The 606 Park and Trail

The 606, N Marshfield Ave, Chicago, IL, 60622, USA

What started this project: 

The story of The 606 begins in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which burned through the city for two days, killing 300 people and leaving 100,000 others homeless. In the fire’s aftermath, Chicago was faced with rebuilding almost four square miles of the city, and the City Council permitted the Chicago & Pacific Railroad to build the Bloomingdale Line on the near northwest side on an existing street right-of-way, eventually to be elevated, a process completed on the Bloomingdale Line in 1915. In the late 1990s, the Bloomingdale Line was included in the city’s bike plan. A few years later in 2003, the city began to explore options for creating new parks and open space on the northwest side of the city where such amenities were severely lacking. At around the same time, a group of community members formed an advocacy group: Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail (FBT). Discussions about the redevelopment of the Bloomingdale Line to a park and trail system officially began, and a year later, the 2004 Logan Square Open Space Plan called for an ambitious reuse of the former industrial rail corridor. In 2011, the city and the Chicago Park District asked The Trust for Public Land to serve as the lead private partner on the project and focus on project coordination, community engagement, and fundraising. In the same year, The Trust for Public Land held several public meetings including a three-day charrette, where over 250 community members and local stakeholders shared their vision and objectives for the project.

Goals: 

In addition to a desire for more park space, the community articulated a clear set of objectives that, if accomplished, would position the trail as a community connector, physically reuniting four neighborhoods (Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Wicker Park, and Bucktown) that had been severed nearly a century earlier when the railroad tracks were elevated. Along with FBT, community members imagined a beautiful, living work of art in the public realm that would physically and socially unite neighbors, schools, and local and citywide organizations. The 606 projects also sought to connect residents to their local environment, build a foundation for long-term stewardship, and develop civic leaders who would advance broader community environmental goals. In March of 2012, project managers presented a framework plan that captured community aspirations about the space. However, groundbreaking for the future park would not occur until three years later, in June of 2015. During the planning and construction phases, a need emerged to bridge the gap between the active community engagement phase and the opening of the park. Arts and cultural programming became opportunities to connect people to this physical space and to develop a sense of ownership, well before the park even opened.

Process: 

The 606 defines its arts initiatives through several categories: programming and partnerships, embedded artworks and event facilities, and temporary installations. A key early decision was to include a lead artist as a member of the design team. The result was that arts ideas and concepts are integrated with the design of The 606 and were not afterthoughts. Early in the design phase of The 606, engagement efforts led by The Trust for Public Land were focused on issues of access, safety, landscape, and other park features. However, when the designs were completed and the trail infrastructure was under construction, project coordinators pivoted from participatory design to other kinds of engagement that sought to highlight the cultural assets of the community. The Trust for Public Land launched its “Trail Mix” event series, activities with a broad range of formats: a bridge-building workshop with city engineers; a culinary history of The 606 neighborhoods; a bicycle rodeo, co-hosted by West Town Bikes (a local non-profit) and the Chicago Police Department. During the preliminary design phase of The 606, while these programs were underway, engineers discovered lead paint on the old embankment walls. This meant that dozens of existing murals that had been painted over the years, mostly without permission, would have to be removed. The literal erasure of community culture concerned many local residents. The Trust for Public Land hired a photographer from the community to document the existing artworks, then partnered with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and Kuumba Lynx, a local arts organization, to invite local graffiti artists to curate a six-block section of the wall. Over 60 artists, all paid for their work, created what is now known as The Graffiti Garden, a distinctive feature of The 606. In the end, the opening day featured the work of over 300 paid local artists and musicians, 50 community groups, and 50,000 participants and spectators. By serving as “executive producers” but turning over the creative direction and authority to other organizations with deep community roots, The Trust for Public Land established a programmatic approach that highlights local cultural assets and helps them to thrive.

Results: 

The 606 is first and foremost a recreational facility organized around a path where runners, bicyclists, and walkers can travel without the interruption of motor vehicles. It includes vegetation and aesthetic elements that are intended to attract and engage residents and visitors. More than 50,000 people visited on opening day in 2015, and The 606 has been regularly and heavily visited since. Artists have been involved throughout the development of this iconic Chicago project, and the result sets a new standard for the art of placemaking. The continued involvement of artists will ensure the arts are incorporated into The 606 in ways that are beautiful, innovative, and seamless – creating a living work of art that is uniquely Chicago. Participating in this project, residents are encouraged to see their neighborhood in new ways – and to become aware and build support for parks and trails projects. This type of collaborative creation of place ensures that The 606 is a project and space for the people, by the people. Staff working on this project found that funders are willing to support these types of community engagement efforts and that there is an opportunity to incorporate art and culture into community engagement processes and to implement outreach efforts in a way that is deep and meaningful to the local community. Community engagement – in the form of programming, art, or lecture series – beyond only asking people about their design preferences, has been invaluable to The 606 project. Building these activities into the park development process and budget is essential for this type of engagement. Leaving room for experimentation, surprise, and unexpected outcomes can also benefit both those managing and participating in park projects. Ultimately, these activities have also led to a more active living space, and a promise of a sustained and beloved place.