The Wild Mile


2017 Honor Award


Chicago, IL


1 Mile


Urban Rivers



Landscape Architects

Project Details

The Wild Mile project is a floating eco-park located on the north branch channel of the Chicago River, which is a manmade channel to the east of Goose Island. Chicago’s waterways have been channelized for shipping over the past two centuries. The steel walls and mud floors of such channels are undesirable for aquatic life, which leaves a suboptimal system for habitats. The intention of The Wild Mile is to grow a natural habitat in this unnatural channel system through the floating eco-park, which utilizes pre-existing channel walls to support floating wetland and aquatic habitats while also forming a unique environment for canoeists and kayakers alike.

The river is a public trust, and The Wild Mile is a public lab – a place for experimentation. Through a modular and iterative approach, the team’s goal is to find viable solutions for the integration of ecology within our urban rivers.

Collaboration between Urban Rivers, SOM, the City of Chicago and related Chicago institutions led to the design of a floating garden that provides habitat for a diverse group of species and pollinators, while offering unique recreational and educational opportunities for all within the urban environment.

A budget of roughly $63,000 raised through Kickstarter, as well as, corporate grants ensured the successful realization of The Wild Mile. The first phase of which was designed at the beginning of last year and installed with the help of the community in the summer of 2017. The second phase is currently in design phase and will hopefully be implemented this coming summer.

A unique facet of the project is the use of technology and citizenship to monitor the site. Through a volunteer-led initiative of The Wild Mile called River Rangers, citizen scientists report daily throughout the site on a specific subset of plants. Each volunteer keeps track of pollinators, wildlife in the area, plant health, and other conditions. The data collected is then recorded by the volunteers on an app built by The Wild Mile team to maintain timely details regarding the success of each plant. Due to this monitoring, an outbreak of avian botulism was documented on the site, which led to authorities sending a team to the area to quell its spread. Without The Wild Mile and its river rangers, the outbreak may have been much larger.

This collaboration between local citizens and the team to engage with data collection for the site and monitor the health of its inhabitants offers an ideal precedent for future habitat-building projects along the Chicago River and throughout the nation.

Project Team

Products Used in the Built Project: Floating Artificial Wetland (Biomatrix Water)

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