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 In Pathways, Travel, Universal Design

by Katie Denis | Access Planner

Millennium Park informational signage about Universal DesignMillennium Park in Chicago, Illinois is an embodiment of great design. There are many architectural and landscape features that attract both Chicago-natives and tourists. One of the most important features of this park is something that often goes unseen: its accessibility.

Millennium Park was designed with these ideas in mind. It focused primarily on using Universal Design, which aims to design spaces for all people. I had the chance to visit this park during a recent trip to Chicago and can speak on behalf of its great success. When I arrived at the park, I was amazed at how large it was. This is not a random green space in an old building lot, this is a well-executed expansive oasis situated on the shore of Lake Michigan.

There are many attractive features in this park making it a very popular hang-out spot. In one afternoon I managed to see great artwork, walk along the water, do a little sight-seeing, have a snack, and relax on a garden bench. There was also a large and diverse group of people visiting the park when I went. It was a cloudy 40 degree day, not a great park day by my standards, yet there were people everywhere. There were young children, parents, grandparents, athletes, tourists, wheelchair users, cyclists, families, and Chicago natives.

The attractiveness and diversity of Millennium Park are clear signs to me that the principals of universal design are working extremely well. People want to go to the park because it has all of these great features and people are able to visit the park because it is designed well. There are no daunting staircases, uneven surfaces, large inclines, or barriers to stop anyone from visiting the park. The walkways are designed in a way that feels like a calculated design decision, not an afterthought. For example, the BP Pedestrian Bridge is a long sloping curved path that allows people to cross over a busy highway to the lake side of the park. Sure, it would have been a lot easier for designers to build a standard pedestrian bridge with stairs leading up to it, but instead the designers of this park decided to build a more usable bridge. The end result is a beautiful piece of art that gives great views of the city and was one of my favorite spots in the entire park.

Bp Bridge is a giant pedestrian bridge snaking through Chicago
BP Pedestrian Bridge

The universal design of this park doesn’t just benefit people with mobility issues. On the day I went, there was a family having a scooter race to all of the sculptures. It was fun to see how happy everyone was zipping throughout the park not worrying whether or not they will be able to get to the next exhibit. There were also many people running and cycling through the park because it provides even trails with great views of the city. I also really appreciated the gentle slopes and even surfaces of the park, as I had been traveling and was extremely tired. I do not think I would have been able to see as much as I did if there were lots of staircases and steep inclines.

View of the Skating ribbon and Climbing wall in Millenium Park.
Skating Ribbon and Climbing Wall, Maggie Daley Park

In the end, I am happy I decided to visit Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois. I was able to see a successful implementation of universal design. My favorite part of this park is how it takes away the constant worry of people with mobility issues. It is truly a space for all people and that to me is its greatest success.