About this project
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.
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.
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
Our proposed installation measures 600 feet by 10 feet, consisting of four 150-foot installments like the one pictured below.
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)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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