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Chicagoans need more outdoor entertainment options that don’t require a car

10:49 AM CDT on July 2, 2020

People sit on the Millennium Park lawn inside distancing circles

People sit on the Millennium Park lawn inside distancing circles. Photo: Mayor’s office

Hot summer temperatures have arrived in Chicago and people want to get out and enjoy the warmer weather. Options for free outdoor entertainment are in short supply. Streets typically used to move and store personal vehicles – there are "Café Streets" on Randolph and 75th Streets, for example – are now being used for distanced outdoor dining. Drive-in theaters are emerging as an option for people willing to pay up to $40 their vehicle while programming for Chicago’s Movies in the Park and free movies and concerts at Millennium Park have been cancelled.

Streets festivals have also been canceled, and beaches and water access are officially closed (although people are using them). 

I believe that people want free and distanced outdoor entertainment alternatives, especially ones that are accessible to people who rely on transit or biking, because traditional summer activities cannot happen. Chicago's leaders in tourism, open space, and entertainment must be able to devise creative solutions to provide equitable access to green space.

While Millennium Park has recently opened its great lawn in front of the bandshell for socially distant relaxation with distancing circles painted on the lawn, there’s still plenty of opportunity for the city to expand this concept to more spaces. The Chicago Park District could test out painting distancing circles in the lawns of parks in order to facilitate Movies in the Park.

Page from a NACTO guide for outdoor gatherings during the COVID pandemic depicts people at a graduation.
NACTO's guide depicts people at a graduation standing in painted circles and seated on distanced chairs.

Private entertainment options and business owners can also provide alternatives. The North American City Transportation Officials (NACTO) published a guidebook for cities and business improvement districts that recommends and visualizes ways to have gatherings in public with distancing in mind. Their case study references religious observances and graduation, but I believe this setup can extend to concerts and performances held in parking lots and stub streets.

Updated: July 7, 2020
Officials in the city of Cambridge, MA have approved plans to turn a parking lot into an open air entertainment square. The concept is being titled "Starlight Square" and will feature live performances and the arts, dining, community services and education from the end of July until October. According to local newspaper, Cambridge Day, funding for the space will come from the Business Improvement District in which the space is located and the city will underwrite tickets to events for any resident who wishes to attend.

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