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Expand and Improve Parks and Open Space

Green spaces contribute to our personal well-being and regional economy. Access to parks and open space improves the health of our region's residents and the value of their homes.

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Abundant natural areas make our seven-county region a more desirable place to live and work, and without green spaces, our economic competitiveness would suffer.

Parks and open space were central to the 1909 Plan of Chicago. Daniel Burnham helped to preserve open corridors of land—our parks, forest preserves, and the lakefront—contributing immeasurably to the welfare of our region and its residents.

Yet Burnham's network of open space remains a work in progress. Less than half of our region's residents have adequate parks nearby. Despite well-documented benefits like flood protection and biodiversity, much of our region's natural open space remains unprotected.

The region's network of parks and open space is our "green" infrastructure—no less essential to prosperity and livability than any other infrastructure. But as with systems for transportation, water treatment, and other needs, our green infrastructure must be managed, restored, and expanded.

Through coordinated investments, we should preserve a network of land and water corridors by increasing current preserves and creating new ones. The region should provide functional connections (known as greenways) between parks and preserves to support recreation and ecosystems.

The GO TO 2040 plan recommends that the region make significant, criteria-based investments in parks and open space—providing more parks in developed areas, preserving the region's most important natural areas, and providing functional connections between parks and preserves by using the green infrastructure network as a design concept.

Our region has expanded over the last 100 years, and the corridors of open space Burnham envisioned must expand as well. We owe it to future generations and to ourselves.

GO TO 2040 proposes a green infrastructure network that follows waterway corridors, expands existing preserves, and creates new preserves in the region.

 

Preserve the Most Important Natural Areas
Over the next 30 years, an additional 150,000 acres of land across the seven counties should be preserved through a collaborative, multi-organizational, publicprivate approach. Most of this should conserve a network of land and water — the green infrastructure network — that follows waterway corridors, expands existing preserves, and creates new preserves in the region. Forest preserve and conservation districts, the state, private funders, and others should all prioritize land preservation within the green infrastructure network.

Provide More Parks
The region needs additional parks to provide recreation and open space to as many residents as possible. But it is challenging to provide land in already developed places where it is needed most, even though the total acreage required for new parks is not high. Local governments should collaborate to provide additional parks in the areas least served by them, and municipalities in particular should look on redevelopment as an opportunity to provide additional park space even in the context of moderate increases in residential density.

Provide Green Connections
Another way of establishing connections between parks and preserves is a greenway trail. The region has been very successful in developing off-street trails over the past two decades, and GO TO 2040 envisions organizations in the region continuing to use the Greenways and Trails Plan to establish connections between preserves and parks, as well as to support walking and bicycling alternatives. The region's objective should be to double existing greenway trail mileage by 2040. 

For more download this section from the full plan.

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