Olmsted Natural Areas

Olmsted Natural Areas Project (GLFER) - 114 Acres in Jackson Park

The goal of this project is to revitalize the Olmsted character and ecology in Jackson Park together, through a historically based and integrated project of preservation and habitat restoration.

Project 120 Chicago (P120) has engaged award-winning and internationally recognized preservation landscape architect and planner, Patricia O’Donnell, FASLA, AICP and her firm Heritage Landscapes LLC to work with the Chicago Park District (CPD), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and community stakeholders to develop and implement plans to preserve and restore significant elements of the Olmsted character of Jackson Park, beginning with the approximately 114 acres that are included in the USACE Section 506 Great Lakes Fishery & Ecosystem Restoration Project (GLFER Project).

Designs were completed by CPD, USACE, and P120 in August 2014, and construction began January 2015.
Jackson Park and the Great Lakes Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER)

Within a carefully defined project area established by CPD, USACSE, and P120, this Project will restore aquatic and buffering habitats by addressing invasive species issues, which will increase the quality and size of scarce and essential habitat for fish, migratory birds, reptiles and amphibians within a highly urbanized area. This involves invasive species removal and replacement with indigenous plants, fish and other wildlife.

In order to assure that habitat restoration will be done in a manner that will also preserve and where possible restore the Olmsted character of Jackson Park, O’Donnell, who has worked on over 50 Olmsted designed parks and landscapes, led extensive team field studies and completed a thorough review and analysis of the original Olmsted plans, including original planting lists and topographical plans, historic photographs, and “as built” plans.

With a thorough understanding of the site and its potential from a preservation landscape perspective, CPD, USACE, and P120 will achieve the following:

  • A healthy landscape rich with fresh air, living soils, plants, water and animals that make this designed park a home for fish, birds, and other wildlife; a pleasure for people; and, a welcome contrast to the paved and built-up urban environment
  • Uplifting spaces to enjoy being in a large and expansive landscape, for self-directed activities (+75% of park users)
  • Views of Lake Michigan, borrowed scenery to extend the sense of spaciousness
  • Shared spaces to meet, greet and enjoy social occasions
  • Opportunities for healthful exercise along paths and on fields for self-directed and team sports
  • Occasions for learning in groups, families and individually about the history, ecology, habitat, uses and value of this great park
  • A public park for everyone, inclusive of the diverse populace of Chicago, the region and its visitors

Through this collaboration, innovative approaches are emerging to achieve the dual objectives of Olmsted character and thriving habitat. As these practices are tested and refined, they may become a model for historic urban landscapes throughout Chicago and other cities nationwide.


Entangled Culture & Nature: Toward a Sustainable Jackson Park in the 21st Century

In previous undertakings addressing historically valuable landscapes, the tension between historic versus ecological values often yields an unbalanced outcome, with one aspect overpowering the other. To address the renowned Jackson Park, a talented interdisciplinary team interweaves biodiversity and cultural diversity to enhance vitality and resiliance to this degraded historically significant and ecologically important landscape. 

This unique collaboration among CPD, USACE, and P120 targets that elusive balance, valuing both legacies and potentials, by acting on an understanding that culture and nature are entangled and inseparable. This collaborative work is guided by project principles:

  • Entanglement - Nature and culture are inextricably intertwined in this landscape and native biodiversity and historic cultural diversity can be achieved together.
  • Compatibility - Through creativity and innovation, historic designed landscape character and native plant communities can work together to renew the Olmstedian vision while achieving habitat objectives.
  • Resilience - Native plant communities of the region once established will effectively stabilize this aquatic and terrestrial landscape, providing fruitful habitat for resident and migratory species and enhancing landscape resilience to extreme weather events due to climate change.
  • Sustainability - Uplifting a historic park has been shown to sustain the surrounding neighborhood and revitalize the city addressing the three pillars of sustainability which are economy, environment and society.

These baseline principles for the teamwork directed the development of construction documents to renew this valued bio-diverse and cultural-diverse landscape. Project conception embraces the entanglement of culture and nature in this landscape with the design simultaneously achieving the objectives of reinforcing Olmstedian character, supporting habitat and focusing landscape management to match resources.

Entanglement, means interwoven, co-constructed and constantly becoming.  It is an appropriate term for this park landscape, which is a combined work of humanity and nature, as the cultural and natural assets of the landscape are intermingled, inseparable and evolving. This project addresses the multiple values of heritage, community and ecology, recognizing and the need for greater resilience in the face of climate change.