American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2005 Professional Awards
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Over the last 100 years the Calumet landscape has been drastically altered - some bodies of water were filled with slag from the steel industry and municipal waste, other portions of Lake Calumet and the rivers were dredged to make them navigable for deeper draft vessels (as these modified maps from the U.S. Geological Survey show). All this has left a landscape that today provides almost 60 percent of land in Chicago that is available for industry intermixed with 3,500 acres of the city’s most important wetlands.
The Calumet region’s role as a transportation hub has always been a strong attraction for industry: nine railroad companies run through the area making it North America’s largest center for intermodal freight shipping, five interstate highways are within ten miles and the Illinois International Port District is based there.
By the 1860’s Chicago’s Calumet area was a destination for both ships carrying iron ore from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and for trains carrying coal. The steel industry dominated the landscape in the 20th century but has dwindled today leaving remnants such as the ore walls from the U.S. Steel site pictured here.
Almost all of the 859 acres of landfills in the area are on former wetlands because the same natural qualities that make a wetland wet - a thick clay bottom - also make it an ideal site for a landfill. At the 450-acre CID Recycling and Disposal Facility owned by Waste Management of Illinois (pictured here), the base and sides of the landfill were properly constructed by draining the wetland, digging up 3-6 feet of the top layer of clay on the site, re-compacting that clay along the bottom and sides of the site making an impermeable clay lined waste receptacle.
Since the adoption of the Calumet Area Land Use Plan in 2002, the City has acquired over 300 acres of wetlands and natural areas. Eighty-five percent of Indian Ridge Marsh (pictured above), the largest nesting area for black-crowned night herons in the Upper Midwest, was acquired through the tax delinquency process.
Because the industries of Lake Calumet are in the unusual situation of being intermingled with significant wildlife habitat, it is necessary to consider the future of both industry and nature together, in a comprehensive and synergistic land use plan. The land use map approved by the Chicago Plan Commission is intended to direct future development in the Calumet area.
The Calumet Open Space Reserve is a 3,900-acre complex of wetlands, prairies, trails and recreation lands first proposed in the Calumet Area Land Use Plan which were then framed by landscape architects into six management units.
From its inception, the vision for acquiring, managing, restoring and protecting lands in the reserve has been recognized as a shared, cooperative effort between governmental entities that manage natural areas in Chicago. These maps completed a major land ownership analysis phase in the creation of the Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan.

Calumet Plans, Chicago, IL
City of Chicago, Dept. of Planning, Chicago, IL
Wolff Clements & Associates, Chicago, IL
Planning Resources Inc , Wheaton, IL

"The planning process allows for the future design of constructed wetlands to clean the water. . . important example, so many brownfields change to other uses, but this one is staying industrial. . . highlights the importance of water and addresses the kind of challenges our cities are facing."

— 2005 Professional Awards Jury Comments

The plans for the Calumet area are the boldest effort to reverse decades of disinvestment, pollution and population loss in an area dominated by steel mills and landfills. The City’s goal for Calumet is to create a sustainable landscape, where industry and open space are intermingled, interconnected and to the greatest extent possible, co-existing harmoniously by:

  • Improving the quality of life in the Calumet area and the surrounding communities

  • Retaining and enhancing existing businesses and industries within the Calumet area

  • Attracting new industrial and business development, and creating new job opportunities

  • Protecting and enhancing wetland and natural areas within the Calumet area, and improving habitat for nesting and migratory birds and rare and endangered species

  • Employing best management practices for sustainable development of new industrial sites.

The Chicago Plan Commission adopted the Calumet Area Land Use Plan in 2002. While the Land Use Plan was being completed, work began on the Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan, a document detailing the 4,000 acres of natural areas and wetlands. Over 200 species of birds are known to migrate through or nest in the Calumet area every year. Aquatic life is also surprisingly abundant, especially considering that many of the bodies of water are degraded, dredged or filled. Lake Calumet itself, for example, has over 20 species of fish. The Reserve Plan provides a vision for natural area preservation, rehabilitation, recreation, and trail connections, and is a blueprint for local government action.

Concurrent with the Reserve Plan, the City of Chicago developed the Calumet Design Guidelines, which were adopted in March of 2004. The Guidelines address the private property in the area that is to be redeveloped for industry. The goal of the Guidelines is to articulate, describe and illustrate the City of Chicago’s requirements for sustainable site design in the Calumet area. The document provides background information on soils, hydrology and ecology and provides guidance on the practical implementation of the Guidelines. The Guidelines are directed at those charged with creating and implementing a site design either for a new enterprise or for the expansion of an existing business.

The basic tenets of the Land Use Plan, and the land use designations, date back to 1985 when local residents and activists developed plans to preserve natural areas and create recreational opportunities in Calumet. But during that time the City of Chicago was exploring filling in more of Lake Calumet for industry and construction of a third airport as a way to ameliorate environmental problems.

Neither of those plans were realized and by 1994 DPD began working with the Chicago Park District (CPD) and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC) on an open space plan for Chicago. The result was the CitySpace Plan which provided broad recommendations for increasing all types of open space in the city. It was in the CitySpace Plan that the City’s vision of a sustainable Calumet area was first introduced. That plan recommended pursuing “a comprehensive preservation and industrial development strategy for the Lake Calumet district.” By 1999, DPD was ready to create such a plan for Calumet. The first step was to collect past plans and maps, which up until then had resided in the files and minds of many different organizations and individuals. Mapping the area proved to be the biggest challenge. Existing maps of the far southeast side still showed ideas from a 1949 land use plan. Streets that had been platted but never built appeared on City street maps. Following the development of accurate maps, focus groups were conducted with industry, community and environmental groups to solicit their opinions on proposed land uses in order to identify where constituencies and special interests both agreed and disagreed.

To develop the Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan a team of landscape architects, planners, a writer and a landscape photographer visited the sites. Planning staff collected information on and mapped property ownership. The Department of Environment (DOE) provided information, when available, on environmental conditions. The Reserve Plan was created to provide information and maps of each site, proposed ownership of unprotected sites, and a proposed trail map for the entire area.

To develop the Calumet Design Guidelines a second professional team was assembled that included landscape architects, planners, a soil scientist, and a stormwater management specialist. Initially it was thought that the main issue would be developing a new plant palette. Site visits, document review and mapping revealed that soil and hydrology issues were more challenging physical constraints. Since large segments of the Calumet area contained no sewers the Guidelines needed to direct developers to utilize best management practices in areas with a high seasonal water table.

Industry and nature both need large expanses of land that are not encroached upon by residential and commercial uses. Factories don’t seem to bother the birds as much as people do. Efforts to identify lands to be preserved for open space and natural areas and lands to be designated for industrial redevelopment had been attempted since the 1980’s when U.S. Army Corps of Engineers initiated a Strategic Area Management Plan (SAMP) for the Lake Calumet area. The SAMP indicated that approximately 10% of the wetland sites were so sensitive that they could never be filled, 10% could be filled with a simple application, but the remaining 80% required site by site review, leaving most of the wetlands in a land use designation limbo.

The main purpose of the Land Use Plan was to resolve these land use issues. For most of the land use designations a consensus was reached among the participants in the partnership. In one instance there is a large natural area abutting a railroad yard. The railroad which owns the property intends to use it for an intermodal yard, and the land was designated for industrial uses, but the environmental partners did not agree with that designation. Although the land use was not changed, the text of the plan noted these areas where consensus was not reached and all the partners supported the plan.

Land use plans for the redevelopment of Chicago communities – residential, commercial, and industrial – have generally treated open space as a homogeneous land use. In the Land Use Plan four open space categories were identified to direct future development. One is simply public open space indicating land already in public ownership. Open space preservation indicates sites to be preserved as habitat. Open space recreation indicates sites that may be developed with public recreational facilities. Open space reclamation refers to sites that have been or are now used for waste management purposes. Those sites will have an open space character and may continue to be used for waste or water management. Later these open space categories were used as the basis for the new open space zoning designation developed through Chicago’s Zoning Reform initiative.

For the Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan the critical decision is identifying which public agency is best suited to own and manage unprotected natural areas. The City’s role is to acquire the lands and address environmental issues before transferring the land to an appropriate land manager. There are three open space managers that could expand their holdings in Calumet. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) owns all the land around Wolf Lake in Illinois. Given its mandate to protect and manage the state’s natural resources, the IDNR is the projected owner of lands in the reserve that are known to provide habitat for threatened and endangered species. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC) currently is the largest open space manager in the reserve with 865 acres in three forest preserves. The FPDCC’s mission is the preservation and rehabilitation of the regional landscape, and it could become the manager of the undeveloped west shore of Lake Calumet, the most significant regional landscape in the area. The CPD is the primary manager of recreational lands, facilities and programs in Chicago, and CPD will play an important role in the reserve by managing the lands that people will use most often.

For industrial uses, the tracts of land in the Calumet area differ from one another: Sizes and soil types vary; topography changes from site to site; some locations have contamination problems while others do not. It is expected that some solutions suggested in the Calumet Design Guidelines will work for one site but not for another. Those who are expanding present facilities will have different challenges from those building on vacant land. The practices described in the Guidelines are intended to provide a menu of options for the developers.

The Calumet plans began when DPD and the non-profit organizations, Openlands Project and the Southeast Chicago Development Commission jointly submitted a grant to the U.S. EPA under its Sustainable Development Challenge Grant program. The role of the non-profits included outreach to and representation of the local environmental and community groups. The planning partnership later included DOE and Calumet Area Industrial Commission, a non-profit organization representing area businesses. The Illinois International Port District and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago own large tracts in the area and DPD worked with both agencies to get their concurrence on the land use designations.

For the Calumet Area Land Use Plan and the Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan the primary design functions involved mapping and photography. The Calumet area represents about 10% of the land in Chicago - 20 square miles. Proposed land uses for this area had to be conveyed to planners, legislators and the general public. The area also had a reputation as a dumping ground and a land of abandoned steel mills. Few outside the area were aware of the existing natural areas or of the beauty represented by the juxtaposition of the industrial and natural landscape.

For the Calumet Design Guidelines section drawings were used to illustrate the different site design options. Several boards were developed to convey the guideline concepts to legislators, developers and the general public.

The Calumet Tax Increment Financing District (TIF), the largest in Chicago, was enacted in 2001. The TIF provides funds for capital projects, including brownfield remediation and stormwater management techniques for new developments. One year later the Calumet Area Land Use Plan was adopted and since then:

  • Approximately 1,000 new employees began work at the Ford Manufacturing Campus, developed on a brownfield as an expansion of the existing Ford plant.

  • With the assistance of the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development, over 10,000 Chicago residents were screened on a citywide basis to fill these new positions.

  • In 2004 the Chicago Plan Commission approved the Lake Calumet Planned Manufacturing District to prevent incompatible land use encroachment within the Calumet industrial corridor.

  • Government has spent over $200 million on road construction and upgrades.

  • The City and State codified their working relationship in an intergovernmental agreement.

  • The City and FPDCC are finalizing a similar agreement.

  • The City has acquired over 300 acres of wetlands and natural areas of statewide significance through donations, tax sales, and acquisitions using state and federal grants.

  • The Port District, the owner of Lake Calumet’s west shore, has agreed to dedicate that land for preservation.

  • In 2002 DOE published the Calumet Area Ecological Management Strategy to provide a unified strategy for land managers for rehabilitating the natural areas.

  • More than 2,200 species were identified during the 2002 Calumet Biodiversity Blitz, a 24-hour inventory of Calumet area species that involved over 100 scientists and scores of volunteers.

  • On April 22, 2004 DOE announced the winner of the international design competition for the Ford Calumet Environmental Center, which will “serve as a teaching tool between nature and industry and between architecture and the environment.” DOE has secured $6.6 million of private and public funds for the center.

In 2000, Mayor Daley and then-Governor Ryan appointed an advisory committee of local government, business and conservation group representatives to advise on sustainable development and industrial retention, natural area conservation, and environmental cleanup projects. Fifty representatives were appointed to the committee, which continues to meet several times a year. City, county and state departments continue to use the plans as a guide.


Detailed maps of each unit were designed to show land already in public ownership and unprotected lands that could be added to the reserve. The Wolf Lake Unit pictured here includes expansion opportunities for the state-owned Wolf Lake, the county’s Eggers Woods and new sites for the Chicago Park District at Hyde Lake and Indian Creek.
As you travel through the Calumet Open Space Reserve you will pass through Chicago neighborhoods, across 19th century bridges, by state-of-the-art industry and industrial remnants, observe ocean-going vessels and of course immerse yourself in nature. Drawing on local and regional transportation plans, a complex of bike trails, lanes and routes has been proposed for the area.
In addition to the landfills in the area, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago manages 596 acres of public waste treatment facilities. Some of those facilities, such as the Sidestream Elevated Pool Aeration Facility pictured here are open to the public and provide bird-watching and fishing opportunities.
An analysis of the sewer system (pictured here) revealed that large areas of the Calumet region are not served by combined sewers like the majority of the City. It is expected that development in these unserved areas (within blue outline) will need to be designed to incorporate separate stormwater systems that connect to a lake or river, or in some cases sewer or drainage swale.
The Calumet Design Guidelines were adopted to help developers construct industrial landscapes compatible with the surrounding open prairies and marshes that make up the Calumet Open Space Reserve. It is the City’s vision that businesses choosing to invest in the Calumet Area be developed in ways that improve the environment through thoughtful and sustainable landscape management practices, stormwater management and other means.
One of the first sites to be reviewed after the adoption of the Guidelines was this 58-acre proposal for a heavy equipment storage facility on the Calumet River. The initial plan reflected a typical engineered approach using structured sewers draining directly into rectangular detention ponds with steep slopes and non- native plantings.
The City recommended that the developer work with professionals as outlined in the guidelines. The revised plan, adopted this winter, includes sustainable stormwater management systems integrated with a naturalistic and ecologically beneficial design.
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