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Palmisano Park / Stearns Quarry

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Manages all rainfall for a 100-year, 24-hour storm (5.56 million gallons) onsite, through bioswales, wetland cells and a retention pond.
  • Saves 10.5 million gallons of potable water and $34,700 annually by using native prairie plants, which require no irrigation, compared to irrigating an equivalent area of turf.
  • Diverted over 4,280 cf of material from landfills by reusing 78 boulders found on-site and repurposing sidewalk and foundation debris from the City.


  • Doubles park space in the Bridgeport community to 54 acres, which is 4% of the land area. This is still lower than the 9% park space average for the City of Chicago.
  • Has had a positive impact on the Bridgeport community for 94% of 122 survey respondents through reported stronger community relations, aesthetic improvements, and opportunities for nature exploration.
  • Demonstrates prairie as a landscape aesthetic with 46% of survey respondents saying they would use prairie plantings at home. 39% like the prairie in the park but would not use it at home.


  • Contributed to an average $34,000 increase in sales price for homes within two blocks of the park, as compared to similar homes 5-8 blocks from the park.
  • Saves over $87,000 in annual maintenance costs by using native prairie plants instead of turf grass.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    site design group, ltd; D.I.R.T. Studio

  • Project Type

    Nature preserve
    Park/Open space

  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    2700 South Halsted Street
    Chicago, Illinois 60608
    Map it

  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    27 acres

  • Budget

    $10 million

  • Completion Date


Palmisano (Stearns Quarry) Park is the remaking of a 27-acre, 380-ft deep former limestone quarry turned landfill. The quarry began operation in the 1830s, contributing stone to many of Chicago’s first building and infrastructure projects. In 1969, the quarry was closed and the site was used as a municipal landfill for clean construction debris until 1990. The quarry/landfill site was transferred to the Chicago Park District, which, in collaboration with the Open Lands Commission, began converting the site into a public space. The park design reveals its multiple histories by keeping a quarry wall exposed as the backdrop to a major geometric landform that contains the landfill debris. The sculpted landform tapers to a series of wetlands that cleanse water and lead to a pond tucked against the quarry wall. The park is well-used and beloved by the neighborhood and also serves as a destination park for the Chicago area and beyond.


During construction, as bids were coming in, the Chicago Park District asked the landscape architect for ways to save money on the project. Specifically, the landscape architect was asked to consider ways to incorporate recycled concrete from the demolition of adjacent sidewalks.


The terraced wetland treatment system in the project was originally designed with limestone, and the landscape architect began exploring a substitution with the recycled concrete. The project had the good fortune of working with a contractor who had previously built the reconstruction of Alfred Caldwell’s Lily Pool in Lincoln Park, and thus he was familiar with laying and composing limestone blocks. He understood how the waterfalls and stairs could be constructed using the reclaimed concrete, envisioning how each piece would be laid to achieve the intended design forms. As a result, the waterfall terraces and stairs are completely made with the recycled concrete material. This had the double benefit of saving the client from buying new limestone and eliminating transportation and disposal fees for the concrete.

  • The site incorporates an exposed quarry wall including Silurian bedrock, metal elevator and building remnants, revealing a potent reminder of the site’s geologic history as a coral reef and industrial history to park visitors.
  • Through the sculpting of a unique landform affectionately called “Mount Bridgeport,” the park’s hilltop reaches 33-feet above street level and covers landfill materials while providing an elevation point for people to view the surrounding neighborhood and downtown Chicago. The sloped site serves as a winter sledding hill, rare in Chicago’s flat terrain.
  • The sloped topography of the site infiltrates and/or conveys all stormwater through 3.6 acres of terraced wetland cells to a 2-acre retention pond. Water is mechanically recirculated by a pump from the pond through the wetland system, ensuring regular flow through the system.
  • City of Chicago concrete sidewalk and foundation debris was reused to create waterfall/splashplads at the 4-wetland cells’ grade transitions.
  • The 22 acres of native wetland and prairie ecosystems contain 8 different native plant mixes. These provide habitat for resident and migratory birds, such as downy woodpeckers, crows, cardinals, sparrows, blue jays, and finches. Occasional coyotes and foxes have been sighted in the park.
  • Over 1.7 miles of paths – including nature trails, boardwalks, and 1.25 miles of universally accessible pedestrian paths – crisscross the hilly site. The paths are used for a variety of activities from nature walks to trail running, providing a complement to the traditional ball fields of the adjacent McGuane Park.
  • Boulders and timber planks found onsite were reclaimed for use within bioswales, the boardwalk, and the regrading of Mount Bridgeport.
  • Programming and activities that take place on the site include seasonal stewardship days, ecological learning, overnight camping, catch and release fishing, fossil hunting, passive recreation, music, and an air and water show that attracted over 1,000 visitors in 2013. Fossils found on-site are part of the Field Museum of Natural History’s collection.
  • By using native warm season prairie plants instead of turf, the park saves over $34,000 in annual irrigation costs and over $87,000 in annual maintenance costs. The most significant contribution to the maintenance savings was the cost difference between weeding native prairie versus mowing lawn.
  • The high topography of the park, regraded from the landfill materials, creates a unique and well-used high-point for views across the city. However, because the high-point mound is situated along the primary public streets surrounding the park, it creates a wall against Halsted Street, making it hard to see into the park from its most public side. This potentially inhibits newcomers from visiting the park.
  • The physical design for Palmisano Park is a contemporary design, geometrically sculpting the landscape to heighten a sense of the site’s history as a quarry and landfill; the park doesn’t replicate the pastoral or Midwestern prairie park design common to Chicago’s Park system, designed during the late 19th through mid-20th century by landscape architects such as Olmsted and Jensen. The design therefore represented something new, and was initially not well supported by the community. The landscape architect found that by building a physical model of the park, the design team could better explain the various areas of the park, thus gaining better support over time for the contemporary design. The model is still on display in the McGuane Park field house, just south of Palmisano Park, to assist visitors in understanding the layout and design of the quarry park.
  • A significant and interesting aspect of Palmisano Park is that it was constructed without trees. The construction budget for the park was very low, with much of the cost allocated to landfill closure requirements (high-quality clean soil importation and a geo-membrane across most of the fill site). Under project budgetary pressure, the project team agreed to remove trees from the initial implementation, with the thinking that trees could be added at a later date. From a design standpoint, the park was beautiful without the trees, since the landform topography, prairie, wetland and pond are so unique. From a climate adaptive standpoint, however, it is important that trees have since been planted. Although they have not yet grown to a size to provide significant shade, and appear to be lagging behind in the overall development of the park, they will be important to future management of heat island, air quality, habitat, and human comfort.

Metal Gratings: Ohio Gratings
Custom Metal Railings, Stairs, and Fountain: Midwest Fence
Fencing: Omega Fence
Composite Decking: Trex Company
Tree Gates: Neenah Foundary
Drinking Fountain: Haws Corporation
Benches: Columbia Cascade
Fountain Consultant: Fountain Technologies 

Project Team

Client: Chicago Park District
Landscape Architect: site design group, ltd.
Civil and Environmental Engineer: Weston Solutions, Inc.
Electrical Engineer: Continental Associates
Environmental Engineer: Kowalenko & Bilotti, Inc.
Wetland Engineer: Applied Ecological Services
Structural Engineer: Farruggia Gibisch Reis, Inc. 
General Contractor: Clauss Brothers, Inc. 
Metalwork: Midwest Fence Corporation

Role of the Landscape Architect

Two landscape architecture firms provided services in the design and construction of the park. DIRT Studio (Charlottesville) provided schematic design for the park. Site Design Group (Chicago) provided design development, construction documents, and construction administration.


Stormwater management, Water conservation, Reused/recycled materials, Waste reduction, Recreational & social value, Access & equity, Property values, Operations & maintenance savings, Wetland, Trail, Reused/recycled materials, Bioretention, Native plants, Restoration, Social equity

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