ULI Chicago News

Vision Awards Spotlight: Indian Boundary Park Nature Play Center – A New Take on an Old Classic

Opened in 1922, Indian Boundary, is a 13-acre, urban park on Chicago’s northwest side named for an actual boundary line between the US government and three Indian tribes.  The park includes a fieldhouse which is now on the National Register of Historic Places incorporating Native American and Tudor design elements.  For most City dwellers, Indian Boundary is fondly remembered for its small zoo, a rarity among neighborhood parks, and a quirky addition.  The zoo was closed in 2013 with the few remaining animals transferred to the Lincoln Park Zoo, a facility better equipped to handle ongoing care, however, that is only the beginning of the story.

As parks were being refurbished all across the City, a dedicated group of CPD staffers wanted to try something different for Indian Boundary.  Working closely with community members who had invested much time and dedication to the care of the park over the years, as well as Alderman Debra Silverstein (50th Ward), a plan for refurbishing the park with an emphasis on “nature play” was developed.

As Erich Sprague, Senior Landscape Technician, stated, “Swings and woodchips are fine, but what else could we do to draw new people into the parks and elevate their experience of nature.”  Nature play has been cropping up across the City and is bringing nature back to the more traditional play spaces by incorporating more of the natural landscape and plant material to create a more tactile, hands-on, enveloping, experience of nature.  The design of the space invites exploration, circulation and more educational opportunities during play.

In the case of Indian Boundary, the CPD team was able to bank a lot of the existing plant material to re-use in the new design.  They also re-used existing cedar fencing and posts and refurbished the zoo’s Swan Huts.  More than just re-use, the design called for re-purposing many of these elements in a new and different way which took ingenuity and creativity.  The Swan Huts, a favorite of Sprague’s, will continue their life as magical fairy houses complete with new roofs and new windows and doors cut out for “little people” with down-sized plantings to help set the mood of a “hamlet” and carry the theme through.

The Indian Boundary project was handled mainly in-house by CPD at a modest savings although upkeep may be a bit more costly than your average swings and slides park.  Continuing to use invested community members as stewards of the park could decrease those costs and is a model the CPD may develop further.  The community could become an integral part of programming and even fundraising for their neighborhood park.

The exciting transformation of Indian Boundary may have implications for other parks throughout the City’s system that have similar buildings that cannot be kept up and are in-line for refurbishment such as McKinley or Avalon Park.  As nature play gains momentum with children, parents, and the general public, the idea of re-using and re-purposing existing assets as much as possible and using in-house expertise is certainly attractive to the bottom line and would be a benefit to all involved.

In the meantime, we invite ULI members to visit this 2015 Vision Award winner yourselves and explore, experiment, and experience nature, in this immersive and enveloping landscape … and you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy it!

Learn more about ULI Chicago’s Vision Awards

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