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Jackson Park


Jackson Park
Chicago, Illinois

Jackson Park, Chicago, is the celebrated site of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, the fair that launched the City Beautiful movement. The landscape, designed by F.L. & J.C. Olmsted, Landscape Architects, combined naturalistic and formal characters for the nearly 600-acre park to showcase this influential exposition that witnessed 26 million visitors over the 6-month period of May to September.  In 1895, two years after the event and demolition of over 200 temporary structures, the visionary South Park Commissioners called upon the Olmsted firm to reshape the landscape as a public park. The current project, a partnership to simultaneously revitalize cultural heritage, ecological health and contemporary use and management, researched those park rebuilding documents as the basis for an unusual but fruitful collaboration. The technical project team of landscape architects, planners, ecologists, engineers and construction specialists developed construction documents that reassert Olmstedian character, improve habitat, welcome daily uses and contain management needs toward a sustainable 21st century public park.

Situated on over one mile of Lake Michigan waterfront, seven miles south of downtown Chicago, the park is located within a urban mosaic that includes the University of Chicago and diverse, generally underprivileged South Side neighborhoods. Project work in this urban context necessarily recognizes the three pillars of sustainability: economy; environment; and society, and acknowledges that truly meeting sustainable objectives will engage each of these aspects. The Great Lakes Fisheries and Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) project for Jackson Park, subtitled An Ecological Restoration Designed in the Olmsted Style addresses about 140 acres of terrestrial and marine resources in this historic park, as a partnership of the Chicago Park District (CPD), the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and Project 120 with preservation landscape architects Heritage Landscapes (Heritage).

The project originated as a Corps and CPD natural resources endeavor with recognition that pressures of climate change increase the importance of Jackson Park as a place of year-round habitat and a migratory haven. Response to community voices and the historic significance of the park directed CPD, Project 120, and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to engage Heritage as the project design lead tasked to reconcile preservation and ecological restoration.  Heritage expanded opportunities within the GLFER project to envision Jackson Park as entangled human habitat in which a renewed cultural landscape offers the societal benefits of a healthy, scenic open space and the climate change response benefits of stable lagoon shorelines, diverse regional native plant communities and improved resilience to severe weather through removal of damaged and exotic trees, new native plantings, and use of durable construction techniques and materials. This collaborative work was guided by the following statements that served as project principles:

Entanglement- Nature and culture are inextricably intertwined in this landscape and native biodiversity and historic cultural diversity can be achieved together;

Compatibility- Through creativity and innovation, historic designed landscape character and native plant communities can work together to renew the Olmstedian vision while achieving habitat objectives;

Resilience- Native plant communities of the region once established will effectively stabilize this aquatic and terrestrial landscape, providing fruitful habitat for resident and migratory species and enhancing landscape resilience to extreme weather events due to climate change;

Sustainability- Uplifting a historic park has been shown to sustain the surrounding neighborhood and revitalize the city addressing the three pillars of sustainability which are economy, environment and society.

These baseline principles for the teamwork directed the development of construction documents to renew this valued bio-cultural landscape. Project conception embraces the entanglement of culture and nature in this landscape with the design simultaneously achieving the objectives of reinforcing Olmstedian character, supporting habitat and focusing landscape management to match resources. Entanglement, means interwoven, co-constructed and constantly becoming.  It is an appropriate term for this park landscape which is a combined work of humanity and nature, as the cultural and natural assets of the landscape are intermingled, inseparable and evolving.

Degraded over time by multiple forces, the park needs significant work to add value and upgrade the functions of this historic public landscape and waterscape. The ongoing GLFER project addresses the multiple values, issues and the need for greater resilience in the face of climate change. Heritage led the efforts to develop a deep understanding of the Olmsted design for Jackson Park, and, based on over fifty prior projects in Olmsted legacy landscapes, brought a knowledge of the Olmsted style and intent. The Corps, CPD and Heritage collaborated closely to synchronize project plans in order to simultaneously achieve the often incompatible objectives of attaining historic character, habitat diversity, ease of management and varied uses. Driven by the need to bring the work in compliance with historic preservation guidance and receive approval from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, the collaborative approach and interdisciplinary methods stressing Olmsted character are the subject of this project. Construction is currently underway.

City of Chicago, Project 120

Great Lakes Fisheries and Ecosystem Restoration: An Ecological Restoration Designed in the Olmsted Style, 2013-2014

Project Credits:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Heritage Landscapes - Preservation Landscape Architects & Planners, Chicago Parks Department