NYC Has Its High Line, Soon Chicago Will Have The 606

The longest rails-to-trails project in the world is right here in Chicago, and is scheduled for completion in June, 2015. To find out more, I took advantage of an opportunity to interview in writing Beth White, the Chicago Region Director of the Trust for Public Land.

Artist's rendering of view at Milwaukee and Leavitt. Source: The Trust for Public Land
Artist’s rendering of view at Milwaukee and Leavitt. Source: The Trust for Public Land

Can you give me an overview of The 606’s major features?

The 606 takes Chicago’s legacy of great parks to new heights. The 606 has the elevated Bloomingdale Trail [currently an unused rail line] as its centerpiece, and it will be connected to six neighborhood parks at ground level. It will also have a wheel-friendly event plaza, an observatory, art installations, and educational programming.

Set above city streets, it’s a new way to explore Chicago on trails for biking, running and strolling … Kids will learn to ride their bikes here, commuters will find a new shortcut to work, and neighbors will make new friends. The 606 will change what it means to go to the park. For more information visit (

How will The 606 add to the surrounding neighborhoods? 

The 606 will serve as a connector of parks, people, and communities; what once physically separated the neighborhoods of Bucktown, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Humboldt Park now will knit them together and attract visitors from throughout Chicago and beyond.

Locally, The 606 will be an urban oasis for the 80,000 people, including 20,000 children, who live within a ten-minute walk. It is also planned as a citywide resource and a transportation alternative as well as a tourist attraction.

Because The 606 will also serve as a 3-mile long alternative transportation corridor it will bring together families who will be able to teach their kids to ride bikes without having to cross a city street.

Artist's rendering of view at Burgos Park. Source: The Trust for Public Land.
Artist’s rendering of view at Burgos Park. Source: The Trust for Public Land.

How will The 606 be similar to and different from New York City’s High Line?

The 606 will be uniquely Chicago. While it is under construction, many people compare it to New York’s Highline, but these wonderful public spaces are very different.

The Bloomingdale Trail is elevated, but it is nearly 3 miles long – twice as long as The Highline. Along the 606, bike traffic will be allowed (in fact, The 606 intersects with Milwaukee Avenue, the most-traveled Chicago street for cyclists).

The Bloomingdale Trail (avg. 17′ high) is also much lower than the Highline (more than 30′), which means it’ll be more connected to the neighborhoods through which it passes. Folks will be able to interact with people on the ground and in the six parks that will be connected by the trail. This connection to six street-level parks is a huge distinction from the Highline.

Also, The 606 is designed to be a living work of art. The Trust for Public Land brought in a professor at the School of the Art Institute, Frances Whitehead, as a member of the design team alongside the engineers and landscape designers – leading to a park and trail system fully infused with the arts.

Describe the role of The Trust for Public Land in the development of The 606.

Founded in 1972, The Trust for Public Land is the nation’s leading nonprofit working to conserve land for people. The Trust for Public Land is focused on creating parks and preserving land, especially urban space, and oversees civic engagement, fundraising and stewardship of The 606.

The Trust for Public Land is the lead private-sector partner on the project and serves as project manager on behalf of the Chicago Park District (managing design, construction, civic engagement, fundraising, and other elements.)


Tell me about the plantings.

The Bloomingdale Trail will facilitate the study of phenology through plantings along the trail. We are using plants to turn this east-west corridor into an environmental sentinel and climate-monitoring installation, in collaboration with the Chicago Wilderness and the USA National Phenologic Network.

Along the Bloomingdale Trail we’ll be planting 453 temperature-sensitive species to help nature-lovers, garden enthusiasts and citizen scientists explore the impact of the lake effect on Chicago’s blooming periods. Similar studies have been done on the cherry blossom season in Washington DC. The three species are a mix of native and other sentinel species:

  • Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ (Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry)
  • Forsythia suspensa sieboldii (Weeping Forsythia)
  • Syringa x chinensis ‘Red Rothomagnesis’ (Red Rothomagnesis Chinese Lilac)

Phenologists have told us that they believe this installation will demonstrate a 5-day difference in the blooming period from east to west end because of Lake Michigan’s effect on our growing season. And, over the years, scientists will also be able to track the effects of climate change on bloom times.

This idea came from The 606 lead artist Frances Whitehead, and we expect citizen scientists and students from the 20 nearby schools (within a ten-minute walk of the trail) to participate in the monitoring activities. .

Evening on The 606. Artist's rendering.
Evening on The 606. Artist’s rendering.

What criteria have been used for the selection of plants? Can you tell me if particular plants have already been identified for extensive use? 

The sentinel species will be planted with the most regularity, but we have a great mix of trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs. Plants were chosen for a variety of qualities including native status, attractor for native wildlife, stormwater retention, and, of course, beauty.

Who is designing the plantings? Have they done comparable projects elsewhere? 

Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates is the landscape architecture firm on the project and they are working on several high profile projects nationwide, including downtown Chicago at Maggie Daley Park.  You can see several of their projects by visiting their web site:

Can you explain why the name “The 606” was chosen? 

The project is named for the 606 zip code prefix all Chicagoans share, reflecting the park and trail system’s role as a community connector. The 606 name also evokes a connection to the site’s transportation history, a play on the tradition of using numbers to name rail lines, highways, bus and train routes and other transportation corridors.

37 Comments on “NYC Has Its High Line, Soon Chicago Will Have The 606”

  1. Are ya kidding! How cool is this!! What a beautiful thing for the city of Chicago! And it will be interesting to see the gardens they create. I wish they wouldn’t have to be studied for climate change but those are the times we live in. I will be keeping a closer eye out for this project…thanks for sharing Jason! Great interview! Nicole

  2. Absolutely fascinating Jason and what a great resource it will be for Chicago. I used to live near Milton Keynes in England (which a lot of people mock!), but I always so admired the way people who lived in this new city could take their bikes out at the weekend and connect with green spaces, canals, small villages, without going near too many main roads. People who lived there raved about it!

    • Well, now I have looked up Milton Keynes. It sounds extremely nice. Why was it mocked – because it was a newly built planned community? All towns were new at one time, there’s no moral reason why starting a town is a right reserved only for the dead of past centuries.

  3. Chicago is a very ‘green-minded’ city isn’t it Jason. I visited New York mainly because I wanted to see the High Line, which I thought was fantastic even though it was New Year and everything was brown. Maybe I’m going to have to visit Chicago too! Lucky you living in such a park orientated city; Italy could learn so much from your city.

  4. Oh this is looks wonderful Jason a real green corridor through Chicago and what a fantastic proactive project for the children of your city too. Progress in the modern world can be quite exciting. I bet its going to be really fascinating to watch its progress. There is a similar but tiny (in comparison) project just approved in London for a Garden Bridge, spanning the river Thames.

  5. What an asset this is going to be for Chicago Jason. Here in Edinburgh there are miles of cycle/walking/wildlife corridors which makes use of the redundant 19th Century Railway Lines. June 2015 is really not too far away, I will be looking forward to reading your take on it.
    Well done City of Chicago!

  6. What a wonderful idea. You are lucky to have a facility like this. Great for cyclists as well as gardeners. There are more and more cyclists killed on the roads here, specially in London. Every city should have something like this. I look forward to seeing the planting.

  7. As a designer and architect myself, …”they believe this installation will demonstrate a 5-day difference in the blooming period from east to west end because of Lake Michigan’s effect on our growing season. And, over the years, scientists will also be able to track the effects of climate change on bloom times,” this really jumped out at me. Hooray to the team for making The 606 more than a pretty place for park goers, being interactive engaging various disciplines to monitor and record change.

  8. Jason, What an exciting project! I love the idea of creating pedestrian-friendly spaces, especially ones that actually can take you somewhere by foot (or bicycle). Now that I’m a lady of leisure, I think there needs to be a trip to Chicago in my future.

  9. What a great post — thank you! My son lives in this neighborhood. Last Thanksgiving Bill took us (his sister and I) for a walk along this path — truly a magical place despite the broken glass, debris and weeds. I look forward to returning.

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