Plaza Activation in Chicago

You can learn more about the Pérez Plaza story by reading this Dialogue post by Maria Bergh of Archeworks.

Chicago is famous for its iconic public spaces, such as Millenium Park and the Riverwalk. Frequented by residents and tourists alike, these spaces receive a great deal of city and private funding. But Chicago is also home to a vast network of small, underused, and underfunded public plazas that could better serve their neighborhoods. Activate! Chicago is an initiative to enliven these sites across the city, led by Latent Design and the Chicago Department of Transportation.  

As part of our Open Call: Proposals for Public Life program, we worked with two community design organizations: Latent Design and Archeworks. Specifically, we offered technical training on using our public life tools to measure how small, low-cost, temporary interventions in select public spaces might support longer term improvements.

The project centered on Manuel Pérez Jr. Veterans Memorial Plaza in the Little Village neighborhood. Despite the plaza’s location at the end of a bustling Latino commercial corridor (and adjacent to a popular bakery), the space typically attracts only a handful of people — mostly men — to stop and spend time there throughout the day. As Maria Bergh of Archeworks writes of the project: “The congestion in [the adjacent] Little Village [neighborhood] made us wonder if there were light touches that could bring this memorial to life, and if such touches could change the narrative use of Pérez Plaza.”

To garner social and financial support for potential alterations — from a range of stakeholders including the Chamber of Commerce, the Chicago Department of Transportation, and a local veterans group — the team wanted to explore how the plaza is currently used and what interventions might enhance public life there.

The plaza on a typical day.

In Summer 2017, after a 2-year hiatus, the Chicago Mariachi Project hosted performances in the plaza featuring young musicians. The research team observed that performances were mostly attended by the parents and families of the musicians as well as the men who regularly occupy the plaza. Passersby showed interest in the performance, but few chose to linger for an extended period of time.

The additional seats began filling up almost immediately.