Floating Gardens in the Chicago River Designed to Create Urban Wildlife Sanctuary


Rivers are sources of life. Not only do they provide habitats for a myriad of flora and fauna, but they are spaces for outdoor leisure and adventure. Unfortunately, many of our global waterways are engineered to be functional at the expense of native plants and wildlife. Urban Rivers, a 501c3 organization based in Chicago, is looking to reverse these effects—starting in their own backyard. Inspired by similar projects in Berlin and Los Angeles, their goal is to install 600 feet of floating gardens in the Chicago River in May 2017, thus providing a home for fish and other animals, while creating a nature destination for people to enjoy.

The floating gardens were first piloted in the Chicago River by Urban Rivers co-founder Josh Yellin, an environmental scientist who installed 50 square feet of habitat in the river as part of his Master's research in 2013. He was inspired during a kayaking trip on the river, when he noticed a dozen geese huddled onto a piling, seeking respite from the waterway's boat traffic. “These geese symbolized the general lack of ecological consideration in Chicago today and throughout its history,” Yellin explains. “The Chicago River that once had a natural riverbank and plentiful vegetation, is now outlined by steel seawalls and a few wooden pilings. Can't Chicago, with its incredible history of design and innovation, do better than this?”

With this in mind, Yellin and a group of like-minded individuals created Urban Rivers, with the aim to reclaim the riverbanks and create an urban wildlife habitat. BioMatrix will provide floating ecosystems to be filled with the native Illinois wetland and prairie plant species that will provide the habitat for mammals, birds, and amphibians. The underside of the floating gardens will provide a feeding habitat for local fish. With results from Yellin's 2013 experiment indicating a nearly 100% increase in the fish abundance in the river immediately surrounding the floating gardens, the impact is promising.

Urban Rivers is hoping that the floating gardens will provide more than a wildlife sanctuary—community involvement and educational opportunities are equally important. The ability to learn about nature, science, and technology in urban centers is vital for the initiative's continued success. The team's experience in clean water initiatives and environmental remediation mean that they've already been able to make great strides in meeting their goal. City permits in hand, they've started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the 600 feet of floating gardens to be installed in 2017. And while they've already made their initial goal, every $50 adds an extra foot of habitat. At this rate they are well on their way to installing a half-mile river park by 2020.





Urban Rivers: Website | Instagram | Twitter | Kickstarter

All images via Urban Rivers.

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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