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Elmhurst City Centre

Summer, 2008

Principle: You are creating a place, not a design

People sitting at Elmhurst fountainTake a walk around City Centre Plaza in downtown Elmhurst, a suburban community about 15 miles directly west of downtown Chicago. You will see vibrantly painted car sculptures and Adirondack chairs, a water fountain, raised planted beds, and, when the weather is nice, an abundance of outdoor dining areas.

City Centre Plaza, located at the northeast corner of York Street and Schiller Drive, exemplifies the many attractive and well-used public places the city and residents of Elmhurst have cultivated over the last 20 years. Elmhurst implemented tax increment financing (TIF) in the late 1980s as the foundation of its downtown revitalization strategy. The city added a Special Service Area (SSA) for the downtown, called "Elmhurst City Centre," in the early 1990s. With these financial mechanisms in place, local officials implemented plans to improve streetscapes with brick pavers, street trees, decorative lighting, and other visual features. The city even installed decorative corrals for newspaper boxes to match the downtown design theme—and won an award in the process.

The Elmhurst City Centre group has made the most of the city’s commitment to downtown revitalization, building upon the city-led improvements by hosting public events—such as concerts and holiday tree lightings—in the plaza. Inspired by the Chicago Cows on Parade, the City Centre group brought interactive art to the downtown community by calling on local artists to customize the "cool kiddie car" sculptures and Adirondack chairs.

"The chairs were added to offer an alternate price point for sponsorship and mix things up a bit visually," said Mimi Stojsavljevic of the Elmhurst City Centre. "While the kiddie art is for the little ones, the chairs invite adults to enjoy the space as well." The cars and chairs are decorated by local artists, sponsored by local businesses, and auctioned off each year for a local charity. For the past two years, vocational education students from York High School have built garden benches and chairs for display, and every year the Junior Elmhurst Children’s Assistance Foundation holds a children’s scavenger hunt that is open to the community.

"Elmhurst has drawn upon so many excellent resources for local support, and the community is better off for it," commented John D. Said, director of planning, zoning and economic development for the city, and a 16-year resident of Elmhurst. "The lively downtown environment here has helped increase property values throughout Elmhurst, and made the community a very special and admirable place," Said added.