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Chicago Botanic Garden Named a Top 10 Great Public Space for 2012 by American Planning Association

Gloria Ciaccio

(847) 835-6819, direct

Release Date: 
Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Glencoe, Ill. – The American Planning Association (APA) today announced the designation of the Chicago Botanic Garden as one of 10 Great Public Spaces for 2012 under the organization’s Great Places in America program. APA Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planning and planners play in adding value to communities, including fostering economic growth and creating jobs.

APA singled out the Chicago Botanic Garden, a leader in sustainability, for its impressive design, holistic approach to the visitor experience, commitment to education and research, and creative and sensitive plan for the future. The Garden is a model for leadership, stewardship, volunteerism and programming.

“The Chicago Botanic Garden is one of Illinois’ greatest treasures and among the nation’s top cultural destinations,” said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). “This living museum of plants and gardens engages children and adults alike and fosters in them a love of the natural world.”

Through Great Places in America, APA recognizes streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces whose unique and authentic characteristics have evolved from thoughtful and deliberate planning by residents, community leaders, and planners. The 2012 Great Places, which offer more choices for where and how people work and live, have many of the features Americans say are important to their “ideal community” including close, locally owned businesses; transit; neighborhood parks; and sidewalks.

Since APA began Great Places in America in 2007, 60 neighborhoods, 60 streets, and 50 public spaces have been designated in 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“The Chicago Botanic Garden’s vision — to inspire people to notice and reflect upon the beauty and subtleties of nature — is reflected throughout their Glencoe campus, from its design to its landscaping, buildings, and activities,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP. “This is a living museum with dramatic views and framed vistas, harmonious building design, and exceptional horticultural specimens, all of which compel visitors to embrace the natural world and make it a part of their lives,” he added.

The transformation of 385 acres of degraded marshy lowland into Chicago’s seventh largest cultural institution and twelfth most-visited tourist attraction and the fifth most-visited botanic garden in the United States has taken just four decades and remains a work in progress. Landscape architect John O. Simonds and his associate, Geoffrey Rausch, created an innovative “green blueprint” in 1963 and master plan five years later. Subsequent updates in 1997 and 2009 remained rooted in the Simonds-Rausch vision. The Garden’s 1995 and 2009 strategic plans reflect the institution’s desire to broaden its reach and deepen its impact while improving the health of the natural world.  

“The recognition by the APA is particularly satisfying,” said President & CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden, Sophia Shaw, “because the Garden’s success is rooted in good master site planning. Garden founders boldly chose a unique American architectural vernacular for this campus, and subsequent leaders have held strong to this vision. What results is a unified and inspiring public garden.”

To achieve its goals, the Chicago Botanic Garden has embarked on a campaign to build a new horticulture center, which will allow for increased plant production. In 1981, there was a single display garden and 100,000 plants. Today, the same growing facilities support 26  gardens and more than 2.5 million plants.

The themed, formal gardens attract about a million multigenerational and multiethnic visitors annually. From the tranquil Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden, a place of serene beauty and intriguing symbolism, to the Krasberg Rose Garden, where the colors progress from dark in the front to light in the back, giving the illusion of depth, to the Buehler Enabling Garden, designed to be universally accessible, the gardens engage the mind, body, and spirit.

Intellectual engagement occurs both onsite and online. The Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School’s programs serve more than 116,000 students annually. Its Science Careers Continuum — from 8th grade through doctorate level — provides training to a new generation of scientists, preparing them to address pressing environmental challenges. A college-prep program offers internships and mentoring.

The Chicago Botanic Garden’s community gardening program — Windy City Harvest — recently partnered with Kraft Foods to develop a three-season, 8,000-square-foot corporate garden. Windy City Harvest produced more than 45,000 pounds of food last year. Through a new partnership with Midwest Food and Levy Restaurants, Windy City Harvest provides fresh vegetables for the Stadium Club at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox baseball team.

The LEED-Gold-rated Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center will serve as a depository for up to 200 million seeds of the tallgrass prairie that the Garden has pledged to collect, banking 10,000 seeds from each of 1,500 native species across the Midwest. Seed banking enables plants to escape threats imposed by destructive habitat changes including urbanization, climate change, invasive species, overharvest, and pollution. In light of its commitment to sustainability, the Chicago Botanic Garden was chosen by the U.N.’s World Environment Programme to serve as the United States host for the 2008 World Environment Day celebration. The Garden continues to commemorate World Environment Day each year with programming and speakers.

The nine other APA 2012 Great Public Spaces are: Bienville Square, Mobile, AL; Cesar Chavez Park and Plaza, Sacramento, CA; Washington Park, Denver, CO; Chicago Union Station, Chicago, IL; Jackson Square, New Orleans, LA; Village Green, Bar Harbor, ME; Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Portland, OR; Buffalo Bayou, Houston, TX; and Ritter Park, Huntington, WV.

For more information about these public spaces, as well as APA’s top 10 Great Streets and top 10 Great Neighborhoods for 2012 and previous years, visit This year's Great Places in America are being celebrated as part of APA's National Community Planning Month during October; for more about the special month, visit


Editors, please note: For digital images, contact Jasmine Leonas at (847) 835-6829 or at

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