• 12.30.11

Chicago Plans A New Park That Dwarves All Other Urban Parks

The 140,000-acre Millennium Reserve isn’t so much a single park as a full-scale revitalization of the cities’ dying industrial areas into parks and trails.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Chicago’s ambitious plans to become one of America’s most bike-friendly urban centers. Now the Windy City is embarking on a massive urban parks project.


Earlier this month, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Chicago is investing $17.9 million to begin work on the Millennium Reserve Initiative. The plan is to improve and expand parks, recreational facilities, and open space in this so-called “Millennium Reserve,” a 140,000-acre area south of Chicago proper. Many of the communities in this Millennium Reserve area are recovering from the environmental and economic fallout of the industrial facilities that used to dominate the region.

The first phase of the project involves the construction and/or restoration of 15,000 acres of open space and 53 miles of trails, and the rehabilitation of the Indian Ridge Marsh area along Lake Calumet as a wildlife habitat. The long-term plan is to enlist a wide range of public and private partners in an effort “to restore and conserve the Calumet area’s natural resources” and establish the area as a recreation hub with sports facilities, parks, trails, and nature preserves.

The plan has gotten a lot of media attention, mainly for its size. At 140,000 acres, the Millennium Reserve area is enormous. (New York’s Central Park is 843 acres.) But describing the Millennium Reserve as America’s “biggest urban park,” as the Huffington Post does, is pretty misleading. This is not a plan for a single continuous park, it’s a program to develop and restore many separate open spaces within the area.

It should also be noted that the $17.9 million now available is hardly enough money to pull off the Millennium Reserve vision. The hope is that the project will be able to attract funds from a wide variety of private and public sources, but how that actually shakes out remains to be seen.

That said, it’s thrilling to see Chicago embark on a project of this scale. After all, just being exposed to nature can improve your mental health, to say nothing of the value of a jog or a bike ride.