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Nature, Biking, Connectivity: What’s Coming to the South...

Nature, Biking, Connectivity: What’s Coming to the South Side of Chicago

The North Side of Chicago has spent over a year with its new elevated greenway, The 606. It’s a project that has generally met with positive feedback and has been the setting of everyday commutes and leisurely walks, as well as community events and public art. Now, the South Side of Chicago is seeing several

Sankofa for the Earth is one of the Gathering Spaces installed on the Burnham Wildlife Corridor on the South Side of Chicago. A colorful installation made with collage and mosaic is in a natural setting. Sankofa for the Earth is one of the Gathering Spaces installed on the Burnham Wildlife Corridor on the South Side of Chicago.

The North Side of Chicago has spent over a year with its new elevated greenway, The 606. It’s a project that has generally met with positive feedback and has been the setting of everyday commutes and leisurely walks, as well as community events and public art. Now, the South Side of Chicago is seeing several new projects of its own that will bring nature access, pathways for leisure and commuting, and community connectivity. One of these projects, the Gathering Spaces in the Burnham Wildlife Corridor, opened in the spring of 2016. Two others, the Paseo between Little Village and Pilsen, and Big Marsh by Lake Calumet, are on track to open in the near future.

A map displays the outdoor projects on the South Side. The El Paseo path is northern and westernmost; the Gathering Spaces are east along the lake; and Big Marsh is south of the city. A map of the outdoor projects on the South Side.

Burnham Wildlife Corridor is a stretch of lakefront land on the South Side that has been restored to include many native prairie plants. It has been managed largely through the Field Museum’s “Roots and Routes” program, as well as the Parks District. The Corridor functions both as a safe space for migratory birds and other wildlife, as well as a community asset and green space. Gathering Spaces opened on June 18th of this year, presenting a curated set of five public artworks intended to act as gathering and resting grounds for visitors to the Corridor. These artworks reflect the cultures and values of the historic neighborhoods that run alongside the trail, including the historically Mexican neighborhood Pilsen, Chinatown, and the predominantly African-American neighborhood Bronzeville. Some include interactive elements, such as a Mesoamerican hopscotch game at the Caracol installation.

Moving north and inland, The Paseo is a planned greenway and bike path on the South West Side of Chicago, spanning Pilsen and the nearby Little Village neighborhoods. Paseo will be constructed at-grade on an abandoned rail line. The first part of the trail, a short segment at the northernmost part of the trail, was completed earlier this summer. Work will soon begin on the second third of the project. The project has brought EPA attention to the area, spurring some needed environmental cleanup. According to a press release from the city, Paseo will include not just the trail, but also gathering spaces and public artwork to celebrate the surrounding communities. The trail will be nearly four miles long – longer than The 606 on the North Side, demonstrating that the city has learned how helpful greenways can be for connecting swaths of the city for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as an effective way for residents to get outside.

The El Paseo trail extends south on Sangamom. A paved pathway extends to the horizon line on a sunny day, surrounded by buildings on one side and grass and trees on the other. The El Paseo trail extends south on Sangamom.

Big Marsh is located on the very southern end of the city. It’s a 278-acre green space next to Lake Calumet, the largest lake in the city. Friends of Big Marsh describe their vision of Big Marsh, once utilized for steel manufacturing, as an inclusive space for cycling and enjoying nature that could be called eco-recreation. Big Marsh Bike Park will be opening in the autumn, with trails geared both towards family cyclists and more high-level riders.

The South Side of Chicago is a dense mesh of demographics. These three projects, while certainly not covering every neighborhood and every nook, will bring quality nature access to a broader audience, while strengthening community connections. Public spaces like these projects strengthen a neighborhood’s collective efficacy and social cohesion. With high-quality public spaces, there is a higher social expectation for how to act in these spaces.

What outdoor community spaces do you like in your city? Are you in walking distance to a public park? What do you want to see in your neighborhood? Share your thoughts and your city’s stories in the comments area below.

Credit: Images by Hannah Flynn. Data linked to sources.

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Hannah is a fourth year undergraduate Environmental Studies student at the University of Chicago with a concentration in Economics and Policy and a minor in Visual Arts. She is interested in climate change policy, public transit, and how we can use a...