In recent years Chicago has gained several notable parks and public spaces that have added to the city’s evolving “green” reputation. Projects include the completion of the 31st Street Harbor (2012) with newly designed green space, an expanded Ping Tom Memorial Park (2011) on the Chicago River in Chinatown, the sleek Mary Bartelme Park (2010) in the West Loop, and the conversion of Stearns Quarry to Palmisano Park (2009) in Bridgeport. If you haven’t spent time in any of these spots, I recommend a spring visit. Of course, these additions are still in the shadow of Millennium Park (2004), the largest green roof in the world, which has been a catalyst for a rejuvenated Loop.
Starting this year, Chicago will begin welcoming several new green developments that have the potential to be just as transformative.
The first of the large-scale projects that will be accessible to the public is the modified southern 40-acre portion of Northerly Island. Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is finishing up creating areas to camp amongst newly formed hills, a wetland for establishing a variety of habitat, and accessible paths to visit the park. Completion is slated for late spring.
This fall will see three major openings. The first phase of The 606 aka The Bloomingdale Trail, will provide visitors paths for biking and walking along with varied public seating on elevated train tracks over the neighborhoods of Humboldt Park, Bucktown, Wicker Park, and Logan Square. Chicago’s answer to the High Line has been creating quite a bit of buzz and anticipation and will likely become the symbol of Chicago as a progressive bike-friendly city. The 606 will connect five pocket parks and add 13 acres of parkland to a section of the city that was identified as a “park desert”.
Maggie Daley Park will also have a soft opening before the end of the year. Previously referred to as North Grant Park, it will serve as an attraction that links Millennium Park to the lakefront via the BP Pedestrian Bridge. The park will include climbing walls, a skating ribbon, an extensive play garden, a great lawn, hills, and over 1,000 new trees. Designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates whose previous projects include New York’s Hudson River Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park, when completed, Maggie Daley Park will be the second largest green roof in the world after Millennium Park.
A much smaller scale project is the new Grant Park Skatepark, which will be located at the far south end of Grant Park near 11th St. and Michigan Ave. With a modest budget of $2.5 million, newly landscaped areas along with a viewing platform will accompany the skating structures. Completion of the park is expected by December.
In the summer of 2015, a major revamping of Navy Pier will be revealed. James Corner Field Operations, who designed New York’s revered High Line, was selected to convert Navy Pier’s public spaces from the cheesy, overly touristy carnival atmosphere to a more refined aesthetic. East End Park and Crystal Gardens will see enhancements as well as the addition of an interactive fountain in the front plaza, a ‘wave wall’, and heavily planted promenade along the east side of the pier.
Another high-profile project that is currently under construction is the expansion of the Chicago Riverwalk. Presently, the minimalist yet pleasant Riverwalk extends from the lake to State Street but will be extended six blocks to Lake Street. Each block will be a themed section with a different focus, such as dining, kayak rental, fishing, public seating, and yet another interactive fountain. The city is betting on the Riverwalk becoming a major attraction and sparking movement to revitalize the Chicago River. It should be completed by early 2016.
The most recent noteworthy development to begin construction is the Navy Pier Flyover. The long delayed project will now take four years to complete in three phases. When it opens in Spring 2018, it will create a safer route for bike riders and pedestrians going between the north side Lakefront Trail and downtown, which can get uncomfortably congested. It will also provide more direct access to the newly redesigned Navy Pier.
With all the recently completed and in progress projects, it seems fair to say that Chicago is undergoing a Green Urban Renaissance. It certainly is an exciting time for those of us who feel green and recreational spaces are an essential component of a great city.
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