Vision for the Future of Northerly Island
Flight is a powerful metaphor. For millennia, humankind
has gazed longingly at the sky, inspired by the wings of birds, but bound to
the earth. The inspiration of flight has been the motivation for many of
humankind’s most ambitious endeavors.
It has been exactly one century since the advent of
powered flight. The year 2003, the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers
first flight, is a year to celebrate aviation.
Inside the cover of this proposal are two quotations.
The first, “Urbs in Horto” is Chicago’s official
motto. Indeed, Chicago is a “city in a garden,” a
fact attributable to the vision and leadership of men and women who have
sought since its founding to ensure a balance between economics and nature.
There are many cities that can boast neither the vibrant economic and civic
life of Chicago nor its cherished system of public spaces, including its
What must always be remembered is that there is a balance
to be maintained. The ability to balance the civic need for
transportation and commerce with open and public spaces, nature, parks and
beaches is what has made Chicago a great city over the past century and a
half. In all plans, Chicago must consider both commerce and commons.
The second quotation on the overleaf emphasizes the
need for this balance. It is from the 1909 Plan of
Chicago, penned by Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett.
"The fine arts of traffic management should be studied
no less than the fine arts of parks and boulevards; for unless Chicago keeps
ahead of her rivals in commercial matters, the parks will become pastures,
and the boulevards will be deserted.”
The transportation needs of Chicago will only grow in the
future, particularly in air travel.
At the same time, Chicago’s needs for park space will also
Only a beginning – A vision for the second century of flight
The Bessie Coleman Park and Chicago Air Museum proposed in
these pages are an elegant solution to a thorny problem in balancing
Chicago’s civic needs. They provide new parkland, enhanced transportation,
safety and security, generate new revenues to benefit parks city-wide, and
do so without cost to Chicago taxpayers.
If the foregoing proposals are all that is ever
implemented, the City of Chicago and its citizens will benefit greatly.
More importantly, however, there is an opportunity to
follow these proposals with a vision much grander, an even more exciting
future possible for Chicago’s lakefront.
In the long-range future (10-20 years), the proposals
presented here can have a much greater positive impact. The Friends of Meigs
Field have not developed a specific long-term to present proposal at this
time, but the basic elements of a long-range vision can be examined.
As indicated above, over time, demands for both more
lakefront parkland and more airport capacity will only continue to increase.
With the proposals herein, Chicago will be in an excellent position to
accomplish both for decades to come.
Picture a park, as large as the proposed park to replace
Meigs Field or larger, located in exactly that spot. Picture all of
the elements that have been proposed for such a park, including wetlands,
savannahs, hiking and biking trails, water features, and other natural
areas. At the same time, picture an improved Meigs Field, one with a longer,
safer runway, located farther from unsafe obstructions and operating more
quietly, farther from buildings, homes, and schools.
The basic issue is how to accommodate both needs.
An answer could be to capitalize on the existence of an
airport in the plan to create more land for both.
In the original Plan of Chicago, Burnham and Bennett
proposed not one artificial “island” (Northerly “Island,” now actually a
peninsula), but many. Likewise, in the 1972 Lakefront Plan of Chicago (see
Appendix X), it was envisioned that additional land would be created by
filling Lake Michigan, both adjacent to Meigs Field, and elsewhere along the
Since those days, no significant fill has been undertaken,
primarily due to the high costs involved. The costs of modern landfill are
typically beyond the means of the Chicago Park District, which has a wide
variety of financial demands on its limited resources. There are, of course,
other considerations, including proper environmental management of such a
project, but these considerations can be and
regularly are handled properly in similar situations in other cities.
By taking advantage of an existing airport and the fact that the
adjacent lake bottom is available for landfill, a truly visionary future for
Northerly Island and Meigs Field could be created.
Additional land, created using airport funds, could be
used to create space for a newer, longer, safer, and more capable runway,
one that could reduce congestion by drawing additional private traffic from
Midway and O’Hare that currently requires a longer runway than Meigs’.
The creation of the new land would allow the repositioning
and improvement of the airport. At the same time it would also free up the
existing airport land for other uses, notably a showcase park and nature
Such a vision could incorporate many attractive,
enjoyable, and practical elements. Some might include: