midwest president Curt Bailey. “It wasn’t a great place to be. Maybe if you were a dog, but for everyone else, it really wasn’t. When we sat down with Alderman Reilly and SOAR seven or eight years ago, we focused on creating that great place.”

Maintaining the park

In a recent column, Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin praised Bennett Park but feared it might fall victim to its own success and be “loved to death.”

“We think people using the park is a great thing,” Bailey told Curbed Chicago when asked about potential overuse. “Van Valkenburgh specifically designed the park to be used by all of the buildings in the area, and we absolutely encourage that.”

“Our architecture team employed a tactic called ‘defensive design’ that uses low railings and plantings to direct people to where they are supposed to walk and keep them away from places they shouldn’t,” added Related’s Ann Thompson.

A circular, bowl-shaped lawn surrounded by trees, shrubs, and a low rail to discourage visitors from tramping plantings.
The park embraces “defensive design” by placing stones, railings, and specific kinds of vegetation to direct users and minimize wear and tear.
Courtesy Related Midwest

DuSable Park next?

At the ribbon-cutting, Alderman Reilly also took the opportunity to acknowledge ongoing negotiations surrounding Related’s plan to revive the former Chicago Spire site at 400 N. Lake Shore Drive and adjacent DuSable Park.

The company presented its two-tower plan for the long-dormant parcel last spring, but Reilly ultimately rejected the proposal. “It is my hope that in the next few months we’re able to make progress with Related on the Spire site,” the elected official said Tuesday. “There’s a great opportunity to add even more public space just down the street at DuSable Park.”

Slated for a 3.3-acre peninsula east of Lake Shore Drive, DuSable Park was first dedicated as public open space in the 1980s but never materialized. As part of its agreement to redevelop the former Spire site, Related has pledged $10 million toward the Park District-controlled project.