Tables, chairs to pop up around Loop

By Assistant Metro Editor

As students look for a place to take their lunch breaks after a day of shopping on State Street, they may soon be able to pull up a chair at a table on the street and converse with new people, surrounded by festive music and plants.

The Chicago Loop Alliance unveiled the 2014 Placemaking proposal on Feb. 14 at the group’s annual meeting. That would create the spots meant to encourage human interaction and construct places for locals and tourists to relax and enjoy the city scenery after a day on the town, according to a Feb. 14 press release.

The project will transform two parking lots on the northwest corner of Dearborn and Adams streets into 300-square-foot “people spots,” complete with flowers, music, tables and chairs.

The project, known as the Placemaking Initiative, will cost an estimated $135,000, said Elizabeth Neukirch, CLA spokeswoman, in an email. The Social Service Area, a taxing district in the Loop, will fund $100,000 and the remaining $35,000 will be raised through event fundraisers and company sponsors, Neukirch said.

The CLA is also pursuing additional corporate sponsorships to fund the initial plans, Other CLA Placemaking projects have appeared around the city, such as The Gateway on State Street where Chicagoans and tourists can sit at the tables and chairs in the middle of one of the busiest streets in Chicago. Another CLA placemaking project was the Activate event in Couch Place Alley, where more than 2,000 people gathered Sept. 12 in a working service alley that was renovated as a place for Chicagoans to enjoy drinks, food, music and art, as reported Sept. 9 by The Chronicle. The CLA is also known for the “Go do good” signage on State Street buildings.

“By continuing our exploration of placemaking opportunities in underutilized spaces such as Pritzker Park, we’re taking advantage of the rich urban environment that already exists and creating a new gateway into all the Loop has to offer,” said Michael Edwards, CLA executive director, in the Feb. 14 press release.

Anijo Mathew, an assistant professor at Illinois Institute of Technology of Design who advised the CLA on the project, said these spots are a way the city can give back to the community.

“There are vantage points throughout the city often designed in a way for people to have experiences within the city,” Mathew said. “They will come in, have lunch, an argument, sit down and talk about their love or whatever it is that they want to do.”

According to the press release, the CLA will place rotating tables and chairs throughout the Loop to promote human interaction.

The South Loop Neighbors organization, has created small parks, such as the Printers Row Park at 700 S. Dearborn St., but doing so is a tricky process, said Vice President Dennis McClendon.

“If you just have a place to sit and don’t make any other provisions, the only people who use it are people who have no place better to go,” McClendon said. “You end up like Dearborn park, Pritzker Park and even the park at Printers Square. They have become places for the homeless to hang out until the Pacific Garden Mission opens for the night.”

Although McClendon expressed concerns about safety and loitering, he said the Placemaking project could benefit the city by enhancing tourist’s experiences.

“The common thread is to make downtown seem attractive to people, especially during our spring, summer and fall months,” McClendon said. “We could become much more of a café society or a city that embraces street life. We certainly have the tourist traffic that would use that, as well as the workers and residents.”