Sunday, July 11, 2010

Oak Street Beach

Once upon a time, sand worked its way southward down the west side of Lake Michigan, building out into the lake in a series of spits at the mouth of the Chicago River. But one thing led to another and the beaches were gradually (or not so gradually) left behind as the city moved into the lake.

Then David Burnham came along and saw the potential for a hugely public, albeit hugely artificial, shoreline. Like many other Great Lakes cities, lake fill was an obvious solution, but in Chicago they seemed to have done it better and bigger than others.
The result is miles of public park along the lake front, trimmed with stepped concrete walls, artificial beaches, marinas, and park space. The wind and wave regime hasn't changed appreciably since the city arrived, so sand placed along the shore would move southward rapidly were it not configured with jetties and landfill into a series of north facing pocket beaches. Some are isolated, some segmented by groins.

Oak Street Beach, at the north end of Michigan Avenue, fits into a corner in the lake fill - kept in place by Lake Shore Drive as it curves east around the northern part of downtown. The straight seawall north of Oak Street precludes a beach, so it sort of pretends to be one. Despite what could easily have been viewed as ugly, I thought it was actually pretty neat and it certainly got its share of use, at least later in the day (these shots are mainly early in the morning). I suppose it was underwater in the mid-1980s when lake levels were high.

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