The motto of the city of Chicago, Illinois is “urbs in hortu” which is Latin for “city in a garden.” The motto for Chicago is not “festum in urbs” or “festival in a city,” yet festivals large and small draw people to the city – to visit as well as to live – and contribute tremendously to the unique place it is.
It is the large festival concerts that of course draw the largest crowds, including myself. For me personally, there is nothing else like watching live music with tens of thousands of strangers, to say the least! As great and memorable as these festival concerts are – the likes of Lollapalooza, Pitchfork and Riot Fest – they also have an impact long after the last note is played and people leave, namely in the physical damage done to where the concerts are held, which is in public parks across Chicago.
The damage to parks is eventually fixed, and the cost is mostly covered by the concert promoter. However in 2014, the concert and amusement festival Riot Fest, which called the city’s northwest side park Humboldt Park its home for the past several years, was denied a permit to return there after neighbors complained about damage not completely repaired and other issues related to crowds. The 2015 concert was held on the other side of the city in Douglas Park.
I can understand the issue of park damage. Lollapalooza, the annual concert that consumes Chicago’s Grant Park along Lake Michigan, takes most of the park out of commission – including use for locals – for many weeks to repair the damage, which in their case and for Riot Fest is usually due to rain and millions of footsteps wrecking grassy areas which need to be replanted or resodded. It’s not only an inconvenience, but people are denied access to a park they pay for with their tax dollars.
While existing spaces and places make a great setting for concerts, namely in aerial photos of the crowds, a solution that could make everybody happy – from concertgoers to neighbors – would be a permanent festival location for such events.
Dedicated festival grounds
What you say, Mike, build out an open space for multi-stage concerts or other large festival activities and events? Yes, I am, and allow me to make the case for such a venue.
There’s plenty of space in Chicago. If you’ve ever traveled across this fair city, whether by train, car or even over it by airplane, there is all kinds of “vacant” land across the city. I use “vacant” in quotes as clearly someone owns it. But it is there, and not being used.
This is not an original idea. The concept of space for events is nothing new. The Midwest is dotted with fairgrounds, with indoor and outdoor facilities. Growing up in Massachusetts, the Eastern States Exposition grounds hosted not only the Big E, the annual 6-New England state fair, but events large and small throughout the year. Also, about 90 minutes north of Chicago is the Summerfest grounds along lake Michigan in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is designed and used for varying sized events.
Can be designed for its use. By building out a space for such events, it can be designed for multiple stages and the crowds that will stand and watch them and walk around, ideally not on grass but asphalt. Not to mention having some “permanent” fixtures like real bathrooms! Perhaps the event organizers, including Lollapalooza’s Perry Farrell, could have a say in its design too?
Can be designed to scale. Not all concerts and festivals draw the same size crowds, and the venue can be designed and built to accommodate different sized crowds.
Better accommodations for inclement weather. It’s rare than a little rain (or a lot) doesn’t fall on an outdoor festival event. This can be factored into the design of the venue with shelters and indoor facilities.
Better offering of VIP services. In addition to general admission tickets to such events, VIP tickets are more and more commonplace. Designing this into venues can provide a greater experience, at a greater cost, for VIPs, which can contribute more to the cost of the venue itself.
Better transportation planning. Or maybe simply “transportation planning” as such a venue would have planned transportation options – not to mention working in public transportation, paths and parking to accommodate it?
For all of these great reasons, it doesn’t mean that it will just happen. Especially in a city like Chicago, with burgeoning deficits, its politics and everything else making headlines, it could take years for something like this to ever happen. Plus, the city has a long history of hosting great events with little physical traces of them years later, such as 2 World’s Fairs in 1893 and 1933.
But nothing is ever easy, and because of it, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about it. “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not themselves be realized.” was a quote from Daniel Burnham, the famous Chicago architect and author of the Chicago Plan, a design for the city that was implemented in part, just like there would be some compromise on such a venue.
Could this happen in Chicago? Should it happen? Does the city have more pressing priorities? I welcome your thoughts and opinions on my idea in the comments of this post.
This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.
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