One of the great paradigm-shifting public landscapes of the last century, the Michigan Avenue Streetscape project transformed 33 blocks of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile from an unbroken expanse of concrete into an ever-changing urban Eden.
The plants had hardly taken root outside Crate & Barrel’s flagship store on Michigan Avenue before Chicago’s mayor, Richard M. Daley, took note. In 1991, the retailer had debuted a streetscape garden that was overflowing with plants and flowers of different shapes, sizes, and colors. They gracefully popped against the drab city grays that characterized Michigan Avenue providing much needed vibrancy to a place whose only color came from the yellow stripes down the middle of the street. Daley, whose legacy includes the aggressive greening of Chicago’s public spaces, immediately named Doug Hoerr to a planning committee for the “greening” of Michigan Avenue through a creative amalgam of public and private funds.
With the goal of making horticulture as bold as the surrounding skyscrapers, the design audaciously included flamboyant foliage, towering stalks, and hot-colored flowers; the spectacular design humanized the strong vertical proportions of Chicago’s iconic architecture.
For twenty years, Hoerr Schaudt devised unique seasonal displays for the 2.8 miles of planters along the street. The impact of each horticultural tour de force relies on knowing which plants will withstand exhaust and other pollution, which will thrive in specific urban microclimates, and which will show up on schedule. A choice of species or cultivar may hinge on measuring the exact angle at which high-rise windows bounce the sunlight onto a shady median. It may mean gauging how the warmth from an underground parking garage will accelerate spring bloom, or anticipating how gusts off the lake blow through an intersection.
The project had a tremendous public impact with grateful commuters, shoppers, and cabbies sending thank-you notes and paintings of the gardens to Hoerr Schaudt’s office. Local and national media lauded the central role of horticulture in what soon became a model across the City of Chicago and other cities. By the twentieth anniversary of the Michigan Avenue planters’ début, the firm calculated that ninety-eight total miles of medians had blossomed on Chicago streets.
ASLA Landmark Award 2016
American Planning Association, Great Streets Award 2007
ASLA National Merit Award 2003
Friends of Downtown Award 2002
ASLA Illinois Merit Award 2001
GNMAA Avenue Enhancement Award 1998
Friends of the Parks Awards 1996
Chicago Horticultural Society Special Merit Award 1995