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Let's Revitalize the Chicago River
one square foot at a time

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Re-imagining the Chicago river

Urban Rivers is facilitating the design and implementation of a park on the east side of goose island consisting of floating gardens, wildlife habitat, and more to be enjoyed by the local community--wildlife and people alike!

What we strive to achieve

    •    Build a park that beautifies Chicago's landscape
    •    Rehabilitate wildlife habitat
    •    Teach communities about urban rivers
    •    Help clean the Chicago River of trash and pollutants
    •    Develop the park from North Avenue to Division Street

Our Partners are experts and influencers

  • Patagonia and Whole Foods Market are supporting Urban Rivers through grants and donations. 
  • MWRD is our research partner, contributing fish survey data for four years to monitor the performance of our installation as fish habitat.
  • Epstein Global is our engineering partner and will ensure our successful installation in the Chicago River.
  • Kayak Chicago is our local kayak partner, who has been supportive since our early days and will serve as the primary access point for enjoying Urban Rivers’ floating garden by kayak.
  • Biomatrix Water is our floating garden supplier and close partner, with years of experience in implementing projects like ours around the world.

Why is this project important?

  • The wildlife in our Chicago River is in desperate need of habitat and our gardens will provide vital sanctuaries for fish, ducks, turtles, and more.
  • Our Chicago River needs to be cleaned up. Residents and visitors will soon be able to enjoy natural scenery in the heart of Chicago. 
  • This is an opportunity to educate our community on the environment and create engaging STEAM curriculum for students (STEAM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) 
  • Environmental innovation can benefit cities across the world...and it all starts in Chicago. 







Project Specifications

Our hardware is engineered to survive Chicago conditions year-round. Our partner, Biomatrix Water, builds their floating garden structures with the following technical features: 

  • Marine-grade engineering to withstand all weather conditions 
  • Locking stainless steel quick connect system, making it easy to add additional gardens 
  • Fully cross-braced structure 
  • UV resistant thermo-fused tough floats 
  • Concrete anchors secured using weighted guide rail

Which animals will use the floating gardens as habitat? 

We anticipate the following animals utilizing the floating gardens as habitat. Note, this is only a small selection of the animals we expect to see there.

  • Fish (bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish and more… including tadpole madtoms, which is actually a fish species that looks like a tadpole. We caught one at our installation while doing fish surveys) 
  • Birds (mallard ducks, great blue herons, Canada geese and more) 
  • Mammals (muskrats, field mice, river otters, and more) Reptiles and 
  • Amphibians (painted turtle, snapping turtle, American toad and more) 
  • As well as a variety of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates (crayfish, dragonflies, damselflies and more)

Our Research

Our research shows floating gardens are an effective habitat solution in urban rivers: 

  • Co-founder of Urban Rivers, Joshua Yellin, installed 50 square feet of floating gardens in the Chicago River in June of 2013, which served as the basis for his Master’s research study monitoring urban fish populations. Results indicated a nearly 100% increase in the fish abundance in the river immediately surrounding the floating gardens when compared to traditional docks. 
  • To expand on Josh’s pilot study, Urban Rivers is working with the MWRD (Metropolitan Water Reclamation District) on a four-year study to monitor fish populations at our installation site. This research is already underway, and our measurements include: fish counts, water quality and macro-invertebrate counts.

Which plants will we use?  

 Light green = tall plants; dark green = low to medium plants; brown = bird platforms; grey = turtle platforms

Light green = tall plants; dark green = low to medium plants; brown = bird platforms; grey = turtle platforms

Urban Rivers will be using native Illinois wetland and prairie plant species to provide the habitat foundation for the floating islands. The floating island's design allows us to create diverse habitats because of their ability to grow plants that can take on a wide range of water tolerances in a small area. This gives us tremendous opportunities to create biodiversity and a resilient ecosystem by planting many different food and nectar sources as well as providing protection and materials for the native wildlife. Each one of the plants selected will fulfill the goal of bringing back wildlife to the Chicago River.

Some plant species we are thinking of using are Filipendula rubra, Iliamna remota, Liatris spicata, Spartina pectinata, and Carex vulpinoidea to name a few. The plants will be carefully selected by experts, including Peter Nagle, botanist at Chicago Botanic Garden. Examples of the plants are pictured below.