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Designs unveiled for world’s first floating ‘eco-park’ planned for Chicago River

Wild Mile Birdseye

Bird's-eye view of the route of the proposed "Wild Mile Chicago." | Provided by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill

City officials and private developers are planning to transform a murky, garbage-filled stretch of the Chicago River into a mile-long “eco-park,” a project they say would be the first in the world of its kind.

Planners on Thursday unveiled their first renderings of the “Wild Mile Chicago” park that would include new wildlife, recreational and educational additions to the river’s North Branch.

“Imagine a park that you can walk and kayak through floating along the banks of the Chicago River,” a project website touts.

Stretching along the east side of Goose Island between Chicago and North avenues, the idea was first included in the city’s North Branch Framework Plan, approved in 2017 by the Chicago Plan Commission.

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In June of that year, a team called Urban Rivers — a group of ecologists and entrepreneurs looking to convert ugly city rivers into wildlife havens — worked independently to install about 1,500 square feet of greenery on the river.

Now, Urban Rivers is teaming up with the city and private builders to extend what’s already been added — floating gardens that stand out among concrete retaining walls and dirty water — in a plan aiming to be complete by mid-2020.

Joining Urban Rivers and the city’s Department of Planning and Development for the extended park are a team of developers and consultants — including Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Friends of the Chicago River; Urban Rivers; O-H Community Partners; Near North Unity Program; Omni Ecosystems; Tetra Tech; and d’Escoto.

Residents look over proposals for the "Wild Mile Chicago" Thursday evening at Leslie Hall in Old Town. | Provided by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Residents look over proposals for the “Wild Mile Chicago” Thursday evening at Leslie Hall in Old Town. | Provided by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Those groups discussed their ideas with residents Thursday night at Leslie Hall in Old Town, the second of three community meetings.

The city — which developers say has been supportive of the plan from the start — already dedicated $200,000 for educational programs on the river.

The groups are aiming to finalize plans by March.


Corrections: An earlier version of this article referred to the group Urban Rivers as “Urban Planners.” The original 1,500 square feet added to the river was independent from the city’s initial plan.