This is the 41st of 50 Days of Chicago Nature. Read previous posts here.
Daniel Burnham, architect, urban designer and Chicago hero, passed away on this date in 1912. Max Grinnell contributes this piece as a tribute to Burnham.
Right now, some of us might be thinking about how to get away, fly away, train away, drive away, or bike away.
Just to be away, even for an afternoon would be nice.
If you live in a city as I have my entire life, it can be terribly difficult, particular if you are sans automobile. I find myself thinking about this more as I’ve wondered "What would Daniel Burnham do?” I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with his buildings, his park designs, and his Plan of 1909 for Chicago. It’s true that he made no small plans and when he wasn’t thinking about the Big Picture, he and his collaborators often worked on more modest creations for a range of site-specific projects, such as the rather elegant Jackson Park Bridge in Chicago’s Jackson Park (where else would it be?).
Let me return to the word “modest." For the foreseeable future, we will be looking at local interventions in transforming cities in a modest fashion. This includes thinking about travel in a very hyperlocal fashion. The world around us is endlessly fascinating and if we slow down we will have the opportunity to see how the places physically proximate to us afford us a lens to understand a broader set of concerns.
I’m thinking now of those local places where I’ve communed with nature, fellow human beings, public art, and more in Chicago. It might take awhile before more ambitious trips will happen, so why not take a look at these suggestions and plan a short trip?
Nichols Park in Hyde Park
When folks think about green space and nature in Hyde Park, their minds might turn to the Midway Plaisance, Promontory Point, or Jackson Park. Nichols Park is just as important as all of these because it’s right in center of the neighborhood. There’s a charming wildflower meadow, the rather remarkable “Bird of Peace” statue (I’ve always referred to it as the “egg statue”) and a nice fountain surrounded by flowers near the 53rd Street side. It has a sizable footprint (a bit over 11 acres) and it has most, if not all, of the essential elements of a robust and varied urban park landscape. I’ll suggest that you go during the golden hour as that’s when everything takes on a different hue. But doesn’t everything do that in the golden hour?
The McCormick Bird Sanctuary at McCormick Place
Birdwatching is having a moment. For my part, I’ve been putting out suet along the nooks and crannies of a non-functional Dish TV satellite outside of my apartment window. Channelling my inner Roger Tory Peterson, I’ve identified at least eight or nine bird species over the past few weeks. It’s also a wonderful way to break from an inordinate amount of screen time. I can also suggest a visit to the expansive McCormick Bird Sanctuary, six acres of prairie grass that cover a massive parking facility. Installed in 2003, the sanctuary is a place for weary avian travelers during their migrations: during a single spring day here in 2004, birders counted 1,000 sparrows.
Take a moment to wander the grounds and note that the pond's water circulation system is powered by solar energy. It's a landscape of soft touches amid an aggressively hard-scaped environment.
And did Daniel Burnham ever visit either of these two exquisite spaces?
Do I know what he would have thought about them?
What matters most right now is that I hope you’ll make your way to one, if not both, of these remarkable places.
And maybe you will report back.
As an urbanologist, geographer, historian, and professor, Max Grinnell finds his raison d’etre in describing, critiquing, and analyzing the urban condition. Raised in Seattle and Madison, Wisconsin, Max was educated at the University of Chicago where he received degrees in history, geography, and community development.