Submitted by Desiree Donovan

Project Description:

            It may not be the four seasons, but the Fish Hotel is a welcome oasis for its many visitors.  Located just off the Michigan Ave. bridge this 42 ft. by 10 ft. floating structure offers hope in a bleak aquatic environment.[1] The mission of the Fish Hotel is create a habitat that is fish friendly, offering the nooks and crannies that are integral for the fishes’ spawning, shelter and food sources.

Background/History:

            In 1890, the direction of the Chicago River was reversed and a large straight channel was dug for downtown shipping.[2] These two civic feats, combined with the effects of the heavy pollution they were meant to address, destroyed nearly all of the important habitat for native aquatic life. Despite the recent upgrade from toxic to very polluted by the EPA, the Chicago River still has sides of concrete and steel, void of any vegetated nooks and crannies.[3]

Hopeful Effect/Outcomes:

            This “Fish Hotel,” surrounded by buoyant dock material, is a structure situated along the river’s bank that provides fish with some of the habitat they need for key aspects of their life cycle. A large number of native species including trout, blue gill, green sunfish, carp and salmon now flock to the hotel that is filled with local wetland plants. Fish are not the only species attracted to the habitat, however; monarch butterflies, caterpillars and other insects that fish snack on, as well as muskrats and a large variety of birds also visit the hotel.[4]

            The benefits of the Michigan Avenue Fish Hotel to wildlife is clear, less expected, though, are the benefits it has had on human residents and visitors to Chicago. This self-contained floating garden is aesthetically pleasing, offering a burst of color and life on the notoriously sullied, murky water way. The use of native wetland plant species, while providing a sustainable food source for fish and insects, has, in effect, become beautiful landscaping at river level. The project also serves as an educational exhibit for the public, raising awareness about local ecosystems and our impact on them. Free tours are held once a week by McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum staff that focus on native fish habitat in the river.[5] Plans  are also underway to attach underwater cameras to the habitat which would allow visitors a glimpse of the action below.[6]

            I find this project to be an exciting start for Chicagoans in embracing nature in their urban environment. Its easy accessibility to the public is another major plus for the project. The structure itself is eye catching, drawing attention to the overarching mission and promoting questions and discussions of urban ecology in the community. 

            River ecology may not be a common household topic now, but the Fish Hotel does bring home the concept that the river is not a lifeless and wholly man-made structure, but the site of natural ecosystems that can be revived and flourish. It sparks hope that nature can thrive in an urban environment, not outside of it but alongside it.

[Edited by Cecile Parrish and Fiacha Heneghan] 


[1] “Currents: News from the River.” Friends of the Chicago River and RoLanka International, Inc.,                2005, <http://www.geo-naturals.com/GN/pdf-files/ChicagoRiver2005.pdf>.

[2] “Chicago River,” Encyclopedia of Chicago, http://encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/263.html

[3] “‘Fish Hotel Attracts Chicago River Marine Life,’” NPR, 2005, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4799229

[4] “Fish Hotel,” Friends of the Chicago River, 2006, http://www.chicagoriver.org/projects/fish_hotel/

[5] ibid.

[6] Thomas, Monfia. “‘Hotel’ hopes to lure fish back to Downtown .” Chicago Sun-Times 7 Aug. 2005. Print.

Submitted by Cory Cote

Project Description

The goal of the pilot Red Line Green Roofs Initiative (RLGRI) project is to contrast the out-of-sight and bit-by-bit production of green roofs in Chicago.  It seeks to re-imagine a considerable portion of the urban environment as a diverse, robust, productive, and beautifully constructed rooftop ecosystem which uses a major public transit system as a mechanism for making the rooftops visible to many people.[1] The green roofs may also encourage an increased use of the transit system, which indirectly affects such things as emission amounts because many may choose to ride the train instead of drive their cars.  The site is to be located in the 48th ward, which is bisected by the CTA Red Line and is one of the most densely developed communities.[2] A proposed general project area is at the location immediately east of the Bryn Mawr Red Line stop.  A picture at http://www.urbanhabitatchicago.org/projects/red-line-green-roofs/ is somewhat representative of a completed project, though it has only been generated to show just a piece of the entire 50,000 square feet of the project. The design team formally sought, in this location, further evaluation of feasibility and identification of owners of viable properties. A proposal was created and sent to request transportation-based funding for the pilot project.

Background/History

The Red Line Green Roofs Initiative is proposing to create 50,000 spare feet of green roofs in Chicago’s 48th Ward along the raised tracks of the CTA Red Line train. RLGRI is still an initiative however, as it has not received funding. But, once the funding is secured the project will enlighten people about how we can improve the environment, public health, and perceptions of the uses of rooftops in an urban environment. The idea was conceived in 2008 by Michael Repkin of Repkin Biosystems, Dave Hampton of Hampton Avery Architects and their partners for the pilot project in the 48th Ward, Alderman Maryanne Smith, Ernie Constantino, and Christine Forrester as an outgrowth of success with the Rooftop Victory Garden at True nature Foods in 2006.[3] Collaboration between the design team for RLGRI and the 48th ward was initiated in early 2009.

Hopeful Effects/Outcomes

As the website for Urban Habitat Chicago points out, “Green roofs capture the public imagination. They can remind us of our origins as a species, bringing to mind landscapes long vanished. They also illustrate our common need to remain an integral part of the natural processes.”[4] For cities, green roofs are especially appropriate. There are numerous uses for them, such as space to grow food, renewable fuel and fiber, aesthetically pleasing scenery, and new habitats for animals and plants to live.[5] The roofs remain largely an isolated and inaccessible green initiative in Chicago, and are often so small and piecemeal that even if you came into contact with them, you might be slightly disappointed.[6]

Besides being densely populated, and having a major transit artery running through it, the project’s proposed location is immersed in an area which significantly contributes to the localized Urban Heat Island Effect. Using heat imaging, the City had discovered that the area around Broadway Avenue was a hotspot for the Heat Island Effect.[7] By creating, essentially, a 50,000 square foot “blanket” of vegetation in this area, we could see a decrease in the heating effect.

I believe the significance of this project lies with the implications it has for future projects of the same sort. Along with Chicago’s goal of doubling its canopy size by 2040, I think by also creating thousands of square feet of green roofs, Chicago will become a much better place to live for people and for other animals. In addition, according to Urban Habitat Chicago’s website, “the completion of the Initiative will mark the first large-scale green roof project in the world, placing Chicago at the forefront of community-based green roof efforts.”[8] It will also, “provide data on building energy efficiency, Urban Heat Island Effect mitigation, storm water management, and rooftop biodiversity.”[9]

[Edited by Fiacha Heneghan and Cecile Parrish]


[1] “Red Line Green Roofs Initiative,” Urban Habitat Chicago. 2010, http://www.urbanhabitatchicago.org/projects/red-line-green-roofs/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Layla Bellows, “Green Roofs on Chicago’s Red Line,” AIArchitect, 2009, http://info.aia.org/aiarchitect/thisweek09/0612/0612d_greenroofchicago.cfm.

[4] “Red Line Green Roofs Initiative,” Urban Habitat Chicago.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

Are there hopeful signs for our environmental future? Green projects undertaken with a clear-eyed view of the challenges but nevertheless in an optimistic spirit? Projects that, in aggregate, are commensurate with scale of our environmental challenges? We believe there are some excellent candidates in Chicago. In this blog we review 50 or so projects throughout the city of Chicago that meet our criteria as a “Hopeful Thing”, that is they are optimistic, urban, environmentally well conceived, resilient, aesthetically pleasing, ethical, engaging and useful for people, liberating and cultivating of the wild, feasible, embracing of human and non-human diversity, non-sentimental. In many cases the projects are conceived or run in an interdisciplinary manner.

This is a field guide because in each case there is something to visit and see associated with each Hopeful thing. In many cases there is also someone you can talk to about the project when you visit. Each account we present we provide:
1. Project description detailing the mission, vision and history of the project, showing how the project meets the criterion we have established.
2. Map and photographs showing where the project is located and what can be seen.
3. A list of personnel associated with the work
4. Our assessment of the significance of the project

This project is lead by Dolores Wilber and Liam Heneghan of DePaul University.

We will start posting in February.  In the meantime if you have ideas that you’d like to share please leave us your suggested Hopeful Thing as a comment.