Why is this project important?

 Adding some greenery to those rusty seawalls.

Adding some greenery to those rusty seawalls.

  • The wildlife in our Chicago River is in desperate need of habitat and our floating gardens will provide vital sanctuaries for many species of fish, birds, turtles and more.
  • Our Chicago River needs to be cleaned up. Aside from obvious pieces of trash in the river, the water quality needs significant improvement – the plants in our garden are contributing to that effort through phytoremediation.  
  • 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). 
  • There's never been a better time to test the feasibility of growing edible plants on the river – or as we call it, 'River-ponics'.
  • Environmental innovation can economically benefit cities across the world...and it all starts in Chicago. 







Project Specifications

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

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

Which ORGANISMS use the floating gardens as habitat? 

Thus far, we've observed the below list of organisms utilize our gardens

  • Fish – bluegill, largemouth bass, common carp, tadpole madtoms, spotfin shiners
  • Birds – mallard ducks, wood ducks, cormorants, great blue herons, Canadian geese, American coots, English Sparrows
  • Invertebrates – monarch butterflies, small white butterflies, dragonflies, damselfies, bumble bees, honey bees, ladybugs 

We expect to see these additional species join the list in the near future

  • Mammals – muskrats, field mice, river otters
  • Reptiles and Amphibians – painted turtles, snapping turtles, American toads, bullfrogs 

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 park site. This research is already underway and our measurements include: fish and macro-invertebrate counts/measurements, and water quality.

Which plants ARE we usING?  

 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

We've planted native Illinois wetland and prairie plant species to provide the habitat foundation for our floating gardens. The floating gardens' 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 the tremendous opportunity to increase biodiversity in the river, as well as a create a resilient ecosystem by planting multiple different food and nectar sources, which will significantly benefit native wildlife. Each individual plant selected will undoubtedly bring more wildlife back to the Chicago River.

Our next garden expansion will include Filipendula rubra, Iliamna remota, Liatris spicata, Spartina pectinata, and Carex vulpinoidea to name a few (images to the left). These plants will be carefully selected by experts, including our own, Peter Nagle, who's a botanist at the Chicago Botanic Garden.


Future Research

We are looking for masters and PHD students with an interest in Urban Ecology. If you have an idea and wish to pursue it please contact us.