The South Parks

Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision for urban landscapes can be seen across the globe. On Chicago’s South Side, the soul of that vision resides in Jackson Park, the Midway Plaisance, and Washington Park, representing the original promise of Olmsted and Daniel Burnham’s plan for the city.

In 1869, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) and Calvert Vaux were hired by the South Park Commissioners to transform 1,055 acres of land, just beyond Chicago's southern border, into parkland. In 1871, Olmsted and Vaux had completed a plan for South Park, now known as Jackson and Washington parks and the Midway Plaisance. They considered Lake Michigan the park's greatest asset, and used water as the plan's guiding theme - its "genius of place."  Sublime elements, such as a shadowy winding paths, were combined with beautiful or graceful elements such as broad sunny meadows, to both create a sense of mystery and calm.

After Chicago was selected to host the 1893 Columbian Exposition, millions flocked from around the world to the South Parks to be introduced to the wonders of the day. While the Exposition was intended to be temporary, the parks were meant to endure as cultural gathering places for the South Side.

Understanding Olmsted and Burnham’s original vision and the cultural significance of the parks, Project 120 committed to partnering for a renaissance, with sustainability as a focus, benefitting society, the economy, and the environment. The South Parks will once again become one of the most innovative urban parks in the nation, a place where people will be able to experience and explore science, nature and humanity.


Image: 1871 South Park Plan by Olmsted, Vaux & Co.
(later renamed Jackson and Washington Parks and the Midway Plaisance)