Park District Unveils Green Plan for Northerly Island

"Rock Star" architect creates year-round park at site of former airport

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK

    Northerly Island was originally conceived by Chicago planner Daniel Burnham as the first in a string of barrier islands that would run along the city’s Lake Michigan Coast.

    The rest were never built.  But a new plan, unveiled Thursday by the Chicago Park District, reprises the idea in miniature.

    The proposed design for Northerly Island Park includes a chain of reef islands off the its east coast, creating a lagoon that will be a haven for fish and other wildlife. The so-called "framework plan" will be the blueprint for improvements on the park over the next 20 years.

    "We are trying to preserve some of the wild spaces," said Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, one of the people responsible for the plan.  "We want to make it really attractive for people coming to see wildlife." 

    Gang was recognized for her Aqua residential tower which was judged by the skyscraper of the year by the Emporis group.

    The design concentrates activities like concerts and the Adler Planetarium on the northern half of the Island, while the southern half is left open for wetlands and bike paths.  Some of the reef islands will be linked to the main island by a suspension bridge.

    Another seasonal pontoon bridge will connect the island to Waldron Drive in the winter. In the summer, it will be removed to make way for boats in the harbor. Cafés and shops will line a harbor walk on the west side of the Island facing the city.

    While no price tag has been attached and no money has been set aside, the park district is hoping the plan will lay the groundwork for the public/private partnerships needed to get renovation of the former downtown airport underway.

    It was seven years ago that Mayor Richard Daley used backhoes to carve giant Xs into the single north/south runway of what was then Meigs Field.  Many aviation enthusiasts still refer to the action as a "midnight raid" and think the land is best-suited as an airfield.

    "It would mean that business could get in and out of the city much more easier than they currently can.  it would make the opportunity to do business in Chicago that much more easier," said Chris Darcy of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assocation. 

    Furthermore, Darcy said, an airport on the island would mean that law enforcement and medevac aircraft would have easier access to downtown.  Plans for helipads in areas populated with people and tall buildings, for example, has been met with resistance in the past.

    Northerly Island Park is sure to be a big part of Daley's legacy.

    "He helped set the bar as far as turning this island into a natural space," said Gia Biagi, the Director of Planning and Development for the Chicago Park District.  "[The plan] takes this park to the next level and puts it in the lexicon of international great park spaces."

    The park district is currently soliciting requests for qualifications as it begins the first phase of the plan, a permanent concert venue on the Northern part of the Island. Gang’s design for the structure resembles an earthen mound with a grass covered upper level supported by tree limb-link concrete arms.

    "It is open air, but we are proposing having ice skating there in the winter," she said.

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