Logistical Ecologies

March 7, 2016

Project by Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape with MODUS Collective.


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Logistical Ecologies, BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, CAB, 2015. © David Schalliol.

“Even for those of us who may be focused on the cities as zones of intervention, we can’t understand what is going on within them unless we look outside them, far outside them.”1
—Neil Brenner

Logistical Ecologies is an urbanization strategy for northeastern Illinois derived from planetary logistics networks and regional ecologies with an emphasis on biodiversity, agriculture, and hydrology. The strategy co-locates housing, retail, warehousing, distribution facilities, and intermodal freight facilities to leverage dynamic environmental processes, regional land uses, and transportation infrastructure.

Background: Since the deregulation of the transportation industry in the 1980s, the use of the shipping container for transporting goods manufactured in newly industrializing Asian countries to sites of consumption in the United States has transformed swathes of North America’s hinterlands into vast logistics landscapes. This back-stage network of rails, warehousing, and distribution facilities sustains the front-stage lifestyles commonly occurring within municipal city boundaries.

Logistical Ecologies develops analytical categories rooted in the fields of ecology, landscape architecture, transportation geography, and critical urban theory to uncover new methods for design and sites of intervention for their deployment. By confronting the complexities of twenty-first century urbanization head on, the strategy is both a critique of and an alternative to design’s existing theoretical frameworks.

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Logistical Urbanization, Logistical Ecologies, BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, CAB, 2015. © Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape.

With even modest projections indicating that containerized freight throughput at United States coastal ports will more than double by 2030, the North American hinterland is poised to be radically transformed by the construction of expanded logistical infrastructures like double-stack corridors and intermodal freight facilities.2 Nowhere in the United States will these effects be felt more acutely than in northeastern Illinois, where six of North America’s seven Class I railroads meet. The importance of this region in national and planetary logistics networks is exemplified by the adjacent inland ports of Joliet, IL (Global IV, Union Pacific) and Elwood (Logistics Park, BNSF), constituting the third largest container port in the United States; this inland behemoth lags only behind the coastal Port of Long Beach / Port of Los Angeles and the Port of New York and New Jersey.3 While nearly half of the containers passing through the region annually are destined for other domestic or international markets, the rest originates or is consumed in the region.4

As we move forward into an era of unpredictable climates, increasingly frequent storm events, new biodiversity trends, and ongoing pollution from the agro-industry, these logistical transformations and the market-driven development they enable—all largely devoid of ecological and hydrological sensitivity—put our economic and ecological future at great risk.

Logistical Ecologies is an alternative strategy for urbanizing northeastern Illinois in response to these issues. It is not only aware of hydrological and ecological concerns, but uses them as the very drivers of new processes of urbanization. The strategy comprises three phases.

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Logistical Watersheds, Logistical Ecologies, BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, CAB, 2015. © Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape.

Logistical Watersheds

As volumes of containerized freight in the United States continue rising, developers and railroads in northeastern Illinois are building larger intermodal freight facilities beyond Chicago’s historic core. Combined with the rail and highway infrastructure binding them together, these new inland ports (#3, #18, #19) enable 21st century urbanization in the region.


The Bison Mosaic is the primary organizing framework for the strategy, and is established over a ten-year period by converting underperforming and degraded cropland into tallgrass prairie and wetlands. The conversion, initiated by prescribed prairie burns and perpetuated by a combination of burns and bison grazing, gradually connects existing regional bison strongholds at Nachusa Grasslands and the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

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Freeport Central, Logistical Ecologies, BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, CAB, 2015. © Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape.

Freeport Central

A prescribed prairie burn converts degraded cropland into the Bison Mosaic near the Freeport Central clustered development. A riparian corridor buffers fire from an expanded double-stack corridor, slows down stormwater, and curbs topsoil erosion. Over time a regenerated tallgrass prairie is monitored for transition back into cropland. Bison (Bison bison) roam freely.


The second phase begins ten years after the Bison Mosaic takes shape and proposes the clustering of hybrid logistical developments along heavily-used double-stack rail corridors that cross the interface between the most and least profitable agricultural land in northeastern Illinois. The typologies are combinations of residential, commercial, and agro-industrial buildings directly connected operationally, and in close physical proximity, to an intermodal freight facility and associated warehousing and distribution facilities. These programs and their architectural forms are hybridized through a series of ecological relationships. Each set of adjacencies leverages ecological and economic processes to produce new public space and new settlement typologies, helping accommodate projected pressure from increased containerized imports and population increase.

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Kittredge Median, Logistical Ecologies, BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, CAB, 2015. © Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape.

Kittredge Median

Buildings at Kittredge Median help direct stormwater towards nearby croplands, while bison (Bison bison) enrich soils through patch grazing and creating wallows. Over time the wallows—created by bison dust bathing—become seasonal pools and attract other animals. Milkweed species (Asclepias spp.) planted beside transportation infrastructure creates Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) habitat.


As clustered logistical developments continue to take form, now intertwined ecologically and economically with regional and planetary logistics networks, ongoing efforts to monitor crop suitability within a changing climate and prairie / cropland rotation continues.

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Camanche Lateral, Logistical Ecologies, BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, CAB, 2015. © Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape.

Camanche Lateral

Agricultural products are passed through grain transloading facilities at the Camanche Lateral to fill empty containers for export to markets in Asia. Recreational bike paths wind through tallgrass prairie where bison (Bison bison) graze nearby, enriching soils. Over time this prairie will again become cropland, as it cycles between ecological and economic uses.

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Logistical Timeline, Logistical Ecologies, BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, CAB, 2015. © Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape.

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Logistical Ecologies, BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, CAB, 2015. © Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape.

1. Genoa Transect
Located in the Kishwaukee watershed in Northern Dekalb County, this early logistical development leverages the interface of cropland, the Bison Mosaic, and an expanded east-west Canadian Pacific and Canadian National double-stack corridor intersection. [pop. 1,000,000; 4 million TEUs / year]

2. Deer Grove Extension
Located in the Green watershed along the border of Whiteside, Lee, and Bureau Counties, this second logistical development is smaller in size than the first. Deer Grove Extension straddles a newly expanded Union Pacific north-south line, taking advantage of the interface between the Bison Mosaic and productive cropland. [pop. 250,000; 1 million TEUs / year]

3. Freeport Central
Located in the Rock watershed between present-day Freeport and Rockford along an expanded east-west CN double-stack corridor, Freeport Central leverages the interface of the Bison Mosaic, productive cropland, and existing transportation infrastructure. [pop. 250,000, 1 million TEUs / year]

4. Kittredge Median
Straddling the Mississippi and Rock watersheds in northwestern Carroll County, the Kittredge Median is a linear development along an expanded east-west Canadian Pacific Railway corridor. Given its dual watershed location, this development has significant hydrological potential. [pop. 250,000, 1 million TEUs / year]

5. Camanche Lateral
As the Bison Mosaic expands, outlying clusters of logistical developments like the Camanche Lateral are made possible. Located in the Mississippi watershed in eastern Clinton County, Iowa, along an expanded Union Pacific east-west line, this hybridized settlement typology is unique due to its location along the Mississippi River, allowing it to enhance waterborne and terrestrial freight opportunities. [pop. 1,500,000, 6 million TEUs / year]

6. Kankakee Easterly
At the outskirts of the Bison Mosaic in Kankakee County, the Kankakee Easterly straddles the Kankakee and Grundy watersheds along the Norfolk Southern and CSX east-west line. This linear logistical development interfaces leverages the prairie / cropland interface as well as a thick web of highways, rail, and the Kankakee River. [pop. 750,000, 3 million TEUs / year]


Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape
Conor O’Shea (Founder and Principal) and Chris Bennett (Architectural Collaborator).

MODUS Collective
Luke Hegeman (Founder).

1 Neil Brenner, “Wildly Civilized: Ecological + Extreme + Planetary Urbanism…What’s Next?” (moderated panel, Harvard Graduate School of Design, September 13, 2014).
2 “Projected growth in the US economy and historical trends at US ports suggest that port container traffic will double by 2020 and triple by 2030… even if the growth rate falls to four percent, container traffic could still more than double by 2030.” US Maritime Administration (MARAD), America’s Ports and Intermodal Transportation System (January 2009), 59,
3 Intermodal freight facilities are coastal or inland ports where containers transfer between ship and train, train and train, or train and truck. The total number of containers moving through a port is referred to as the throughput or as twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). Most containers are at least 40 feet long, counting as two TEUs. CenterPoint Intermodal Center–Joliet/Elwood, with a capacity for 6 million TEUs, is the largest inland port in North America. The Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach have a combined annual throughput of 14.1 million TEUs. The Port of New York and New Jersey has an annual throughput of 5.5 million TEUs. The entire Chicago region’s annual throughput is over 5 million TEUs. Coastal Ports: American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), “NAFTA Region Container Traffic Port Ranking 2012,” accessed April 2014, Eric Gilbert, “Joliet Arsenal Redevelopment: A Public-Private Partnership Success Story,” (presentation, CenterPoint Intermodal Center–Joliet/Elwood, June 13, 2013). Chicago regional total throughput: American Association of Railroads (AAR). “Top 15 Markets for Intermodal Traffic Handled in the United States in 2011,” Rail Intermodal Keeps America Moving.
4 Cambridge Systematics, Inc. with Vicki W. Bretthauer and Carl D. Martland “Regional Freight System Planning Recommendations Study” (June 30, 2010).