3 ACRES ON THE LAKE: DuSable Park Proposal Project



physical description
environmental context
social/economic context
architectural context
site visit
existing plans

From the sidewalk bike route on the lower level of Lake Shore Drive just before it crosses the Chicago River, you can look over the railing and down on DuSable Park. The park extends into Lake Michigan from underneath the bridge. It is the dead end of a short peninsula dividing the Chicago River from Ogden slip, a quarter-mile inlet for docking boats. The park is shaped as a half-hill, its high side backed up to the highway and its slope rolling down towards the water. When you stop at the sidewalk railing, you are close enough to identify the flowers and grasses growing on the back of the meadow-hill (Queen Anne´s lace, dogbane, black-eyed susan, goldenrod, sumac, bouncing bet...), and if you throw a stone, to hear it hit (if not for the trucks shifting gears behind you). But you can´t get to the meadow, unless you were to lower yourself by rope. The enclosed stairwell down from the bridge operator´s office is padlocked. Access inland, where the peninsula attaches to land at McClurg and North Water, is blocked by a new condo complex surrounded by construction fences. You can look down on the meadow, or across water at it from the pristine parks to north and south, or from Navy Pier to the east, but you can´t physically get there.

In late summer, the meadow seethes with grasses, weedflowers, yellow butterflies, and brown songbirds that nest in the grasses and light on the low bushes on the crest of the hill. I know of only one other hill in Chicago, and its closely mowed turf is trampled bald by runners and dogs. The meadow seems cut out from somewhere else--somewhere bucolic, slow, and unpressured by finance--an import unplugged from the flows all around it. Cars, boats, bikes, skaters and streams of pedestrians thread through arched underpasses, exits and on-ramps, linked walk- and waterways, circulating in a lubricated network of multi-levelled recreational opportunities. The meadow, however, is a dead end. Not only an end, but virtually an island; surrounded by water on three sides and on the fourth by the highway´s thundering shadow.

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photo credit: Chih-Hsuan Lee

DuSable Park is a 3-acre rectangular peninsular tip extending east into Lake Michigan from below Lake Shore Drive. It is bounded on the north by Ogden Slip, a boat inlet, on the south by the mouth of the Chicago River, and on the east by Lake Michigan. A concrete and steel seawall currently forms the boundary with the water on three sides.



approximate latitude and longitude: 44°, 88°

northern boundary, water (Ogden slip), approx. 260 ft
eastern boundary, water (Lake Michigan harbor), approx 420 ft
southern boundary, water (north bank of Chicago River), approx 420 feet running southwest
western boundary, approx 460 ft, bounded by shadow of elevated highway, Lake Shore Drive (space under highway owned by the State of Illinois)


The surface of the plot rises gradually from east to west to a height of about 20 feet, then drops abruptly before meeting the lower level of Lake Shore Drive. This mound was built from earth excavated from nearby construction projects. It is partly bisected on the western side by a road that dead ends. Parts of the park have been used to store construction materials on flatbed trucks for the nearby condo construction.


Right of way is held by the private developer of adjacent property (MCL), who has not yet granted it to the Chicago Park District. The existing paved road extending approximately 30 feet into the plot and marked with a streetlight is not legally acknowledged. Pedestrian access is planned by continuous riverwalk along southern edge of plot. Existing enclosed stairway down from lower Lake Shore Drive is currently kept padlocked.

city electric, plumbing, gas, water, easily accessible; one streetlight already on property

site easements:
The development company that owns the property west of Lake Shore Drive (formerly Chicago Dock and Canal Trust, now MCL) holds the following easements:
right of access to repair utility lines
right of access for boat launch
right to lease a portion of the park (for $10/yr) to construct and operate a restaurant selling alcoholic beverages right to buy back property after 20 years from date of dedication to the Park District (the property was dedicated in 1987 - only 6 years left)

The Park District claims that the seawall (revetment) needs massive repair, at a cost of between $700,000 and 4.4 million dollars, in order to implement the plan they initially developed. But it is not clear that there are significant safety issues at stake with the existing seawall. In addition, Friends of the Chicago River argue that natural vegetated riverbanks, built of dirt, offer a cheaper and more ecological alternative to metal and concrete, providing streambank stabilization, better water quality, and increased aquatic and terrestrial habitats, as well as contributing to biological diversity. (from "A Handbook of Bank Restoration Designs for the Chicago River and other Urban Streams", Friends of the Chicago River, 2000)

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(figures for Chicago)
temperature: (annual average for last 50 years) low: 20°, high: 73° extremes: -27°, 104°
monthly precipitation: low (winter): 1.53 inches, high (summer): 4.22 inches
snow: average monthly high: 10.8 inches; extreme: 38 inches
growing season: late April through early October

soil: In December 2000, random surface soil samples showed uneven contamination by radioactive thorium, a material used in the production of gas mantles by the Lindsay Light Company, which operated at a nearby address until the 1930s. Contaminated soil was apparently dumped on DuSable Park from excavation of nearby construction sites. High thorium levels were previously detected at several other sites in the neighborhood, and "remediation" consisted, in part, of laying a minimum of 6 inches of concrete over the soil, a practically effortless solution for parking lots and hi-rise buildings, but not so good for parks. DANGER: Do not eat the soil!
LINK TO THORIUM: http://pearl1.lanl.gov/periodic/elements/90.html
subsurface conditions: data coming
animals: data coming
birds: data coming
fish: Great Lakes fish recently discovered with high concentrations of toxic flame retardant in their tissues, a chemical released by the breakdown of plastics used in computers and circuit boards. Mercury levels, and other heavy metals, in Great Lakes fish are dangerously high.
recommended dosage of Lake Michigan fish per year: Nursing mothers, pregnant women, women who intend to have children and children under age 15 should not eat more than one meal per month of large mouth bass, small mouth bass, walleye, northern pike, muskie, rock bass, perch, or crappie.

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"The EL Presidente, docked at Ogden slip, just west of Navy Pier, is a magnificent yacht that allows guests to lounge in complete luxury surrounded by original Art-Deco style furnishings, a teak afterdeck and companionways and an elegantly-appointed main salon trimmed in teak and mahogany. This historic cruising yacht can be chartered by the hour, day, week or month." ($650/hr weekdays, $850/hr weekends). "The Eleanor R, also docked at Ogden Slip, features a 50-foot main salon and partially enclosed upper deck, where guests are protected from the elements. The Eleanor R is also available for private charter." ($600/hr weekdays; $700/hr weekends)

average income of local residents: data coming
average racial makeup of local residents: data coming
average income and racial make-up of Chicago as a whole (data from 1990 census):
median household income: $26,301
median per capita income: $12,899
white:1,263,524 ; black: 1,087,711; hispanic: 545,852; Asian:104,118 ; American Indian:7,064; Other:321,009


"In Chicago, a worker earning the Minimum Wage ($5.15 per hour) has to work 118 hours per week in order to afford a two-bedroom unit at the area´s Fair Market rent.
In Chicago, Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom unit is $788.
An extremely low income household (earning 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI) of $72,263) can afford monthly rent of no more than $542.
A minimum wage earner (earning $5.15 per hour) can afford monthly rent of no more than $268.
An SSI recipient (receiving $378 monthly) can afford monthly rent of no more than $113.
40% of renters in Chicago are unable to afford Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom unit.
The Housing Wage in Chicago is $15.15. This is the amount a worker would have to earn per hour in order to be able to work 40 hours per week and afford a two-bedroom unit. This is 294% of the present Minimum wage ($5.15 per hour).
(A unit is considered affordable if it costs no more than 30% of the renter's income.)" released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2000 http://www.nlihc.org/

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The two-storey highway, Lake Shore Drive, speeds over the western boundary of DuSable Park. Navy Pier, a midwest tourist mecca including ferris wheel, shops, restaurants and other entertainment, extends into the lake just north and a little east of the park. Lake Point Towers rises east of Lake Shore Drive and just north of DuSable Park. The construction of this luxury residential hi-rise in the late 1960s spurred the drafting of the 1972 Lakefront Protection Act forbidding additional commercial development east of the Drive. Before this legislation was enacted, two similar hi-rise towers were planned for the three acres that are now DuSable Park.

Downtown is Chicago´s fastest growing residential community. An area of sixty acres ("Cityfront Center") adjacent to DuSable Park has been developed as new residential construction and commercial space in the last decade and a half, replacing industrial properties. Private townhomes line up on the north edge of Ogden Slip. The first "Riverview Towers," a multi-unit condo complex just west of the Drive from DuSable Park, was completed in 2000. Additional towers are planned to fill in the rest of the peninsula west of the Drive.

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The only existing plan (now outdated) for developing the three-acre park came in at an estimated cost of between $4 and $10 million. The Park District´s reluctance to develop the park has ostensibly been based on lack of funds in relation to these figures. Alternate plans are encouraged that would come in below these figures.

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Anyone is theoretically welcome to visit, though access is complicated by private ownership of right-of-way. However, the construction fences are usually open now, after pressure from local groups claiming it as public land. Thorium contamination may be a health risk --levels not yet determined at this point (see environmental context). Do not touch the soil with your hands and avoid ingestion!



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Will DuSable become a private park in effect, used primarily by residents of the new Riverview Towers and the townhomes bordering Ogden Slip, in the tradition of enclosures connected to wealthy estates?

Will its development be continually delayed for 6 more years, at which point the developer next door will have the option to buy back the property?

Problem with DuSable Park: "A development plan without an expiration date"

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historical timeline

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