Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A City Running Tour

Last week I was fortunate enough to visit Chicago, one of my fav cities, for a National League of Cities conference. For those of you not familiar with NLC it's the nationwide organization that represents cities in Washington, DC. It's essentially the organization I work for at a national level, and it's pretty cool. Their conferences are always very informative, and getting to go to Chicago is just gravy.

My co-workers and I decided to begin our first morning in Chicago with a City Running Tour. I've been following City Running Tours for a while on Facebook and Twitter and have been dying to give one a try. They are tours that point out sites in various cities - while running. We signed up for the Grant Park tour which started in Millennium Park (at the Bean) just near our hotel.

Our group starting our tour at the Bean

If you follow weather at all you'll recall that last week was a scorcher in the Midwest.  The temps topped out in the 90s with extraordinary humidity, and even at 7:15 in the morning it was sweltering. This didn't stop a motley crew - three city advocates from Michigan, a married couple from Calgary and a woman from New Zealand - from braving the heat and joining our rock star tour guide, Michael, through Grant Park.

Jumping for joy as we run by Buckingham Fountain
I learned a lot about Grant Park. I didn't realize that it is a large park system that includes Millennium Park (they are not separate entities). I also didn't know that Lake Michigan reached all the way to Michigan Avenue until the lake was filled in by debris from the Great Fire of 1871 creating the area now known as Grant Park.

A beautiful view of the skyline from the south side of the park
Millennium Park is considered the world's largest "green roof" as it was built on top of a parking structure. It is due to the amazing vision of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (who we heard from during the conference) that this world renowned park came into being. It's quite an extraordinary place that is always filled with runners, walkers, families, just people enjoying the park. If there is ever a doubt that parks are an important facet of placemaking, Grant Park quashes it.

Our entire group
On the tour we saw a lot of the park including a dog park, tennis courts, baseball fields, community gardens, and public art. It's got everything a vibrant park needs.  There is even a dance floor set up for dancing events in the summer where I got the opportunity to break out my epic running man. 1994 called, and it is jealous of my awesome moves.

Work it, work it.
The tour ran by the famed Art Institute where we got to examine the four differences between the lions that guard the building (I'd tell you the differences but don't want to spoil it for those of you who might be visiting). We then ran by the incredible Crown Fountain where on any given summer evening hundreds of people are enjoying this great piece of public art. I proceeded to just get in the fountain which was perfect on a hot summer morning.

Checking out the lions at the Art Institute

Crown Fountain
We finished where we started, by the Bean, with a 5k photo finish. Our tour guide was energetic, knowledgeable, and somehow managed to tote around a backpack and sprint ahead to take photos on a brutally hot day. It was a really fun experience, and I would highly recommend to anyone who is interested in running or cities. I honestly can't wait for my next City Running Tour!



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