This past summer I did an internship at a planning firm in Chicago’s downtown loop. Like any hard working citizen, I needed that 30 minute lunch break to get away from my desk. Within walking distance of my building were two plazas that served similar purposes–1)Daley Plaza, and 2)Exelon Plaza.

Situated on Randolph and Washington Streets between Dearborn and Clark Streets, Daley Plaza is a complement to the City’s Civic Center building. Roughly 2 acres in area, the plaza includes a fountain, hardscaped surface and most notably–a 50ft tall commissioned statue designed by Pablo Picasso. Although surrounded by traffic, the dominant mode of transportation here is walking. A typical summertime lunch hour in Daley Plaza contains a musical performance on its northern edge, a small concentration of smokers picnicking under the limited shaded seating, fountain dwellers, people watchers, and if you’re there on a Thursday, you will find a farmers’ market. Friendly police patrol the crosswalks leading to Daley Plaza, and the loud noises of the nearby traffic seem to fade away as you embrace your well-deserved sandwich.

Daley Plaza with farmers' market; view from W Washington St.

Daley Plaza with farmers’ market; view from W Washington St.

Just four blocks south of Daley Plaza is the Exelon Plaza, which sits next to famous curved skyscraper The Chase Bank building, bounded by streets Clark, Dearborn, Madison, and Monroe. Exelon is about half the size of Daley Plaza. One unique feature about this place is its sunken, or recessed design. Otherwise, it is very similar to Daley; it’s mostly hardscaped, has a fountain, and surprise, a notable public art piece–the freestanding Chagall mosaic at ground level. The dominant mode of transportation is also walking, although both plazas are conveniently accessible by the underground pedestrian pedway that leads to the El, Chicago’s train system.

View from Clark Street facing down to the plaza

View from Clark Street facing down to the plaza

The Daley Plaza is heavily programmed. You can always stumble upon an interesting cultural, ethnic or faith-based themed event at Daley Plaza. The sun is bright and intense.

In contrast, Exelon Plaza is smaller in area. The sunken design shields visitors from the harsh, anti-human scaled FARs of its neighboring structures, a necessary feature in my opinion. Because of its small area, less sunlight makes it into the plaza. Exelon does not seem to have programming, but it does offer more organic seating options than Daley with its varied levels throughout.

Both plazas served me well as a summer user, and each maintain their own special charm. They are accessible to the public and feel safe. Two thumbs up from summer intern Abby!

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