Chicago's First People's Plaza Opens Downtown

It just opened on State Street and is a perfect refuel depot during a shopping blitz or to wind down during the weekend.

Photo by: Francesca Robin Andrea Wilkinson and Kathy Rooney, visiting from Florida, enjoy the Gateway People's Plaza in downtown Chicago.

Look for the big wooden flower planters and bright orange umbrellas. These are "parklets," and they're beginning to spring up around town. This one, the first-ever People's Plaza, called the Gateway, on State Street between Lake and Wacker, opened about a week ago. It's part of the city's Make Way for the People program and located in the sweeeet spot — a touristy section where locals and tourists eat and shop. (Remember: This is the block of the historic Macy's storefront.)

The initiative launched to revamp sidewalks, alleyways, malls and other urban outdoor spaces for public use and to revitalize retail. Make Way for the People has four platforms: People Plazas, People Spots, People Alleys and People Streets. The idea is to open "Chicago’s streets to new programming" and "cultivate community and culture in Chicago’s neighborhoods," according to the website announcement. The Department of Transportation handles the bids for the public-private partnerships.

"This is incredible," says Andrea Wilkinson, visiting from Florida with friend Kathy Rooney. She says she found the Gateway plaza by accident. "This is my third or fourth trip here [to Chicago] on business and pleasure. We're staying at the Wit. I've never in my life seen a place where you could come and be a part of the city. I've never seen it, and I've been all over the world. It's just amazing."

"I think there's not a lot of places to sit in the city that we've noticed," says Rooney. "When I was looking down on it from the room I couldn't wait to go down there. This is like a little oasis."

Want to propose a parklet or People Spot for your neighborhood? You can. Learn more about the application process for Make Way for the People.

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