Following the South Works site development

Image © SOM; U.S. Steel's South Works, a steel mill on Chicago's southeast lakefront, was once the largest producer of structural steel in the world.

Image © SOM; U.S. Steel’s South Works, a steel mill on Chicago’s southeast lakefront, was once the largest producer of structural steel in the world.

This Blog is the first in a series on the development of the former United States Steel – South Works Site.

When U.S. Steel (USS) partnered with McCaffery Interest, Chicago Lakeside Development (Lakeside) was created. Lakeside is the redevelopment project of the USS South Works site in the South Chicago neighborhood. The South Works site closed its last mill in 1992, and shortly after was leveled and cleared of valuable materials. Left on the site was nearly 700 acres of rubble and slag, the byproduct of the steelmaking process. Lakeside donated 25 acres of lakefront land to the Chicago Park District for the creation of parkland.

12 years after the closing of the USS South Works site the 25 acres of lakefront began its conversion into parkland. As the site of a former steel mill, the land was made up of slag, which prevented any vegetation from growing. To build a park the soil needed to be improved, thus the Mud-To-Parks program of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources was utilized.

The Mud-To-Parks program started as a pilot program for taking sediment from Peoria Lake and testing the viability of it at a landfill near Lake Calumet. After less than a year, significant growth of vegetation began without any added fertilizer, gaining approval from the Illinois River Coordinating Council to be used to provide fertile soil for parkland.

The spring of 2004 began the transformation of the South Works site from slag to park. The transformation process involved the transportation of sediment by barge north to the South Works site. In total, 232,000 tons of Illinois river mud have been shipped and spread over 25 acres of the South Works site. Advocates of the Mud-To-Parks program argue that the program is a win-win for Illinois.

The Mud-To-Parks program helped free up shipping lanes and brought much needed soil to the Litchfield Park District, Chicago Park District, City of East Peoria, City of Decatur and Fox Waterway Agency. The program has also played a major role in helping to complete a planning goal advocated for by Daniel Burnham in his 1908 Plan of Chicago to open the lakefront to the public. Now, as Burnham once envisioned, the lake is closer than ever to being open for the people of Chicago.

About the Author:
Jack Rocha, GCI Research Assistant: Second year MUPP student interested in developing a sense of community under the framework of spatial planning that is guided by its history.