By Eric Herman
Back in September 2009, I took advantage of my annual trip to the American Society of Landscape Architects’ Expo by stretching things out with a few extra days in Chicago. I’ve always loved the city and was particularly excited by the thought of finally getting a chance to see Millennium Park in person.
I’d heard and read a great deal about it, of course, and my interest went way beyond our coverage of its Crown Fountain in our April 2005 issue: I’d always wanted to count myself among the millions who’ve enjoyed its open spaces, its beautiful features and the opportunities it offers to enjoy arts festivals and performances. In a very real way, it successfully redefined a big part of the city and has even had the neat side effect of driving up real estate prices in the surrounding areas.
I visited the park on a glorious, sunny afternoon with my great friends (and longtime WaterShapes contributors) Suzanne and Ron Dirsmith, and to say the park lived up to my expectations would be a gross understatement. Everything from the Crown Fountain and the spectacular Cloud Gate sculpture to the great lawn over which loom the sweeping arches designed by Frank Gehry – it all worked together in creating spaces and transitions of remarkable vitality and interactive energy.
The experience has stuck with me ever since, coincidentally at a time when a number of articles about revitalizing urban areas with parks centered on water and art have crossed my desk. In our January 2010 issue, for example, we covered St. Louis’ Citygarden, and here again in February, we’re covering Montréal’s breathtaking Place des Festivals (see “Civic Celebrations” by David L’Heureux).
In both St. Louis and Montréal, city officials have invested substantially in the ability of water and art to attract tourists and offer locals a convenient place to gather and participate in cultural events. And they’re far from alone: I’ve also been hearing lots of talk about the Promenade project in Dallas, for instance, and about a new downtown park in Los Angeles.
In all of these cases, dynamic watershapes are highly significant parts of the mix, and it’s definitely exciting to hear about our industry’s participation in the process of upgrading great cities in North America and beyond. But it’s really not surprising, because this is what watershaping at its finest does: It elevates our collective standard of living by bringing beauty, excitement, tranquility and meaning to places where we meet, spend time, enjoy ourselves and indulge in philosophical and spiritual reflection.
As had tens of thousands before me, while I was in Chicago I took advantage of the beautiful day to act like a child and splash around in the Crown Fountain, and I must say that I experienced an elevation of my spirits and my enthusiasm about being part of this industry as a result. True, I also gave Ron and Suzanne plenty of ammunition for ribbing me gently about not acting my age, but I didn’t mind – not at all.
While I was there in that wonderful city, in that fabulous park, within reach of that remarkable fountain, I really couldn’t help myself. And the upshot? I felt the stresses of my life fade away in a few incredible moments of exuberance.
Here’s hoping this trend catches on in city after city across the planet: Personally, and I’m certain some of you will agree with me, I’d probably benefit from getting good and regular soakings everywhere I go!