‘wild mile chicago’ is a floating eco-park near SOM and urban rivers

the first phase of “wild mile” opens to the public

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) joined forces with the non-profit organization Urban Rivers to build the first phase of a floating eco-park nicknamed the “Wild Mile” on the chicago river. Composed of winding wooden walkways and lush vegetation, the 139 m² green hub serves both as a regenerative urban ecosystem reintroducing wildlife to the industrialized canal and as a public space promoting education, recreation and strengthening community ties.

Initiated in 2016 and completed in 2021, the eco-park was officially opened for use in June 2022. The next phase will see the addition of a 122-metre-long waterfront’with a series of floating gardens, forests with public walkways, kayak docks and other amenities […] designed to restore the river as a public good,’ writes SOM.

all the pictures © David Burk

restore biodiversity, elevate social connectedness

To restore biodiversity and ecological growth to this strip of the Chicago River, the crew at Urban Rivers strategically laid out a planting design simulating a riparian ecology. Together with a specialist from the Chicago Botanic Garden, the nonprofit group included 60 native plants that thrive in aquatic environments and flora that boost pollination and nesting birds like swamp blazing star, willow America and the button.

In addition, kayak tours organized by the Shedd Aquarium help visitors learn about the regeneration processes enabled by this ecological planting program, namely reoxygenation and bioremediation.

SOM and Urban Rivers are building a floating eco-park that winds through the Chicago River

the first phase of the ‘Wild Mile’ eco-park opened in June 2022

In addition to the landscaping, the wooden walkway made by SOM (see more here) as a zigzag composition of aluminum frames and dock floats supporting wooden walkways made of Kebony, a chemically modified wood. Designed as a modular structure, the walkway will be replicated for the upcoming construction phase.

Beyond its ecological function, the ‘Wild Mile’ project has a strong social program for the Chicago community. ‘Making the most of its proximity to over 40 schools and colleges, the Wild Mile incorporates rich educational and community programming. These include a volunteer-led, technology-driven initiative, River Rangers, which recruits “citizen scientists” to document and provide regular reports on reintroduced plants and wildlife,” SOM sharing.

“Since then, the project has evolved into a collaboration with the city of Chicago, OH Community Partners, Near North Unity Program, Omni Ecosystems, TetraTechand members of the local community who make an essential contribution to its goals, objectives and priorities.

SOM and Urban Rivers are building a floating eco-park that winds through the Chicago River

zigzag wooden paths imitating the flow of water

SOM and Urban Rivers are building a floating eco-park that winds through the Chicago Riverthe eco-park offers kayak tours organized by Shedd Aquarium

SOM and Urban Rivers are building a floating eco-park that winds through the Chicago River

top view

project info:

Last name: Wild Thousand

type: Floating eco-park

location: Chicago, IL, USA

Year of completion: 2021

opening date: June 2022

the site area: 68,797 m²

domain of the first phase: 139 m²

customer: City of Chicago – Department of Planning and Development

architecture: SMO | @skidmoreowingsmerrill

landscaping scheme: Urban rivers | @urbanriv

main collaborators: Omni Ecosystems, Near North Unity Program,TetraTech, OH Community Partners

photography: David Burk | @daveburk

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