Wild in the City: Chicagoland's Urban Ecology

Collaborating for Wildlife in an Urban Green Space

From its beginning, the well-manicured Lincoln Park, like many of Chicago’s early green spaces, embodied a radical departure from the area’s natural marshy and prairie landscape. As was popular in the Victorian Era, Swain Nelson’s design for Lincoln Park included a meandering pond system, crossed by multiple footbridges, designed for aesthetic beauty and recreation. The manufactured grassy hills and placid ponds were the result of human intervention.Soon after the park’s renovation, the Commissioners of New York’s Central Park gave the new park a historic gift: two pairs of European swans.  Like the design of the park itself, the swans were of European origin, descendants of birds raised in the parks of England and Germany.  Animal menageries were common in the major city parks of Europe, and would soon become popular in the US, as well. American cities like Chicago and New York strove to emulate their European counterparts in an effort to establish themselves as legitimate cultural centers. When these four swans waded into the newly excavated ponds in late summer of 1868, they marked the beginning of Lincoln Park Zoo.

For decades, residents appreciated and used Chicago’s green spaces primarily for leisure, and Lincoln Park Zoo likewise served principally as a recreational destination. Over the years, however, the zoo evolved in tandem with public awareness of the importance of the natural world. This shift in focus led to the establishment of the zoo’s Conservation and Science Department in 1989 with a staff of just two scientists. By 2008, the zoo employed dozens of scientists and established the Urban Wildlife Institute (UWI) to study urban ecosystems and minimize human-wildlife conflict. As the scope of conservation programs has expanded, local residents have played increasingly important roles in these initiatives.

Use the cards at the bottom of each page to explore various parts of the "A Century of Citizen Science in Lincoln Park" chapter. There will always be a card to take you back to the chapter introduction or you can go back to the Wild in the City overview.

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