Feb 23, 2013

Mount South Chicago

The Chicago region needs a mountain.  Our Lakefront is beautiful, but our topography is simply too flat and uninteresting. The following is an outline on how to develop a mountain. (All right, it would only be a bill hill, but it is better than no hill at all!)
A major gateway to Chicago and the southern suburbs is located where 130th Street intersects Interstate 94. The area is a major industrial complex.  It includes the Calumet Harbor Port Industrial properties and an extensive land fill area just south of 130th Street.  The South Shore Commuter Railroad parallels 130th St. In years past a train station served the harbor. It was a flag stop and sailors from ships in the harbor could flag trains. I flagged it once myself - it was fun to see a long train stop from 70 miles per hour to pick me up.

I propose that a major open space forest preserve be developed from the landfill area.  The landfills are already among the highest topographic features in flat northeastern Illinois-and the waste disposal companies should be encouraged to build the hills as high as possible. When the landfill is complete, the property should be dedicated to the Cook County Forest Preserve District for development into toboggan slides, mini ski slopes, and a scenic overlook. The existing lock which provides access from the Cal Sag Channel into Calumet Harbor can also become part of the open space plan.

The summit of the mountain would be an appropriate location for a major piece of sculpture.  It would provide an impressive entrance into the region.  It would be a unifying symbol for the broad shoulder area of the Chicago region.  It logically should be a major steel sculpture, in honor of the steel making industry of the region.

The train station at the junction of 130th and the Calumet Expressway should be reopened with a first class parking lot added.  This could provide a dual function--access for visitors to the Mount South Chicago recreational area and parking for commuters using the South Shore Commuter Railroad. Visitors could also ride the South Shore to visit the park.

The Port Authority also needs to upgrade the appearance of their facility from the expressway.  The development of quality buildings along the Interstate coupled with a landscaping treatment should serve to improve the appearance and marketability of the Port Authority property.

The landfill companies may be willing to donate the land, since old landfills are difficult and expensive to redevelop into commercially useful property. In addition, the tax savings for donations could be substantial.  Also, the public relations value of the dedication would be significant. The complex could thus be developed relatively inexpensively.  

This concept is not new, and in fact, a number of recreational facilities have been developed from landfill sites.  Several facilities are planned or completed in the western suburbs.  But none of the other projects would be of the size possible for Mount South Chicago, nor would they have the amazing view afforded by Mt. SC. This view includes Lake Michigan, Calumet Harbor, the vast industrial region, and the loop.

Mount South Chicago is a workable concept that should be implemented. Developing the site is difficult because of the multitude of governments and institutions involved. But the transition is possible, and it should be completed quickly to alleviate the impact on the long suffering neighbors of the landfill. And there can be no question that Chicago needs a mountain. 


I first proposed this idea in 1987 in my book, Dreams and Schemes - Plans to Improve the Chicago Region. As I recall it was picked up by the Chicago City Planning Director, who got into a lot of hot water with people who lived in the neighborhood. 

The article below indicates that the concept is alive and well. Turning old landfills into recreation facilities is a lot like making lemonade out of lemons.



The Town of Munster, Indiana has created a great golf course on their old landfill. This was part of the Comprehensive Plan that I helped write in the early 1980's. 

The landfills at I-394 and 115th St in Lake Calumet have been turned into a nice golf course with great views on top of the old landfill.

Landfills to Golf Courses









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