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63rd Street Beach, Jackson Park

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Provides habitat for over 200 species of birds, including ducks, owls, raptors, and several scarce species of migratory sparrows. Endangered or threatened species sighted include the Black-crowned Night Heron, Least Bittern, Piping Plover, and Snowy Owl.
  • Helped to reduce the number of swim ban days by 72% and swim advisory days by 62% by 2010.
  • Reduces sand erosion by nearly 100% by implementing two phases of beachside planting to create a stable native dune grassland system.
  • Saves an estimated 450,000 gallons of potable water and over $1,300 annually with the use of native species that require zero irrigation compared to a turf landscape. (2004 Restoration)
  • Increased the Biomass Density Index — a measure of the density of plant layers covering the ground — by nearly 150% for the project area. (2004 Restoration)


  • Increases opportunities for stewardship and learning. The Great Lakes Action Days program, run by the Shedd Aquarium, conducts monthly stewardship days, which has involved over 200 volunteers annually since 2005.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Terry Guen Design Associates

  • Project Type

    Park/Open space
    Waterfront redevelopment

  • Former Land Use

    Park/Open space

  • Location

    6300 S Lake Shore Drive
    Chicago, Illinois 60649
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  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    2004 Restoration: 3 acres 2010 Restoration: 4.1 acres plus 6 acres of aquatic habitat

  • Budget

    $1.2 million

  • Completion Date

    2004, 2010

63rd Street Beach, located adjacent to historic Jackson Park along Chicago’s famous Lake Michigan waterfront, has transformed into a more ecologically-functional shoreline. Bordered and made iconic by the six-lane roadway of Lake Shore Drive, the entire length of the waterfront was designated as public open space through the Burnham & Bennett 1909 Plan for Chicago and continues to be treasured by Chicagoans and visitors. From 2001-2004, Lake Shore Drive adjacent to the 63rd Street Beach, underwent redesign and reconstruction. Landscape played an integral role in resolving techincal issues, such as intercepting first-flush stormwater and the development of pedestrian under-pass access coordinated with the roadway. The landscape design also responded to the unique ecological and historic context of this area, simulating a back-dune landform ecology, and physically tying the beach to the Olmsted-designed Jackson Park to the west. A subsequent expansion of the ecosystem restoration area was installed in 2010, deepening the efficacy of both projects in establishing important dune habitat area along Chicago’s lakefront.


The Chicago Park District (CPD), Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), and the Mayor’s Office commissioned the 63rd Beach project after the Transportation Phase I planning and preliminary roadway engineering of the South Lakeshore Drive Reconstruction Project was completed. Although not incompatible with the roadway design, the site required complex grade transitions, as well as ecological and historical research and interpretation; thus, the landscape design eventually necessitated revisions to the engineering drawings. Further, within this site context, there was an opportunity to develop an ecological landscape, a concept that the Chicago Park District was increasingly interested in adopting along Chicago’s lakefront, though few precedents existed.


CDOT leadership were fully supportive of the comprehensive efforts spearheaded by the landscape team and were committed to the care and repair of the historic site. As a result, the landscape architect conducted an extensive historical and ecological evaluation, including archival research of Olmsted’s original designs for the site and consultation with a leading landscape ecologist to determine the most appropriate design and planting strategies. Rather than replicate the wetland system that exsisted on the site prior to settlement, the design created a stable native grassland system that could sustain wave and wind action along the lakefront. Landform strategies to accommodate pedestrian movement necessitated revisions for the in-process roadway engineering plans to create a seamless transition from historic Jackson Park. Through a series of meetings with the City of Chicago’s Landscape Review Committee and the CPD, the landscape architect convinced the agencies that the ecological beachfront design was a worthwhile investment, although the resulting landscape would require a different maintenance approach than a conventional park.

  • The 63rd Street Beach section of shoreline, which was filled in the 1900s, was restored with native sandy loam soils utilizing a back-dune morphology, creating new habitat for hundreds of species of plants, birds, animals, fish and insects. The dune habitat is now a regular nesting area for Spotted Sandpipers, a strong indication of the success of the habitat management.
  • The project is historically contextual to the 19th century, Olmsted-designed Jackson Park. By designing within the National Historic Register standards, the project adapts the historic nature of the landscape to contemporary needs and interests. For example, more ecologically and economically sustainable ground materials, such as native grasses were substituted for turf.
  • The 1.18-acre grassland utilizes plants and trees to retain the beach slopes instead of traditional retaining walls.
  • In the dune grassland, over 22 species of grasses, 25 species of shrubs and forbs, and 10 species of trees were observed, all of which are native to the Great Lakes ecosystems.
  • Based on recommendations by a local ecologist, the site includes pre-grown regionally occurring, but not well-known plants like black oak (Quercus velutina), Jack pine (Pinus banksiana), and hoptree (Ptelia trifoliata). The contractor also grew dwarf cherry (Prunus pumila) and choke-cherry (Prunus virginiana) from root stock in order to adhere to the project planting specifications.
  • A universally-accessible 14-ft pedestrian underpass provides open, well-lit, and unimpeded universal access to the beach area from Jackson Park. Path configurations are choreographed to open up a new sequence of views that hide and reveal the beachfront and lake through the underpass space.
  • Large, historic limestone blocks were salvaged as part of the roadway reconstruction. These blocks were realigned and used to create a path that separates the sand beach from the underpass planting. Limestone blocks were also placed throughout the grassland and can be used by visitors as informal seating or meeting spots.
  • The installation of the 2004 Restoration landscape including dune landform, native grassland, and landscape transition from historic Jackson Park to the beach cost a total of $1.2M for a 3-acre site, totaling approximately less than $10/SF. In addition to construction costs for the project being significantly less than a conventional design approach, long-term maintenance and ecosystem service benefits further shift the life-cycle cost analysis to a cost-savings with the naturalized beachfront design.
  • The landscape architect’s goal of creating a naturalized ecological system necessitated collaboration with a local ecology and botany expert to identify the most appropriate ecosystem types for the site based on current conditions and use. The ecology expert identified the best plant species for this naturalized setting, some of which were not commercially available at the time. Based on these recommendations, the landscape architect wrote project specifications to include pre-grown regionally occurring, but not well-known plant materials. While this is not a routine practice, the landscape architect had been working with the project engineers and contractors for nearly a year prior to plant installation, and had a productive working relationship with all parties. Subsequently, the contractors were happy to procure specific hard-to-procure plants and provide high-quality installation. Early collaboration with the ecologist and the engineering team led to the project’s ultimate richness and success.
  • After completion of the 2004 Restoration, the Resident Engineer became concerned about sand blowing into the pedestrian underpass. The landscape architect and ecology expert conducted a site visit to observe the issue. The landscape architect prepared and submitted a memorandum recommending the installation of an additional naturalized vegetation area on the lakefront and outside of the original project boundary. In 2010, the Army Corps of Engineers implemented a large supplemental planting project in two locations: adjacent to the 2004 back-dune planting and along the breakwall to the east. This added an additional 4.1 acres of dune-grassland and savannah. To further address the issue of sand drift, the Park District discontinued burning the grassland as part of the maintenance protocol for the site.
  • The original plans (2000) for the reconstruction of Lake Shore Drive at 63rd Street consisted of a concrete step wall and a turf-and-tree landscape. Local community organizations and activists were concerned about this proposed design’s impact on the historic character of the 63rd Street Beach. Initiated by a local alderman, an Advisory Group developed, comprising over 30 local organizations. The group focused attention on pedestrian access, planting, roadway character, and stormwater runoff, and supported the landscape architect in developing a site-specific design. The Chicago Park District, Department of Transportation, several other city departments, and the design team met with community groups through design development, construction, and after completion to ensure that the design was sensitive to the historic character of the lakefront and to the current needs of the communities. Without this extensive consultation, the project would not have moved forward.
  • In the 2010 Restoration, turf areas were replaced with native plant plugs. Unbeknownst to the restoration consultants, the community considered these turf areas to be important social gathering spaces. In response to the public reaction, the Park District then replaced the newly restored areas with turf. In this case, the public meeting process was not effective in identifying and communicating which areas were most appropriate for ecological restoration and which should remain as social spaces. In hindsight, the consultants felt that the public meetings should have included a better educational component to explain the restoration effort and to find a compromise for restoration areas of concern.

Project Team

2004 Restoration
: Chicago Park District (owner), Chicago Department of Transportation, Chicago Mayor’s Office
Landscape Architect: Terry Guen Design Associates
Developer: Stanley Consulting
Civil Engineer: CTE Engineers
Ecology Consultant: Gerould Wilhelm

2010 Restoration
Clients: Chicago Park District (owner), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Landscape Restoration Design: Conservation Land Stewardship
Subcontractors: Thornton Equipment Services, Kindra Lake Towing
Maintenance: Pizzo and Associates

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect provided full-scope services for the project from site survey and concept development through full construction administration. Presenting design ideas to stakeholder groups and multiple city and community agencies was also a key part of the landscape architect’s role. After the design process was complete, the landscape architect ensured the survival of the seasonally sensitive grassland by accommodating its installation within the schedule and conditions of the roadway reconstruction and conducted follow-up on-site adjustments following initial installation. In addition, the landscape architect performed a field tree survey to ensure 1:1 caliper inch replacement of removed trees, facilitated the growing of special plant stock, provided recommendations for maintenance, provided an original transportation ‘pay item’ specifications and details, and provided a list of enhancement plants for the Chicago Park District to use following establishment of the grassland.


Shoreline protection, Water conservation, Water quality, Populations & species richness, Educational value, Reused/recycled materials, Native plants, Biodiversity

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