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Friends of Meigs Field
Dedicated to the restoration, preservation & improvement of Chicago's downtown airport


A Vision for Meigs Field and Northerly Island
A Vision for the Future of Meigs Field
and Northerly Island
(click to enlarge)

Possible Features

bulletExpanded parkland
100 acres or more
bulletA new pedestrian bridge
bulletAdditional harbor space
bulletA new, longer, safer runway
bulletA new, expanded Chicago Air Museum.

Excerpted sketches from Meigs museum concept by Priya Naik, IIT:
(click views to enlarge)

Exterior, facing east over Burnham Harbor

Interior of exhibit hall, east building

Exterior, facing west over Burnham Harbor

Elevation, facing south

Elevation rendering, facing south

Elevation rendering, facing north

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 unique lakefront.

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 increase.

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 lakefront.

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 area.

Such a vision could incorporate many attractive, enjoyable, and practical elements. Some might include:

bulletExpanded parkland, 100 acres or more new open space, more than is currently available at Meigs Field.
bulletVirtually all of the elements of the 1996 Chicago Park District proposal for Northerly Island Park, including not only those propose previously in this document, but also “wetlands and trees, meadows for relaxation, lagoons for fishing, paths for walking, and quiet promenades and vistas for contemplation.”
bulletNatural elements such as those in the 2001 proposal by the Lake Michigan Federation, including wetland marshes, prairie, and woodlands.
bulletA new, expanded Chicago Air Museum. This museum could be an independent institution, or perhaps an arm of one or more existing Chicago museums. Both the Museum of Science and Industry and the Adler Planetarium have expertise in aviation and space themes. 
bulletSketches from one concept for such a facility, designed by Priya Naik, are present at the left.  The innovative design recalls the Sky Ride at the 1933-34 Century of Progress World's Fair, spanning Burnham Harbor at an elevation high enough to avoid hindering water traffic.
bulletAnother possibility could be to convert the existing McCormick Place East building into a museum complex, possibly including not only an air museum but other forms of transportation (rail, lake, auto) or other historical, educational or cultural subjects.
bulletA new pedestrian bridge—high enough for the harbor’s boats over the mouth of the harbor.
bulletAdditional harbor space, with increase revenue potential for the Chicago Park District.
bulletA new, longer, safer, less obstructed airport runway, to alleviate even more congestion at Midway and O'Hare airports.
bulletEnough airport space to allow hosting of the annual Chicago Air & Water Show, allowing it to be moved from the overcrowded north lakefront to the south lakefront.

One concept of such a vision is presented on this page. Many others may be possible or even more feasible.

The details of such a vision we leave to future discussions. Regardless of  the ultimate outcome, the public should be invited—and even required—to have a real, meaningful and effective voice in the decisions of how best to serve the short and long term needs of the city of Chicago, its citizens, taxpayers, and visitors.

The Friends of Meigs Field believe that it is in the best interest of everyone—park users, travelers, visitors, taxpayers, citizens, and the children of Chicago—to find a solution that incorporates Meigs Field, the peoples’ airport, into the peoples’ lakefront.

Copyright © 1995-current year
Friends of Meigs Field
P.O. Box 59-7308 , Chicago, IL 60659-7308
Voice Mail: 312-458-9250   FAX: 847-966-6168
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