Got visitors coming in from out of town and want to give them a Chicago experience? Forget the observation deck of the John Hancok…too costly. And the Art Institute…too crowded with out-of-towners. Navy Pier…too tawdry. Gino’s East for deep dish…too cliché.
Instead take them for a beautiful walk along the city’s latest and greatest urban renewal project, the long (2.7 miles) ribbon of a park called the Bloomingdale Trail. Its shorthand name is the 606 for the first three digits of the five postal zones through which the trail goes.
The trail runs along a long-unused elevated rail line that runs parallel to Bloomingdale Avenue (1800 North) from Ashland (1600 West) to Central Park/Lawndale (3700 West). Into this narrow strip the park designers have place a 10-foot wide, two-lane path for bikers and runners. Additionally, on each side there is an 18 inch blue rubberized lane for walkers. There are 10 access points and a number of pre-existing or new children’s parks near these entry ramps. Parking is not difficult to find. Just opened, the trail has been lined with 1400 trees and flowering bushes. The installation of durable, low-maintenance prairie grasses will take place next year.
Anybody that cares about making cities more livable and projects that benefit all of the citizens, not just affluent ones along the lakefront, should applaud this project. This approach to creating multi-use open spaces is an inspiration. Though the final phase of New York City’s High Line (a similar project) opened last year, our 606 is hardly another indication of the our second city status. The 606 is, after all, more than a mile longer!
Who’s on the 606?
Multi-generational neighborhood families.
Tattooed baristas on single track bikes.
Slender Wicker Park Bobos (bohemian bourgeoisie) keeping off the pounds.
Vigilant Norwegian nannies pushing space aged strollers.
Wide-eyed tourists from Topeka, some on Divvies, Chicago’s shared bike fleet.
Dog walkers on tight schedules.
New urban-pioneer bicycling parents, child asleep in the bike rickshaw.
Just one or two bleary-eyed alcoholics, thankfully.
A female Chicago cop walking her beat.
Landscape architects checking out the plantings.
The ghosts of Carl Sandburg and Studs Terkel.
Take a bike if you must, but the trail is best enjoyed at walking pace. Observe the new condo buildings under construction; the views down leafy Wolcott, Winchester and Whipple; the distant downtown skyline; the myriad faces going in the other direction. Observe too as you walk from east to West the shift from gentrified neighborhoods with a lot of new construction to those in which housing stock has been modestly rehabbed, it’s owners waiting to see just how much more value the trail has added to their property. Listen to the clatter of the Blue Line overhead at Milwaukee and the squirrel scampering up the birch tree at Drake Avenue.
Western Avenue is the rough dividing line; to the east find views of the distant John Hancock and the 2.5 million dollar townhome whose exterior wall you can almost reach out and touch. To the west, it’s a different look. From the benches look down upon the manicured Humboldt Boulevard, the storage sheds of Chicago Wire Design, and the colorful mural. Or up at a magnificent faded water tower tank and far beyond at the vapor trails of departing jets.
Dr. George Miller has offered us a wonderful account of his epic 9 day walk along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath in one of his recent blog postings. While walking the 606 hardly requires the fortitude and stamina of Miller’s 188 mile trek, it does offer a challenge for the occasional walker, especially one who has grown tired of walks around the subdivision or through crowded Loop streets. Additionally, there are many more places where the pampered can get off the trail to have a good meal (especially along Western and Damen) than you’d find in rural Maryland.
A walk along the 606 is a vote with your feet; you’re supporting the idea that the city, far from being an alienating place hostile to the human spirit, can be a place of pleasure and uplift. Urban renewal can produce personal renewal.