Northerly Island
S. Linn White Dr.

Northerly Island

Northerly Island-Northerly Island-Northerly Island
2003 NB

Late in the evening of Sunday, March 30, 2003, city trucks arrived at Meigs Field and began to chew up the runway under the cover of night. By morning, the airstrip was etched with giant X's where the machines had chomped the concrete. Mayor Daley, tired of battling city and state government for control of Meigs, had, in classic Chicago style, taken matters into his own hands, secretly ruining Meigs in order to speed up his plans to turn Northerly Island from a private airfield into a public park.

As much as the mayor's tactics stink to high heaven, the end result should be good for the city. The mayor's plan for a park (the proliferation of public parkland seems to be Daley's most desired legacy) is in tune with Daniel Burnham's famous 1909 Plan of Chicago, which included five island parks strung along the lakeshore from Roosevelt Road to Jackson Park. The northernmost of these islands was all the city had money for, and in 1922, several years after Burnham's death, it began building Northerly Island out of landfill matter. The island was complete in 1925 and the Adler Planetarium opened five years later, but the island was little more than a gathering place for hobos from the nearby railroad tracks until it hosted part of the 1933 Century of Progress World's Fair. Mayor Edward Kelly lobbied the United Nations to establish its new headquarters here after World War II, but when New York City won out, Northerly was turned into Meigs Field (the city voted against naming it for war hero Buddy O'Hare). Meigs hosted government, medical, and private aircraft for over 50 years. In the mid-1980s a retired Boeing 727 made its final landing here before being converted into a walk-through exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Still littered with concrete debris, Northerly looks rather desolate as of July 2003, but after landscaping and renovation, the island should finally fulfill Burnham's dream of an island park from nearly a century ago. Meigs, meanwhile, lives on in flight simulator computer games. -NB

Blair Kamin:
This chronicler of lakefront warfare feels a mix of glee and horror. Glee that Mayor Richard M. Daley has taken the first step toward turning Meigs Field, airport of the rich and powerful, into a lakefront park that will fulfill the populist vision of Daniel Burnham. Horror that King Richard II would go about this surprise shutdown in a way that was so clumsy, so heavy-handed and so downright dictatorial. Horror, in this case, outweighs glee. Noble ends don't justify ignoble means. ... If you ever doubted that all the important urban planning decisions in Chicago are made by a democratically elected monarch whose throne is on the fifth floor of City Hall, then what happened Sunday night--when backhoes appeared at 11 p.m. and jabbed giant Xs in Meigs' runway--should erase your doubts forever. ... I [have] eagerly awaited the day when Meigs' dismantlement would begin. But it was supposed to happen in the daylight of an open public process--not, literally and figuratively, in the dead of night.
-from the Chicago Tribune, April 2, 2003

-See also "The Island of Desire" by Mike Conklin, Chicago Tribune,
April 11, 2003.
-Aerial view of Meigs Field, April 1, 2003, from the Chicago Tribune.
-Spectacular aerial views of Meigs from Photography Plus
-History of Meigs Field from OpenLands.org
-Meigs weather station report from NOAA.gov
-Artist's rendering of Northerly Island Park from LakeMichigan.org
-Aerial view and article from flight simulator producer Abacus


© Copyright 2001-2003
Nathan L.K. Bierma