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Planting and installing floating gardens in the Chicago River in May of 2017.
Planting and installing floating gardens in the Chicago River in May of 2017.
Planting and installing floating gardens in the Chicago River in May of 2017.
368 backers pledged $28,984 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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Floating Gardens in the Chicago River

$28,984

368

We want to restore natural wildlife habitat in the Chicago River by installing floating gardens in the Spring of 2017. This public area will also be a destination for kayakers, canoeists, fishermen, nature lovers and anyone who wants to enjoy urban wildlife.

The money raised here will go directly toward our floating gardens. For every $50 donation, we can add another foot of habitat. Our goal is $10,000, but every dollar exceeding this goal will only extend the gardens, becoming part of our larger vision of eventually rehabilitating an entire one-mile stretch of river, which we hope to turn into an urban wildlife sanctuary. That means more space for fish, plants, birds, turtles, and more

Urban Rivers is a Chicago-based nonprofit and this our pilot project. Our plan is to rehabilitate urban rivers in cities across the globe. By recovering habitat space in city waterways, we can provide a home for fish and other animals, while creating a nature destination for people to enjoy.

This is a before and after shot at our installation site, near Whole Foods Market in Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois
This is a before and after shot at our installation site, near Whole Foods Market in Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois

 

An aerial shot of our project site, Goose Island, Chicago
An aerial shot of our project site, Goose Island, Chicago

Tax Deduction: Urban Rivers is a 501c3 organization, so all pledges to this project are tax deductible less FMV of reward selected. We will happily send you a tax deduction form if/when the project is fully funded.

Why is this project important?

  • The wildlife in our Chicago River is in desperate need of habitat and our gardens will provide vital sanctuaries for fish, ducks, turtles, and more.
  • Our Chicago River needs to be cleaned up. Residents and visitors will soon be able to enjoy natural scenery in the heart of Chicago. 
  • This is an opportunity to educate our community on the environment and create engaging STEAM curriculum for students (STEAM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) 
  • Environmental innovation can benefit cities across the world...and it all starts in Chicago. 

Project Specifications

Our hardware is engineered to survive Chicago conditions year-round. Our partner, Biomatrix Water, builds their floating garden structures with the following technical features: 

  • Marine-grade engineering to withstand all weather conditions 
  • Locking stainless steel quick connect system, making it easy to add additional gardens 
  • Fully cross-braced structure 
  • UV resistant thermo-fused tough floats 
  • Concrete anchors secured using weighted guide rail
Biomatrix Water hardware designs
Biomatrix Water hardware designs

Our proposed installation measures 600 feet by 10 feet, consisting of four 150-foot installments like the one pictured below.

Light green = tall plants; dark green = low to medium plants; brown = bird platforms; grey = turtle platforms
Light green = tall plants; dark green = low to medium plants; brown = bird platforms; grey = turtle platforms

Which animals will use the floating gardens as habitat? 

We anticipate the following animals utilizing the floating gardens as habitat. Note, this is only a small selection of the animals we expect to see there.

  • Fish (bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish and more… including tadpole madtoms, which is actually a fish species that looks like a tadpole. We caught one at our installation while doing fish surveys) 
  • Birds (mallard ducks, great blue herons, Canada geese and more) 
  • Mammals (muskrats, field mice, river otters, and more) Reptiles and 
  • Amphibians (painted turtle, snapping turtle, American toad and more) 
  • As well as a variety of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates (crayfish, dragonflies, damselflies and more)
River otter (top left), bluegill (bottom left), snapping turtle (top right), mallard ducks (middle right), dragonfly (bottom right)
River otter (top left), bluegill (bottom left), snapping turtle (top right), mallard ducks (middle right), dragonfly (bottom right)

Which plants will we use?  

Urban Rivers will be using native Illinois wetland and prairie plant species to provide the habitat foundation for the floating islands. The floating island's design allows us to create diverse habitats because of their ability to grow plants that can take on a wide range of water tolerances in a small area. This gives us tremendous opportunities to create biodiversity and a resilient ecosystem by planting many different food and nectar sources as well as providing protection and materials for the native wildlife. Each one of the plants selected will fulfill the goal of bringing back wildlife to the Chicago River.

Some plant species we are thinking of using are Filipendula rubra, Iliamna remota, Liatris spicata, Spartina pectinata, and Carex vulpinoidea to name a few. The plants will be carefully selected by experts, including Peter Nagle, botanist at Chicago Botanic Garden. Examples of the plants are pictured below.

Marsh blazingstar (left), brown fox sedge (upper middle), prairie cordgrass (bottom middle), Kankakee mallow (right)
Marsh blazingstar (left), brown fox sedge (upper middle), prairie cordgrass (bottom middle), Kankakee mallow (right)

Our Research

Our research shows floating gardens are an effective habitat solution in urban rivers: 

  • Co-founder of Urban Rivers, Joshua Yellin, installed 50 square feet of floating gardens in the Chicago River in June of 2013, which served as the basis for his Master’s research study monitoring urban fish populations. Results indicated a nearly 100% increase in the fish abundance in the river immediately surrounding the floating gardens when compared to traditional docks. 
  • To expand on Josh’s pilot study, Urban Rivers is working with the MWRD (Metropolitan Water Reclamation District) on a four-year study to monitor fish populations at our installation site. This research is already underway, and our measurements include: fish counts, water quality and macro-invertebrate counts.
Urban River team member Phil Nicodemus working on the pilot module (top left), largemouth bass caught caught doing field research (bottom left) and Joshua Yellin, cofounder, checking a minnow trap at the installation site (right).
Urban River team member Phil Nicodemus working on the pilot module (top left), largemouth bass caught caught doing field research (bottom left) and Joshua Yellin, cofounder, checking a minnow trap at the installation site (right).

Our Partners are experts and influencers

  • Patagonia and Whole Foods Market are already supporting Urban Rivers through grants. 
  • The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) is our research partner, contributing fish survey data for four years to monitor the performance of increased fish habitat. 
  • Epstein Global is our engineering partner and will help ensure our gardens are successfully installed in the Chicago River. 
  • Kayak Chicago is our local kayak partner. They’ve supported since our early days and will be the best way to see Urban Rivers’ installation by kayak. 
  • Biomatrix Water is our floating garden supplier and close partner. They have years of experience in implementing projects like ours around the world.
  • Streamhub, thank you to Tim Ottowitz and Dave Reisler for donating a week of their time filming the live scenes in this video pro-bono.

Our team is dedicated

Collectively, we have: 

  • Worked on internationally-funded clean water initiatives 
  • Bootstrapped a food distribution and marketing business from $0 to $6M+ in revenue 
  • Managed Google’s global startup program (Launchpad Accelerator) 
  • Managed the Friends of the Chicago River canoe program 
  • Spearheaded mushroom remediation projects at The Plant 
  • Two Master’s degrees: Public Policy and Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. 
  •  Most importantly, we have come together and turned a single floating garden into an innovative environmental nonprofit.

Joshua Yellin has worked in and around rivers for years--he has guided canoe trips in Alaska, managed the canoe program for Friends of the Chicago River, worked in education at Shedd Aquarium, and is currently a program manager at Google. In addition, Josh earned his Master’s degree from the University of Illinois studying fish habitat in the same stretch of river we will install our floating gardens!

Joshua Yellin at installation site, photo by Jason Barnes
Joshua Yellin at installation site, photo by Jason Barnes

 Zachary Damato gets excited about technology shaping our environment for positive change. Zachary graduated Purdue University with a focus in Innovation & Technology. He currently is COO of Niwa; a smart connected indoor grow platform leveraging software, machine learning and hardware to improve our food system.

Zachary Damato at our pilot module in 2015
Zachary Damato at our pilot module in 2015

 Brette Bossick has always been drawn to water and the life it supports. From swimming in Lake Michigan as a child, to witnessing people flock to the sacred Ganges, to educating women and children on how to adapt to climate change in coastal India, water is her passion. Brette has a BSBA from Central Michigan University and a Master of Public Policy from the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany, where she wrote her thesis on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Brette Bossick with her favorite buddy (R.I.P. Ike) :(
Brette Bossick with her favorite buddy (R.I.P. Ike) :(

Nick Wesley is fascinated by growing things in unusual ways. Among other things Nick led the design and installation of aeroponic and aquaponic systems in several restaurants and a farm. Nick graduated Wilkes University with a degree in entrepreneurship and a hankering for changing how we interact with plants.

Nick Wesley installing an aquaponics system
Nick Wesley installing an aquaponics system

Phil Nicodemus is Josh’s younger and more handsome protege. A fellow graduate of the University of Illinois, Phil assisted Josh in his capstone research, and has spent the past few years working in ecological research and management, performing prescribed burns, clearing invasive species from ecologically sensitive areas, and gathering data for the Lake Michigan Biological Station.

Phil Nicodemus looking cool
Phil Nicodemus looking cool

Medium and Long-term Vision

The 600-foot floating gardens are phase one of a larger vision: a 1-mile long urban wildlife sanctuary built right into the Chicago River. This will be a paddling destination for kayakers and canoeists and an artistic space for local artists to display sculptures, murals and horticultural installments commissioned specifically for this destination.

We envision visitors paddling through different sanctuaries, learning about and appreciating the plants and wildlife that make this destination their home, and students of all ages conducting cutting edge scientific research to uncover the best urban wildlife habitat solutions.

Timeline 

We plan to complete our long-term vision by 2020.

  • 2013-2016: Permits in-hand, grants received, thesis research complete, fundraising in progress 
  • 2017: Install 600+ feet of floating gardens 
  • 2018: Install an additional 600 feet, incorporate first art installations, begin education programs 
  • 2019: Install 600 more feet, incorporate graduate student research projects, scale up art installations 
  • 2020: Complete the ½ mile Urban River park

Similar Projects

Flussbad Project - Berlin, Germany

The Flussbad Berlin (“river pool”) project is many years in the making and aims to turn an old, more or less unused, dirty city canal into a massive, 840-meter long ‘natural’ pool, complete with public locker room facilities, floating piers, and even competitive swimming lanes.

Flussbad project proposal; Berlin, Germany
Flussbad project proposal; Berlin, Germany

 LA River Project

LA River Project is focused on building a healthier L.A. River by implementing a diverse and innovative renovation plan. This plan consists of bike paths, walking paths, water quality monitoring, planting more native vegetation, and many other features that are yet to be revealed to the public.

LA River photos, taken from their website
LA River photos, taken from their website

 

Risks and challenges

Costs: Grants and budgets have been addressed. Our team has collected grants from Patagonia, Whole Foods Market, Vanguard, and Freshwater Future. These grants can be leveraged for matching donors, environmental grants & research opportunities.

Permits: Permits have been approved from necessary parties plus pilot permit for 36 months. However, there is always the risk of unexpected costs, as is with any organization. New, unforeseen permits state and national could emerge.

Maintenance: We will need to manage the upkeep of the floating gardens year-round, adding another administrative aspect to our project. We have, however, anticipated this and have a well-laid out maintenance plan.
Natural Disaster: The only possible issues are winter storms and our pilot raft has easily endured through the past two Chicago winters, including the polar vortex of Winter 2015.

Vandalism: The gardens can only be accessed by boat and great lengths would have to be taken to vandalize the platforms. This risk is very low but is present nonetheless.

Property Owner Objection: Today, we have an excellent relationship with the property management company who owns the seawall where our installation site is. There is a small risk of property management company hands changing, adding the challenge of forming new relationships.

Legal Hurdles: We have spent over two years navigating all the agencies that oversee the Chicago river. We have approval from the US army corps of engineers, illinois dept. Natural resources, US coast guard and are in a partnership with the MWRD. We have partnered with Epstein global, one of the best engineering firms in the world to ensure all our designs are beyond code and safe for the public. However unlikely negative pressure is from oversight agencies we are committed to launching this project. Any delay or hurdle will be met with solutions. Urban rivers is here for the long term. We see are rivers going through a renaissance and will be leading the charge in Chicago.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $10 or more About $10

    The Planter

    Contribute a plant! We will read your name out loud at the installation when we plant the little guy!

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    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    Mr. / Ms. Grassroots

    Contribute 3 plants! Not only will we thank you out loud when we plant your donation, but our team will high five in honor of you. We’ll film it and share it with you later!

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    The Rock

    Contribute 1 square foot of floating gardens! This includes the materials, the plants and everything needed for your square foot to flourish! In addition, your name will be marked in stone along the Chicago River--we’ll carve your name into a stone and place it in the square of land you helped make possible! We’ll then take a photo of your rock in your garden and send it back to you.

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    Pledge $200 or more About $200

    The Gardener

    Contribute 4 square feet of floating gardens! You will get The Rock incentive (a rock with your name carved into it, placed in your donated section, and a photo) PLUS we’ll also send you a replica of your stone that we placed in the garden! That stone will come with a personal thank you note and an 1 Urban Rivers-branded t-shirt.

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    The Forest Ranger

    Contribute 10 square feet of floating gardens! You will get the Gardener incentive (replica rock with your name sent to you, photo, personal note and Urban Rivers t-shirt) PLUS we will send you a personalized video of your pledged 10+ square feet! We will describe the plants installed and which animals we expect to utilize it. You will also get an invitation for a kayak trip with the Urban Rivers team and our top donors after we install the gardens!

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    Pledge $2,500 or more About $2,500

    The Ecologist

    Contribute an entire turtle or bird sanctuary! You will get the Forest Ranger incentive (replica rock with your name sent to you, photo, personal note, t-shirt, video and kayak tour) PLUS we'll even name the animal sanctuary after you (or a name of your choosing!). Imagine a “John Doe Turtle Sanctuary.” Your friends and family will think you’re so cool!

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    Pledge $10,000 About $10,000

    The DiCaprio

    Contribute 200 square feet of floating gardens! For your donation, you will get all incentives listed above, PLUS you’ll become an official partner / sponsor of Urban rivers and be featured on on our website! In addition, a commemorative plaque will be made with your name and/or company logo--made of environmentally-friendly material, of course! We will send you a one copy and we will have another copy at the installation.

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Funding period

- (30 days)