New Era: 1990-21st Century
The election of Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1989 marked a new era of greening, improving, expanding, and updating Chicago's parks. Among the Park District's goals were replanting degraded park landscapes, creating hundreds of gardens and several new natural areas, rehabilitating dozens of park structures, constructing new field houses, beach houses, and comfort stations, elevating the level of maintenance of park facilities, and completely revamping its programming. An innovative 1996 Neighborhoods First Project resulted in the development of recreational staffs and inspired new educational and training programs for Park District staff members. This project also helped the CPD to make its facilities and programs more responsive to the needs of local communities.
New offerings include after-school programs such as PARK Kids, which incorporates learning centers with recreational components. An array of new summer programs provide extended hours and various activities such as specialty camps for sports, bicycling, golf, fishing, gardening, and Urban Campers, an outdoor education program that includes overnight camping in several parks. Throughout the year, numerous innovative programs are geared towards every age level. New therapeutic programs for people with disabilities include sled hockey for the physically challenged and beep baseball for the visually impaired. Core program areas include not only traditional ones such as physical and social activities, but also cultural enrichment, life skills, and environmental education. The CPD's programs are now nationally accredited and have received several "outstanding program awards" since 1995.
In recent years, the Park District has also benefited from cooperative efforts with other agencies and non-profit organizations. Programming initiatives are supported by partnerships with museums, universities, professional sports teams, and federal and state agencies. During the mid-1990s, the Park District and Friends of the Parks jointly received a Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Grant to enhance community outreach and educational programs at the Garfield Park Conservatory. This led to the creation of the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, a non-profit organization with a full-time staff that provides programs for the conservatory.
Another newly formed parks organization is the Parkways Foundation, which raises significant funding for Chicago Park District initiatives. Already, this organization has raised more than $2 million for capital projects, program scholarships, and other efforts that support the parks. A cooperative effort between the Chicago Park District and Board of Education is the Campus Park Program, in which more than 100 school lots are being replaced with green spaces. This $50 million initiative has resulted in beautiful school landscapes with gardens, playgrounds, recreational fields, and neighborhood gathering spaces throughout the city.
Another significant recent focus has been comprehensive planning efforts. A 1990 Land Policies Plan and 1998 CitySpace Plan, for example, have guided the acquisition of 200 acres of new parkland, and the promise of an additional 150 acres of open space. Long-range planning has also been undertaken in large regional parks such as Lincoln, Burnham, and Washington. Created cooperatively by the CPD, allied agencies, community groups, and park advisory councils, these plans have already helped to guide development, improve infrastructure, generate new recreational programs, and enhance operations in these large regional parks. And as a part of the Museum Campus Plan, the City and Park District have reclaimed a 57-acre expanse of Lake Shore Drive. Constructed in 1995, the project relocated a vast stretch of roadway that had bisected parts of Burnham and Grant parks, connecting the museums and creating new plazas, gardens, and landscapes that take advantage of the site's spectacular lake-front views.
The work to maintain and expand upon Chicago's parkland legacy is ongoing. Mayor Richard M. Daley's ambitious visions for the twenty-first century, for example, embrace the new Millennium Park. Reclaiming 16.4 acres of former railroad right-of-way that extends through Grant Park, this new development will include a 1 million square foot area of gardens, sculptures, festival sites, underground parking, indoor auditorium for music and dance performances, and outdoor music pavilion designed by world renowned architect, Frank Gehry. This tapestry of art, nature, and culture will set the standard for park design and programming well into the future, once again carrying on Chicago's tradition of "Urbs in horto - City in a garden."