Chicago Marathon: A Different Perspective on Urban Exploration

By: Greg Murphy, Landscape Architect, ELM

Aleca & Greg Murphy

Aleca & Greg Murphy

On October 12th, my wife Aleca and I along with our close friend Jeanne Craig ran the 26.2 mile Chicago Marathon with approximately 45,000 other runners. We were also proud to raise over $6,000 for the Lupus Foundation which funds research investigating treatments for Lupus, a little understood autoimmune disease.  The race was challenging, but provided an exciting opportunity to revisit the dramatically changing city that we left 10 years ago. Despite a questionable weather forecast, the day was clear and sunny providing a great race cheered by thousands of spectators.

 One of the great pleasures of racing is seeing the transformation of city streets into mass pedestrian corridors.  Replacing the noise and visual distraction of automobiles with rhythmic footsteps and cheering spectators creates the urban celebration that creates livable and desirable cities.  Sure, traffic is probably snarled elsewhere in the city, but for one brief morning, the streets are alive with a human experience.

 Great cities recognize this, and despite the logistical challenges, welcome programmed events and embrace their crowds.  Chicago has it figured out. Yes, past years have seen a few organizational mistakes, but this year’s race was executed with precision.  Moving 45,000 runners through security check points, gear check, and into starting corrals seemed effortless.  Spectators accessed every mile of the course, and Grant Park easily embraced the massive finishers’ party.  Running and spectating offer valuable observations in urban composition.  Often great design is not only in what we create, but also in the activities we anticipate.

 Aleca and I have both run in previous marathons and half-marathons, but this was our first opportunity to raise money for the Lupus Foundation. The money raised was all from generous family and friends, and I credit Aleca with the hard work on the fundraising.  We chose the organization because a friend suffers from Lupus and is on their board of directors.  They organize a team of runners for the Chicago Marathon each year, and provide excellent cheering, support and snacks.