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Burnham Park Framework Plan

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Page index
To start learning about the 1909 orininga, visit the Burnham Park Timeline page, and
The University of Chicago has a large information and reference page on the Burnham Plan- http://burnhamplan100.uchicago.edu.

A new beach house at 47th Street opens July 17, 10:45 am. Nearly done is a new beach house at 39th.

The Burnham Park Framework Plan

In 1999, the Chicago Park District launched a long-range planning program for a number of Lakefront and Historic parks and began a practice that parks in which new or altered facilities are contemplated must have such a framework plan in place, developed with community input. The process is not perfect and the results certainly are to be understood as working documents. But this approach has facilitated substantive improvements and identification of funds and fundraising in several parks. This plan covers the Lakefront from south of McCormick Place to 56th Street. The planning process included alternations of public and steering committee meetings. For purpose of stimulating thought, contrasting concepts were posited, one neighborhood-oriented and the other stressing regional-draw features, but both alternating active "rooms" at major street ends and more passive "links" between.

"The Burnham Park Framework Plan recommends a series of community activity centers or Park Rooms connected by passive garden Links. This sequence of spaces and activities establishes a hierarchy within the park that coincides with a series of Gateways and Greenways what coincides where visitors access the park."

The text here is where possible paraphrased or shortened and some liberties have been taken to fill in the story. Much of the deeper level is reproduced because it is well reasoned and, even where many of the specifics may seem to veer away from what observers think wise for the park, they set forth standards that park planners and managers would do well to study and observe. We hope to put up some of the extraordinary graphics soon.

By the end of 2003, the following upgrades had been made in the park, not all in accord with the Framework Plan (i.e. skateboard park was an "opportunity" plunked down without reference to the Plan).

By late 2003, the following upgrades to the park were effected or in planning:

Also, project planning with community input was being used to update the Plan.

Gary Ossewaarde

Page Index

Brief outline of the process and plan

Outline from Chicago Park District, January, 2004


Mission Statement:


Key Challenges


From the Plan


Chicago Park District
Design Consultants

Steering Committee


Mission Statement

Burnham Park should provide a variety of recreational, cultural and educational experiences along Lake Michigan. These experiences should be set in an attractive natural landscape environment that serves and is connected to local neighborhoods and that strengthens the open space waterfront of Chicago.

The Plan is a long-range tool used to plan for and coordinate future projects. It establishes a vision for future usage, access, and visual qualities of the park by examining needs and expectations for the park landscape, amenities and users, as well as existing conditions of park accessibility and circulation. It contains guidelines for landscape improvements, for the development of additional park amenities, and for improved physical connection between the park and adjacent neighborhoods.


Site Analysis—Existing Conditions

Burnham from McCormick to 56th has 400 acres and runs over 4 miles varying in width from 100 feet to 800 feet.
Its location provides both of its most highly appealing physical conditions: the lake edge and the magnificent views and two of its major challenges: access and narrow park width.

Burnham Park is underutilized compared especially with its north side counterpart. Some reasons (especially for 31st to 47th):

General Facilities

Restroom Facilities are limited to the 31st beach house , 43rd [and 49th] comfort station, and Promontory Point fieldhouse.

31st is the only beach between 12th and 57th. (Pebble at 49th and Promontory are not sanctioned.)

Recreational and other amenities:

Access and Circulation

In general is pedestrian limited, lacks hierarchy with high-speed (bike) and low speed sharing the same space. One must either cross the IC and LSD or use a vehicular access at 31st or Oakwood.

Vehicular access is only at 31st and Oakwood. They have parking east of the Drive. 47th parking is rather remote and it's hard to get to the overpass. Improvements have been made to parking and roadways; more are planned at Oakwood.

There is not CTA service into the park and no regular Metra stops except 47th flag stop.

Circulation through the park

Park Character

In most places lacks distinctive character. Inferior maintenance and extensive storm damage [and continuous construction and its debris] contribute.The park is extremely narrow and hemmed in, and much is given over to Lake Shore Drive and its traffic.
Flooding had been a problem in several sectors; new revetments and LSD changes may help [but some swales behind revetments are rain collectors].

Landscape is a mix of old and new; much of the older clusters are near the Drive. There is limited shrub massing, variety, or definition of open lawns and meadows. There is little visual or aural screening of the Drive (some of this is being addressed) or the Stevenson and staging areas south of McCormick place. There is little bird-friendly habitat.

Furnishings such as benches, water fountains, lighting are lacking in long stretches except at 31st and Promontory.

Revetments. [Problems with the old and the new.]


What came out at the meetings


Guiding Principles and Plan Objectives


Burnham Park should provide a variety of recreational, cultural and educational experiences along Lake Michigan. These experiences should be set in an attractive natural landscape environment that serves and is connected to local neighborhoods and that strengthens the open space waterfront of Chicago.



Park Organization

Park Rooms

Provide for lakefront oriented recreation including areas for fishing and swimming, picnic areas, areas for family or community gatherings, and play areas for children. Provide drop-off areas adjacent to park facilities, parking for people with disabilities, and opportunities for CTA bus access. Access to the Rooms is landscaped to create "Community Gateways." To the west of the Drive, rooms provide landscaped parking lots for park users, and "outdoor activity areas" such as as basketball courts, tennis courts, or soccer fields.

Park Links

Contain a variety of types of landscape including groves of trees, meadows, and open lawns that provide character, shade, habitat for wildlife, and a noise buffer from Lake Shore Drive. They contain "Overlooks" that create focus points that include seating, lighting, and informational and directional signage about park opportunities. Enhance the connection to the adjacent communities through new accessible bicycle/pedestrian bridges or "Neighborhood Greenways."

Unifying Features

Develop a comprehensive system of furnishings, walk and path paving, signage, lighting, and water fountains to create a unified and cohesive character for the whole park. Install a paved bicycle route with an adjacent soft surface running path; install a pedestrian walk along the new shoreline revetment. These paths connect the links and rooms throughout the length of the park.


Park Use Recommendations

(Generalized) Recommendations for Park Use, Facilities, and Amenities and Park Opportunities

Link 1, McCormick-31st: Commemorative Art Garden [realized as Firefighters Memorial, bird sanctuary]

Room 1, 31st Gateway: Beach and related facilities expansion [realized]

Link 2, 31st-Oakwood: Community Garden [realized: nature/bird sanctuary, garden?]

Room 1, Oakwood Gateway: Increased park land, beach and beach house, multi-purpose lawns [In design. Beach moved to south and reoriented, will have pier with sitting wall, underwater aquatic habitat]

Link 3, Oakwood-47th: Chicago Demonstration Garden [No action, revetment reconstruction in progress; part of this area is planning respectively for 37th-43rd and 45th-51st]

Room 3, 47th Gateway: Increased park land to create a cove with a new beach and house and naturalistic dune or wetland area [in community-based planning, much is funded from Shoreline Protection but some not. 47th overpass to be built late 2004]

Link 4, 47th-51st [sic 55th?]: Nature garden [See preceding]

Room 4, Promontory Point: Fieldhouse enhancement, Caldwell landscape preservation [rec's. vague; premature]

Park Opportunities

Establish the beach houses at 31st, Oakwood, and 47th Streets as locations for waterfront recreational instruction programs. (swimming, sailing, life guarding, kayaking, fishing facilities) [future]

Establish Oakwood Community/Beach building as a location for cultural activities (with outdoor multi-use space for dance, music, theater) [future]

Establish 47th Street Community/Beach building as a location for environmental and ecology programs (provide information about interpretive walks and wildlife habitat areas, tie in with a system of interpretive signage throughout the park, and establish a snorkeling program-- esp. for Morgan Shoal?) [future]

Establish Promontory Point as an Interpretive Center for park history [future], model yacht building program [future]


Specific section by section recommendations

Recommendations for 31st room and link to McCormick Place

[skipped in this summary. Envisions a Commemorative Art Garden with grove, walk, overlook and terrace. Stresses migratory bird habitat as major component- done; art garden (how much art to date?) in conjunction with Firefighters Memorial Park- done. Directional and Interpretive signage- coming? Bridge at 29th- future]

[Expanded 31st Beach and Beach House, playground, fishing pier- done. Outdoor sports area- Roller Blade Rink-done, climbing wall-vetoed by parks constituency, more coming?. CTA Bus stop, drop off at beach house and parking with improved ramps- in progress as part of LSD; parking not moved to west of Drive. Picnic Area- future. Kayak and canoe access to lake-? Opening views to lake-?]

Recommendations for 31st to Oakwood

Link 2.

Community Garden, Play Sculpture Overlook, Restroom, Revetment and shoreland park construction.


Room 2 (Oakwood)

New beach [under construction-moved to 41st], Deep water swimming lanes, community beach [under construction, house-future], play area, picnic area, in-line skating/ice rink, terraced lawn, great lawn, overlook, CTA bus stop, Metra stop, fishing pier

Status summary for this section as of the end of 2003. See Other Sections for more including residents' criticisms

This stretch will see serious addition to parkland (two mini "points") and recreational possibilities, including fishing piers and a beach (2-3 acres like that at 31st) on the south curve of the 39th Street headland-considerably reconfigured from the Burnham Framework Plan. There will be parking (100 but expandable vs 139 spaces now) east of the Drive, but the bike path will be separated from it. (Note that this differs from the Framework, which banished parking east of the Drive, a feature strongly contested at framework planning meetings.) Bike/ped overpasses are anticipated at 41st (already in design-concept competition) and 43rd. Descents will be gradual. The landscape will be resculptured while keeping trees. The bike path will be raised for full visibility for riders, improved and moved closer to the lake. (Residents asked and DOE was interested in dividing the path at points of furthest departure from present to allow a choice of going close to the lake or close to the Drive.) A running path will be continuous along the lakefront (eventually).

For parking lot drainage, the new approach will be used: water will not be piped to the MWRD sewers but allowed to spread out on grass with wet-friendly plants (phytocleaners) and the excess to work its way partially cleansed into the lake.

The fishing piers have safe and friendly features including "seatwalls". Submerged about 5 feet below the water surface will be aquatic habitat- patterns of broken limestone blocks to serve as homes for various fish, culminating about a hundred feet out (within casting distance) in higher "reefs." (Two geometries are being tested. And these will be kept below the near-keel depths that trip up boats at Morgan Shoal.) The so-called Mermaid Stone ("sculpted" from one of the limestone blocks in the 1960's) will be placed on land.



Link 3 Oakwood-47th

Chicago Urban Demonstration Garden and overlook[future or out], restrooms, play area, garden overlook.


Room 3 47th Gateway- See Other Morgan page and its sub pages for evolving plans and shapes.

Beach, community and beach building, cove overlook, play area, picnic area, CTA stop, playgrounds (new, existing), basketball courts (existing), athletic fields (existing), community garden (existing), Metra stop, Butterfly Garden [done], fishing pier


47th-56th (now broken into four segments: Morgan Shoals to 51st, Harold Washington with adjacent shore, link west of Drive 51st to 56th, Promontory Point east of Drive)

Link 4, 47th to 56th

Nature Garden, Nature trail, council ring overlook, existing playground, exist. athletic fields, waterfront promenade, tennis courts (exist.), playgrounds, model yacht basin (exist.), prop. chess pavilion, drop-off.


Room 4, Promontory Point


Park Circulation recommendations

Burnham Park should be reinforced as a safe and accessible destination with improvements to entrances, parking areas, public transportation, pathways, lighting and signage. Pedestrian access to the park should be improved with new accessible entrance points over Lake Shore Drive at a quarter mile interval. Pedestrian and bicycle circulation should be expanded within the park with separate trails for each.

Park Entries. "Gateways" and "Greenways" create a clear hierarchy for vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians. These entry points improve accessibility, safety, and appearance going into Burnham Park from the communities to the west and from Lake Shore Drive.

Community Gateways are visual organizing elements in the park and neighboring communities that provide clear directions to the park for both motorists and pedestrians through the use of signage, light fixtures and distinctive landscaping. Gateways provide access for vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. Gateways are larger than Greenways and have a boulevard-like character.

Neighborhood Greenways are pedestrian connections to the park from adjacent neighborhoods. Greenways provide access for cyclists and pedestrians. Greenways have a smaller scale and have a streetscape-like character.

The Gateways and Greenways, and other transit related projects that impact Burnham Park, should be developed with participation and input from all appropriate governmental agencies and community groups.

Gateway recommendations

In-park circulation and access



Park Character Recommendations

Burnham Park should be a place where nature and culture flourish, where every visitor is welcome and comfortable, and where the local community goes to relax and enjoy the lakefront. This principle improves the landscape quality and diversity of the waterfront, while protecting and enhancing views of the lake and the Chicago skyline. It should vary the park experience by creating a series of open sunny areas and enclosed shady spaces organized around a series of "Garden Room" links.

Overall Character improvements

Burnham Park will be improved by developing a consistent character and design quality throughout the park. The following recommendations outline specific improvements that would benefit the character of the entire park. These are further defined on the following pages.

Special Areas

The Burnham Park Framework Plan recommends a series of community activity centers or Park Rooms connected by passive garden Links. This sequence of spaces and activities establishes a hierarchy within the park that coincides with a series of Gateways and Greenways what coincides where visitors access the park. This structure is further described in Park Organization, Programs and Amenities, and Circulation sections of the Guidelines.

The Framework Plan treats the Gateways and Garden Links as special areas that reflect the overall hierarchy of park elements. Using special plantings, landforms, lighting, and site furnishings, common elements are sited across the park to help visitors understand their location, while special features create a unique identity for each room and link The following recommendations describe specific improvements associated with the Community Gateways, Neighborhood Greenways, and Garden Rooms.

Gateways and Greenways

The Plan next goes into details about:

The Garden rooms, most details being self-explanatory to landscape and urban architects. A commemorative garden would be a showcase for public art, a community garden reflects local character and is intended to be cared for by volunteers, an urban demonstration garden features native Illinois trees and plants with signage, at least parts of which can be tended by local groups or garden clubs. An example of a nature garden or area is that north of 47th, with natural, native plantings like its area (i.e. dune and prairie or wetland), interpretive signage or tours, and with special paths and boardwalks that allow closeness without damage.

Special areas to be carefully restored or maintained and enhanced include the Caldwell landscape at the Point, the Model Yacht Basin at 51st, and the Butterfly Garden at 47th (including better access).

Revetment standards include approximating present profiles at a higher elevation, access to the lower level at intervals (small steps suggested), providing ADA access, and using drainage gaps to return overtopping water to the lake.

Park Views and Landscape Buffers recommendation include view-framing with vegetation and providing seating and using landforms to vary topography and experience a well as reduce noise. A great deal of this work is underway now.

Park Vegetation

Plantings can be used to reinforce pedestrian scale, mitigate noise, provide shade, and provide a lasting impression of the park as an attractive destination. In Burnham, it should, the Plan says, stress the region's natural beauty and environmental sensitivity. The recommended indigenous plants are given tn the appendix. They add color and diversity throughout the year and tolerate flood, drought, and urban conditions.

Site Furnishings

Site furnishings are important to both the visual character and pedestrian experience of Burnham Park. They establish continuity within the park and help create a park identity.