Back in 1909, architects and urban planners had a grand vision for the beautiful city of Chicago. Their vision included a number of manmade islands in the nearby Lake Michigan, but ultimately only one of those islands ever made it past the blueprint phase into reality — Northerly Island. The island (which is technically more of a peninsula) served as an airstrip for many years, but 9/11 changed all that. Richard M. Delay, the mayor of Chicago in 2003, feared that the airport’s close proximity to downtown Chicago made it a tempting choice for terrorists, so they bulldozed the runways.
What Chicago was left with was a peninsula that was perfectly situated next to the heart of Chicago, but with no real direction to take it. The city made a few attempts to revitalize the peninsula as a public park and concert venue, but this new identity never really caught on because the area just wasn’t very pretty.
Studio Gang Architects and landscape architects Smithgroup JJR set out to fix Northerly Island with an eco-friendly makeover. A big complaint about the former Northerly Island was that the landscaping was unimpressive, so these groups hope to transform the area into the ultimate nature park.
They’re going to start by hauling in tons of dirt to give the area a hilly, natural look. The island was originally perfectly flat for the airport, so introducing some varied topography should make the island feel less artificial. From there, they plan to introduce five different ecosystems: an oak savannah, a dry-mesic prairie, a wet prairie, an emergent marsh, and a 4.1-acre pond. Basically, the park will combine all ecosystems that are local to the Chicago region and compact them into a tiny, 2000-foot peninsula, kind of like an appetizer sampler.
And that’s not even half of it. They also plan to build a concert venue into the side of a hill, create new wetlands for local fish, create an ice skating rink for those chilly Chicago winters, and a sunken ship.
Wait, what? Sunken ship? Yep — as crazy (and as awesome) as it sounds, Studio Gang and Smithgroup plan to sink a ship off the island’s coast in order to give divers a place to explore. You can just barely make out the ship in the picture below — do you see the light blue object next to the puzzle piece-shaped island?
I’m kind of jealous. Chicago already has Millennium Park, a wildly successful public park that combines amazing artwork with public play areas. And now they’re getting the ultimate natural wildlife park, too? That’s just not fair. Why can’t my local park have a sunken ship?