A vestige of Chicago’s industrial history is slated for redevelopment as an ecologically focused public space. According to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, a mile-long stretch of the North Branch Canal will be redeveloped to serve both Chicagoans and wildlife, focusing on the east side of the canal between Division Street and North Avenue, with the plan to be completed by the end of 2018.

Financed by Chicago’s Open Space Impact Fees, the Wild Mile of the North Branch Canal would set the groundwork for habitat improvements for fish, turtles, and invertebrates, and create vegetative islands, viewing platforms, and canoe launches, as well as other environmental enhancements.

The Wild Mile is a component of the proposed improvement of 760 acres along the Chicago River between Kinzie Street and Fullerton Avenue as a part of the North Branch Framework Plan. The North Branch Framework Plan is integral to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Industrial Corridor Modernization Initiative, a multi-year effort to review and refine land use policies in the cities Industrial Corridor System. The plan for the North Branch Canal would include best practices for implementation and details on cooperation with private property owners and developers.

A rendering of people using the waterways. (Courtesy City of Chicago)

Dug to form a shortcut to avoid the bend in the North Branch of the Chicago River, the North Branch Canal was originally completed in 1857 by Chicago’s first mayor, William B. Ogden. The completion of the North Branch Canal created the area known as Goose Island, where industrial development flourished at the turn of the 20th century and is now gaining popularity as a new tech hub in Chicago.

“This initiative will improve the North Branch Canal as a truly unique waterfront for the entire city, where visitors will be able to engage and appreciate the city’s ecosystem through unprecedented public access,” said Mayor Emanuel in a statement.

The proposal for the Wild Mile comes as Chicago aldermen push for increased public access to the entirety of the North Branch of the Chicago River. Private plans to redevelop the riverfront have recently emerged, such as Sterling Bay’s Lincoln Yards project, which includes the former A. Finkl & Sons steel plant and will deliver residential and office buildings, in addition to a connection to the 606, a 2.7-mile-long linear greenway on the site of a former rail line.

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