Wild Zones: Redesigning Chicago's Landscape Ordinance

Conor O’Shea is presenting at the 2019 Wild Things Conference.

Date: Saturday, February 23, 2019

Time: 1:30 - 2:00 pm

Location: Rooms 54, 56, 58; Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N River Rd, Rosemont, IL 60018

Title: Wild Zones: Redesigning Chicago's Landscape Ordinance


This presentation will summarize an effort to rethink Chicago’s municipal landscape ordinance through the lens of design and urban wildlife. The speculative effort is part of a fall 2018 semester-long graduate landscape architecture studio at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The eleven students and myself (the instructor), are currently using the tools and methods of landscape architecture to imagine new opportunities for urban wildlife in Chicago and to enrich relationships between humans and non-humans in Chicago.

Chicago’s landscape ordinance, which the City first introduced in 1991 and revised in 1999, provides guidelines for the use of vegetation to improve the visual character of the city’s parking lots, parkways, and other everyday spaces. While it does consider some ecological effects, such as reducing the urban heat island effect, it does not accommodate unplanned wildlife encounters that spring up in various parts of the city from time to time. Wildlife considerations are conspicuously absent from Chicago’s landscape ordinance. The studio seeks to establish conditions for safely accommodating the wildlife that already exists among us and in some cases, entirely new habitats.

Four phases comprise the studio. The first, a seminar of readings from contemporary landscape architecture theory, urban theory, urban ecology, and Chicago history. The second, a series of design precedents, landscape ordinance precedents, and the study of unplanned urban ecological phenomena, such as the bats in Austin Congress Avenue Bridge bats. The third phase involves fieldwork in Chicago. The fourth and fifth phases challenge students to produce radical visions of Chicago’s future and to rewrite the ordinance. While the outcomes of the studio are in progress at the time of writing this abstract, the presentation will tentatively include the outcomes of the entire studio, including visions of more wild future Chicago as well as visual and written samples of the rewritten ordinance.

Conor O'Shea