Case Studies: Chicago’s 606

From rail to park and trail: Chicago's 606

Chicago's 606 - Bloomingdale Trail April 29, 2013

Image courtesy of The Trust for Public Land

Chicago's 606 - volunteers collect phenology data along the trail

Image credit: Joshua Lott, courtesy of The Trust for Public Land

Chicago's 606 - signage lining the trail

Image credit: Joshua Lott, courtesy of The Trust for Public Land

Chicago's 606 - the access ramp to the trail

Image credit: Adam Alexander, courtesy of The Trust for Public Land

Chicago's 606 grand opening - people gathered on the converted rail line

The 606 Grand Opening

Chicago's 606 - people stopping along the trail

Image credit: Adam Alexander, courtesy of The Trust for Public Land

Stretching for 2.7 miles, Chicago’s former Bloomingdale Line, an elevated railroad, has been transformed into a linear park and multi-purpose bicycle trail. Called “The 606”, in reference to the first three digits of the city’s postal code, the project made creative use of abandoned infrastructure and transit-oriented funding to provide an attractive new public realm.

For a relatively new landscape typology, elevated rail parks are not short of claims about what they can do for cities. They provide an opportunity to add green space to dense urban settings, improve public health by offering more opportunities for exercise, enhance connections through fragmented communities with car-free routes, and celebrate historic industrial infrastructure.

Logan Square was identified in the late 2000s as one of Chicago’s most underserved neighbourhoods for open space, both in terms of accessibility and quantity. The area also had one of the highest number of children per acre found in the city – with most living in multi-family dwellings with no access to private garden space. The project to turn the abandoned Bloomingdale rail viaduct into a linear park was born as a response to these shortages. Featured in the City’s 2004 Logan Square Open Space Plan, the project soon generated strong community support both from the Logan Square area and the surrounding neighbourhoods.

The City of Chicago moved quickly on purchasing the land needed to provide access points to the future park. Wherever possible such purchases were designed to allow for ground-level pocket parks to be featured alongside the anticipated access ramp and help reduce the shortage in play space provision that needed to be addressed. With hindsight, this proved a critical move: “the project wouldn’t have happened in the way we know it today if we hadn’t secured the land for access points upfront, before we started designing. Had we waited for this, we would have lost the opportunity for the adjacent parks” explains Kathy Dickhut, Deputy Commissioner at the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development. For this work, the City partnered with the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a non-profit organisation dedicated to creating parks and protecting land for people.

Delivery partners

Funding mechanisms

Total project cost:  $95 million, which were covered through:

  • A $50 million Federal Congestion Air Mitigation Quality grant.
  • $40 million raised through private fundraising.

$5 million committed from local government (City, County and State).

Plants in numbers

  • 1,500 trees
  • 4,000 shrubs
  • 12,500 vines
  • 175,000 perennials, grasses and sedges

Further reading

  • The 606 website:

www.the606.org

  • Logan Square Open Space Plan:

www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dcd/supp_info/logan_square_openspaceplan.html

  • Bloomingdale Trail Framework Plan:

www.chicago.gov/content/dam/city/depts/cdot/BloomingdaleTrail/Bloomingdale_Framework_Plan.pdf

  • Frances Whitehead Environmental Sentinel:

http://franceswhitehead.com/what-we-do/environmental-senteniel

  • Chicago Mag article on the 606 – providing excellent overview of key landscape design choices:

www.chicagomag.com/city-life/June-2015/The-606-Park-Design/

  • American Society of Landscape Architects hand-out for a 2015 walk through of the 606 – providing good visuals explaining key landscape design choices:

www.asla.org/uploadedFiles/CMS/Meetings_and_Events/2015_Annual_Meeting_Handouts/FS-015_Walking%20the%20606.pdf

  • The High Line Network’s description of the 606 (the High Line Network’s brings together North American non-profit organisations developing or operating infrastructure reuse as public spaces to exchange lessons learned):

https://network.thehighline.org/projects/the-606/

  • Chicago Tribune article, highlighting the scale of unforeseen gentrification along the 606:

www.chicagotribune.com/columns/ct-606-trail-kamin-met-0606-20170606-column.html

  • National Recreation and Park Association article emphasising how social equity is becoming a top priority for new urban infrastructure parks:

www.nrpa.org/parks-recreation-magazine/2018/december/new-urban-infrastructure-parks/