What's being said about the Midway Plaisance: Rationale for the Remake, coverage of Winter Garden opening, Ice skating on the Midway

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Henry S. Webber, Vice President for Community and Government Affairs, The University of Chicago, wrote the following piece for the Hyde Park Herald of February 26, 2003. His letter presents in detail the University's hopes and program for the Midway as well as a parks/open space philosophy. Wolfe-Clements and a Philadelphia firm have done most of the design work intended to realize the Midway Master Plan. For those who bemoan weak publicity for and attendance at public planning meetings, watch for them (including in our Midway website) and come.

Following is an article on the opening of the north Winter Garden.

by Hank Webber

There is a new landscape developing on the north face of the Midway just west of the ice rink. Under the watchful eye of Carl Linne, the evergreens, red berries and waving prairie grasses are featured in Hyde Park's new Winter Garden, due to open in May of this year.

The Winter Garden will display plants that are interesting in all seasons, including our long Chicago winters. Plantings have ben chosen for their colorful winter bark, unusual growth habits, winter fruit or evergreen foliage. Dogwoods, willows, birches, hawthorns and conifers are among the trees you will find planted around inviting paths that seek to encourage pedestrians to stroll through the Midway rather than just cross it.

The Winter Garden is the first of many botanic gardens envisioned in the Midway Plaisance Master Plan completed in September, 2002 and available at www.uchicago.edu/docs/mp-site/construction/plaisance/

Completed in collaboration with the Chicago Park District--who owns and operates the Midway Plaisance--as well as landscape design consultants and a community steering committee, the Midway revitalization plan was a community effort of the best kind. Community members were invited to three public meetings, and their ideas were solicited at these working sessions and through questionnaires. This comprehensive and inclusive planning effort took time, but the payback will be an exciting transformation of the Midway from an underutilized space to a great park that will met the social, aesthetic and relaxation needs of all Chicagoans.

A new, vibrant and accessible Midway is also crucial to the continued revitalization of the Woodlawn and greater South Side communities and an important part of the effort to revitalize Burnham, Jackson and Washington Parks.

Parks and public spaces are a barometer for a community's quality of life. They act as gathering places for friends and family, a respite from overbooked lives and great places for kids to blow off some steam.

The Midway Plaisance is growing into this and much more. The ice skating rink and warming house had a successful opening last year. The Midway's western sunken panels, used for playing fields, have been irrigated, replanted and now have improved drainage, and the Winter Garden will open this year, bringing visual interest to the Midway year-round.

Although not part of the Midway Master Plan, the recent unveiling of the refurbished Fountain of Time sculpture and reflecting pool adds an important element to the Midway's transformation. The Chicago Park District, who owns the monument, worked with the Art Institute of Chicago to preserve this awesome national treasure.

The time frame for the Midway Master Plan spans over a decade, although a substantial portion should be completed in the next three years. With continued input and assistance from the local park advisory council, work will continue this year in a number of areas.

The winter Garden will be completed with the laying of lawn panels, the planting of perennials and, this fall, the addition of 80,000 spring bulbs. Other priorities for 2003 include continued work on center panel drainage and irrigation east of Woodlawn; development of a lighting plan for the Midway; tree pruning and trimming; development of "traffic calming solutions," and what will surely be a "can't miss" listing in future city guidebooks--the planning of a Children's Garden Playground.

The Children's Garden Playground will be an innovative environment located on the center panel east of the viaduct along Stony Island Avenue. This location ensures accessibility to visitors with ample off-the-street parking and connections to the Museum of Science and Industry and Jackson Park. Nontraditional objects, plant materials and building surfaces will be used to create a dynamic, challenging and stimulating play area where plants and children and imaginations grow.

And we hope you will follow the progress on the Midway, experience its new features and join us in promoting this unique and historical park to all Chicagoans.


"Contemplative" Winter Garden Slated for June opening

Hyde Park Herald, May 28, 2003. By Maurice Lee


South Siders will soon have a quiet space in which to sit back and ponder "what it all means" when the newly constructed Midway Winter Garden at 59th Street and Ellis Avenue opens early next month.

The garden is the latest collaboration between the University of Chicago and the Chicago Park District in the ongoing Midway Master Plan. University Planner Richard Bumstead said while crews would continue doing "a little clean-up and a little touch-up," they will remove the fences surrounding the $1.6 million, five-acres garden and open it to the public June 2.

The Winter Garden will encourage a more contemplative experience, unlike the Children's Garden announced last week in the Herald for the east end of the Midway, which was designed to encourage visitors to interact directly with their surroundings, according to Bumstead. "[The Winter Garden is] primarily visual as opposed to amenity driven," said Bumstead. "It's a destination garden as opposed to a recreation garden."

During the warmer months, Winter Garden will offer a variety of flowering display gardens and seating options, ranging from benches to raised lawn patches to the base of the university's Linne sculpture. In the colder months, Bumstead said the garden is designed with a rolling topography, which he said will accentuate winter's aesthetic.

"The landscape architects designed [the Winter Garden] that way so that in the winter it would catch snow in different ways and melt it in different ways," said Bumstead. "So there will be sort of evolving patterns of snow as the winter progresses. So it's a very visually oriented garden."


Ice skating on the Midway remains valued pastime

Chicago Maroon, January 13, 2004. By Tara Kadioglu and Rachel Levine

Snell and Hitchcock residents have long considered themselves members of the most chic houses on campus. They proved that on Friday night when they attended a private skating session at the Midway Rink, continuing the long-standing Hyde Park tradition of skating on the Midway.

Although the rink, as it stands today at 1130 Midway Plaisance North, wasn't completed until February 2001, people have been skating on the Midway in portable rinks for over a century. From the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 to the activities of today—skating, broomball, and rat hockey in the winter and sports camp, roller skating, and festivals in the summer—the Midway has remained the Park District's community "place-to-be." The building facility accompanying the rink includes a skate rental area, a cafe, a rooftop observation dick, and a warming house. The facility has been used for banquets and was once even rented for a wedding. Employees say the most popular activity is adult rat hockey.

The Olympic-sized rink provides skaters with excellent amenities: parking in the evening hours and a variety of music. "We play everything from classical to rap; from Frank Sinatra to Elvis to Earth, Wind, and Fire," said special recreational activity instructor at the rink, Mack Smith, a Hyde Park native who began skating at the age of six.

Smith added the rink's location on the Midway makes it safer than other rinks in Chicago. "The security is superb—there's no crime. It's top-flight—very professional."

Jordan Paterra, the fourth-year R.A. in Hitchcock who planned the Friday night event, said that the right to have a skating party isn't exclusive to his own dorm and that any house can take advantage of the opportunity. ...

...some of [the] housemates were practically seasoned veterans of the ice. Jake Xuyang Song..said that he had skated several times prior to the house event. "I think it's a great activity, and a great way to bring people together."...

Employees at the Midway Rink said that some members of the outside community see the rink as exclusive to the University, even though it is run by the public park district and has an open door policy.

However, the University played a significant role in planning and lobbying for the rink, which came into existence via a joint effort with the Chicago Park District.

Smith maintains that the University "has been doing a lot to reach out to the community, and, through our facility, the University has an excellent opportunity to bring out diverse culture and economic stability."

Pushing aside different perceptions of what the Midway rink may represent, those who are actually gliding on the ice agree that it brings the community together. "On weekends you see a lot of university students. [Throughout the week] there's usually a mix of gender and people in the age range of six to sixty. I like the fact that we get a cross-section of people here. People are very happy to come. It's a fun, 'happening' place," Smith said.

Snell-Hitchcock certainly tore up the ice on Friday, but there weren't the only ones who took advantage of the rink. Steven and Logan Kee, brothers ages six and seven, respectively, also had a blast. They say that Friday night was their second time there....