07/10/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ambitious Plan Would Create Fully Open Chicago Lakefront, Add 500 Acres Of Parks

Sea changes could be coming to Chicago's iconic lakefront landscape if an advocacy group gets its way.

A plan released Tuesday by the non-profit Friends of the Parks proposes adding 500 acres of new parks and beaches to make continuous and publicly accessible the 30 miles of Chicago lakefront from Evanston to Indiana.

The Last Four Miles: Completing Chicago's Lakefront Parks represents the culmination of three years of public hearings and architectural and engineering research into how to fulfill Daniel Burnham's 100-year-old vision for a publicly accessible lakefront.

"The lakefront in Chicago, unlike other waterfront cities in the U.S., is public and was created with much sacrifice for all to enjoy," said Erma Tranter, the group's executive director, in a press release. "The notion that the lakefront belongs to all of us has been deeply imbued in our character from the time of the city's incorporation."

Under the Last Four Miles plan, two miles of new parks would be created on both the south and north lakefront at the following locations:

South Side:
•Between 71st and 75th Streets
•Between 79th Street and Calumet Park at 95th, encompassing the former U.S. Steel manufacturing plant.

North Side:
•Between Ardmore Avenue and Loyola Park
•Between Touhy Avenue and the Chicago-Evanston border.

The areas are two of Chicago's most park-starved, with less than two acres of park space for every 1,000 residents. That's far below the National Recreation and Park Association standard of 10 acres per 1000 residents.

The plan would cost between $350 million to $450 million, Tribune architecture crtitic Blair Kamin reports.

The proposed parks would include beaches, recreational fields, the pedestrian/bike trail, natural areas and landscaping to promote aquatic and wildlife habitat. Some versions of the plan include peninsulas that jut out into the lake and create calm areas for swimming or kayaking.

The additional public parks and beaches would reclaim existing landscapes that include the former U.S Steel and Youngstown Steel plants, a waste disposal facility for contaminated sediments and waterfront that's currently fenced off.

Previous efforts to close the gaps have been met with suspicion, particularly by lakefront property owners who fear Lake Shore Drive would be expanded or that new development would take place between them and the lake.

"Our vision of completing the lakefront parks does not involve roadways, does not involve marinas, does not involve commercial development," said public trust and policy director Eleanor Roemer. "It is strictly a park project."

Despite the sense of completion projected by Friends of the Parks, the plan is far from winning acceptance in City Hall. Neither Mayor Daley nor the Chicago Parks District has endorsed the plan and the Tribune's Kamin characterized the response of the district's planning and development director as "tepid."

See renderings of the proposed plan:

(Above) Enjoying the north view of the city skyline in the new parkland and beach on the eastern edge of the old US Steel property (79th - 92nd).

Walking North along new lakefront path in Rogers Park between Howard and Rogers Avenue.

Looking South at the new lagoon and parkland on the old US Steel property (between 79th and 92nd) adjacent to Lake Michigan and the Calumet River.

Facing South on proposed Edgewater peninsula park (north of Ardmore to Granville).

Watch a CLTV report on the plan: