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New Look for Northerly Island

Northerly Island, situated just east of Chicago's Soldier Field and in close proximity to the Convention Center and Alder Planetarium, is a landfill (based on Daniel Burnham's and Edward Bennett's 1909 Plan of Chicago) that accommodated the single-strip Meigs Field Airport from 1948 to 2003. A dense woodland on the west of the island "will transition to an open savannah, grassland prairie, emergent marsh, to lagoon and open lake water to the east," according to the plan of the Chicago Park District, Jeanne Gang of Studio/Gang/Architects and JJR.
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For several years the Chicago Park District (CPD) and the city of Chicago have been collecting ideas and comments from the public on appropriate uses for the 91-acre Northerly Island Park (see "Plans for 'Burnham's Island' Presented" The overwhelming consensus for the island was an ecologically diverse park to explore nature and experience peaceful solitude without leaving the city.

The CPD, along with Jeanne Gang of Studio/Gang/Architects and the landscape architects of JJR, have just unveiled a framework plan for the island. Prominent among the community responses were requests for ponds, meadows, forests, educational activities, integration with the museum campus, diverse water activities, links to the mainland and environmentally-sustainable design.

The breakdown for the island sectors is basically this:
Northeast: Lake & Beach
Northwest: Music & Harbor
Southeast: Reef & Lagoon
Southwest: Hill & Forest
Source: Chicago Park District, Jeanne Gang of Studio/Gang/Architects and JJR.

Emerging technology that harnesses the energy of waves will contribute to powering facilities on the island. Heating and cooling for Northerly Island buildings will be supplemented by geothermal exchange with the lake water. Collected and filtered rainwater will replenish the island's landscape and wetland elements.

The island's ecological spaces will align with Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium programs. An Environmental Education Center will accommodate classes, meetings and excursions. There will be a space for outdoor summer concerts on the north end of the island, balanced by a prairie and wetland that will support migratory birds. The wetland and a fish-spawning area will become a research site for students and professionals studying the near-shore environments of the Great Lakes.

The northwest part of the island, closest to the city, will have a harbor walk with restaurants and summer music events. The northeast beach gives access for swimming. The southwest sector will have woodlands to buffer the views of the Convention Center.

As the seasons change and the natural habitats mature, visitors will discover a new island each time they arrive. For a bird watcher, this may be spotting a great blue heron, a bird attracted to the wet marsh. For hikers, this may be discovering a challenging trail that rewards them with views of the city and lake.

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November 22, 2019, 12:10 pm PDT

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