Making a place in the Loop's space - Metropolitan Planning Council

Skip to main content

Making a place in the Loop's space

MPC Ryan Griffin-Stegink

Before attending the first ACTIVATE event on Thursday, May 1, I was thinking of using the title “Drinking in alleys,” but when I arrived I realized that the event was much more than that. Organized by Chicago Loop Alliance, the evening was the first in a series of five pop-up art installations in the loop this summer. What made the night such a success was how it transformed the Sullivan Alley, an underused space between State Street and Wabash Avenue on Madison Street, into a destination for contemporary artists, DJs and social Chicagoans.

The theme for event was “death of winter and rebirth of spring.” Spring might not have been reborn that night, but the Sullivan Alley was. At first, the event felt like a gallery opening with a giant mural and fantastic art installations throughout. As the evening progressed, the DJ booth (provided by Zipcar) helped transform the alley from gallery into Chicago’s newest and most welcoming night club.


The event provided an opportunity to rethink how we use public space in the Loop. When Paul Harris, a Pilsen resident, was asked if the night made him think differently about the loop, he said, “In a way, yes. I think the way they utilized the space here is very interesting. And I love that. As an artist, I like taking things that are kind of commonplace and turning them into something beautiful, something interesting.” The event did just that. It turned a commonplace alley into a beautiful destination that drew people in and brought them together.

These events are exercises in Placemaking, around which the Chicago Loop Alliance has created quite a bit of buzz and attracted a good deal of attention. We like to emphasize that a small group of friends and neighbors can still transform spaces on a small budget with few resources (just take a look at these examples). There are many vacant or underused places in Chicago just begging for your attention. If you have a great project idea, or even just a site that you’d love to transform, keep an eye out for MPC’s 2014 Placemaking contest. Details will be announced later this month!

Over 1,500 people showed up to this first ACTIVATE event. Many more activities are planned to inspire Chicagoans this summer. Look for happenings at The Gateway and Pritzker Park at the northwest corner of State and Van Buren streets. Also, keep an eye out for chairs and tables that will pop up throughout the Loop. You can find the seating via social media with #cityseats. Feel free to use them next time you need a workspace that is more inspiring than an office or the usual coffee shop. 

If you missed the first event, you can RSVP for the next ACTIVATE event on June 5. It promises to be the most fun you’ve ever had in an alley!



ACTIVATE, Placemaking


No comments

More posts by Kara

  1. Riverfront Development: Lessons from the City of Light

  2. Riverfront Development: Lessons from an Italian sister city

All posts by Kara »

MPC on Twitter

Follow us on Twitter »

Stay in the loop!

MPC's Regionalist newsletter keeps you up to date with our work and our upcoming events.?

Subscribe to Regionalist

Most popular news

Browse by date »

This page can be found online at

Metropolitan Planning Council 140 S. Dearborn St.
Suite 1400
Chicago, Ill. 60603
312 922 5616

Sign up for newsletter and alerts »

Shaping a better, bolder, more equitable future for everyone

For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

Donate »