The Wild Mile Framework Plan received the 2019 Strategic Plan Award from the Chicago chapter of the American Planning Association (APA IL). The annual APA IL program recognizes outstanding planning projects across Illinois that exemplify the practice of urban design and planning. SOM worked with the City of Chicago, Urban Rivers, Near North Community Partners, and OMNI Ecosystems to develop the plan.
The Wild Mile, which focuses on a one-mile stretch of the Chicago River, will create a new environment for habitat, education, and recreation. Designed as a 17-acre floating eco-park, it advances a community-led vision of renewed urban ecology that helps strengthen neighborhood connectivity, generate cleaner water, and support more vibrant ecosystems.
The project is located along the east side of Goose Island, on the North Branch Canal and Turning Basin. This area has been envisioned as a type of eco-park since the creation of the 2003 Chicago Central Area Plan. In 2016, Urban Rivers and SOM installed a 1,500-square-foot floating garden as a first step toward making the Wild Mile vision a reality. Since then, the project has evolved into a collaboration with the City of Chicago, O-H Community Partners, Near North Unity Program, Omni Ecosystems, Tetra Tech, d’Escoto, and local community members providing input central to its goals, objectives, and priorities.
Making the most of its proximity to more than 40 schools and academic institutions, the Wild Mile incorporates rich educational and community programming. These include a volunteer-led and technology-driven initiative, River Rangers, which recruits “citizen scientists” to document and provide regular reports on reintroduced plants and wildlife.
When completed, the Wild Mile will transform the formerly industrialized, human-made branch of the Chicago River along Goose Island into an eco-park that serves people, wildlife, and the environment. With a series of floating gardens, forests with public walkways, kayak docks, and other amenities, the project is designed to restore the river as a public trust.