With summer coming to a close, cooler temperatures in the northern climes will reduce the number of people utilizing public parks to a fraction of these spaces' capacity as residents tuck themselves in for a long winter's nap. Outdoor concert venues will be shuttered for winter, movies will disappear from screens on great lawns and rooftops, and souvenir shops will have to bring their postcard racks indoors until the summer months return.
All of this cocooning seems less bleak when you consider that creative performance, one of the forces which draws individuals together in the summer months, will continue to thrive indoors throughout the winter. But there is something else about warm weather and pockets of open spaces in the cityscape that is also carried home for the winter: a sense of community. A good public park design provides an intangible source of pride for a municipality's residents, and a truly successful design will also foster those residents' identities. These spaces are some of the most widely accessible forms of beauty, after all.
One of the most successful major new endeavors in public space planning is Millennium Park in Chicago. Occupying a corner of real estate adjacent to Grant Park, which embraces the waterfront of Lake Michigan, Millennium Park is home to striking works of public art which double as points of amusement for young and old alike, and is also home to the ultimate playground, Jay Pritzker Pavilion. As revealed in SCN's October 2004 issue, this Frank Gehry structure is electrified by an outdoor distributed audio system like none other. There, LCR clusters are augmented by 52 nodes of two to three loudspeakers each distributed across the entire distance of a magnificent trellis structure designed specifically for the purpose of providing excellent sound all the way to the back of the 11,000-person capacity area.
If a public park is deemed successful by virtue of its ability to enthrall many while also fostering the identity of the individual, then the audio system at Millennium Park plays an important role. Designed by Jonathan Laney of Talaske and installed by the team at db Integrated Systems, the sound reinforcement system took center stage for a second summer this year. However, all the positive reviews and a widespread reputation for "good sound" don't explain why this park is successful. While it is certainly a crowd pleaser, it is also very important to the individual pursuits of city dwellers.
A walk around Jay Pritzker Pavilion early one Saturday morning in August provided evidence of this fact. With no concert scheduled for that day late in the season, the wide expanse of grass under the trellis had been taken over by fitness instructors. From a platform front and center on the field, these teachers led free courses in tai chi, yoga and pilates. But instead of a standard portable PA setup, these teachers had the advantage of using the entire distributed audio system to instruct the crowd in front of them. While there weren't quite 11,000 people there so early on a weekend morning, there was certainly a good number of students mastering inner strength through tai chi. But the most thrilling fact was that the audio system wasn't loud, it wasn't squawky and there wasn't any tragic reverb obliterating the instructor's declarations. This was a huge class taught by one individual who barely had to raise their voice. And as proof of just how far away that voice could be heard, yards and yards away from the rest of the group at the back of the lawn, one person was participating in a long-form tai chi class. Too shy to join the group, this individual was still benefiting from what the park had to offer.