by Megan Friedman
In a city infamous for its towering skyscrapers and ability to spearhead industrial innovation, Chicago has recently turned toward reclaiming unused infrastructure and developing new urban public green spaces. One of these remarkable projects is the 606–a 2.7 mile, community-centric bike trail and park system. Designed as a lush green playground, the trail acts as a community connector between four neighborhoods. It provides an alternative (and perhaps more convenient) uninterrupted commute through the city.
Historically, Chicago was a central port for goods across America. Seemingly all trains crossed through the city–connecting the eastern side of the country with the western portion. Following the city’s burgeoning growth, rail lines were elevated to avoid conflict between residents and crossings. One of these lines, parallel to Bloomingdale Avenue is today the Bloomingdale Trail–the pedestrian and bike trail portion of the 606. When traffic on the line was re-routed after little use in the 1990s, nature began to reclaim the site. Trees and grass grew through the rail ties, and animals re-inhabited the space. The neighborhood, Logan Square, followed suit and began using the line as a sort of nature trail. During this time, Logan Square had the least amount of open space per capita of any neighborhood in Chicago. Discussion began on how to more permanently activate this space–how to turn this outdated industrial infrastructure into a public amenity that maximized its potential to connect the community to some much-needed green space.
In the early 2000s, the City of Chicago, the Chicago Public District, and the Trust for Public Land formed a partnership working towards developing this space. In 2012, after an initial design development phase, Collins Engineers, Frances Whitehead, and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates joined as the design team, and in 2013, the final plans were revealed to the public. These plans included an extensive plan of adaptive reuse. The focal point of the project was the Bloomingdale Trail–a bike and pedestrian trail that cut through four Chicago neighborhoods (Logan Square, Wicker Park, Brooktown, and Humboldt Park).
With over 1400 trees and 200 plant species, the park system is a way to integrate the community with green space. The program includes a poplar grove, a shrub grove, a learning garden, a shade grove, a poetry garden, a picnic lawn, hanging bridge gardens, a sumac tunnel, a spire garden, a pine grove, and what the designers call an “urban savannah.” In a neighborhood once in desperate need of a connection to nature now exists a lush landscape around which a community can thrive. Integrated within the parks and trail, there is now space for skateboarding, a farmer’s market, and live music. The elevation of the trail creates a separation between the city and the trail, bringing visitors to a more quiet space to appreciate the landscape around them.
One concern for the future of the 606 is the threat of gentrification. People not only use this space to jog or bike, but as a means of commute. As mentioned earlier, this trail allows an uninterrupted path through a busy part of the city, so the locals are eager to use it to get around. However, by solving the problem of green space in the area, a new problem has arisen of rising real estate values. One hopes the people it was built to serve are not displaced as a result. For now, however, the 606 remains an exciting connection to nature for the Logan Square community and visitors alike.