The Big Shift


Project by PORT Urbanism.


One of Chicago’s greatest civic assets is its lakefront. However, since new development is prohibited east of Lake Shore Drive (LSD), the city has been hindered in its ability to fundamentally enhance this territory. This is a missed opportunity.

The Big Shift imagines a scenario wherein Chicago embraces the lakefront’s latent potential by proposing a dramatic, yet conceptually simple infrastructural transformation. By shifting the 1.5-mile stretch of LSD running along Grant Park eastward, the city could create hundreds of acres of new lakefront real estate—importantly, west of LSD—that would generate enormous long-term revenue streams, despite the significant upfront infrastructural costs of the endeavor. Further, the “shift” would allow for the reconfiguration of LSD—changing its alignment and sinking portions of it to reduce its adverse impact on pedestrian and bike access to the lakefront.

More significantly, the project would serve to enhance two of Chicago’s most beloved public spaces. A fourth street wall would frame the east side of Grant Park, while stately, tree-lined boulevards would connect from the west side of the existing park across the new development district to a world-class 130-acre public waterfront. This newly configured lakefront would include softly rolling topography, beaches, spaces of prospect and refuge, as well as generous planting and furnishing. The proposal would more than triple the size of the current lakefront adjacent to Grant Park, providing the recreational amenities now missing from the area.

Simply put, The Big Shift imagines a scenario where a public infrastructural renovation is leveraged to create urgently needed municipal revenue sources while simultaneously enhancing and expanding Chicago’s most important public spaces and civic assets.

Forever open, clear, and free…sometimes. Although popularly considered “forever open, clear, and free,” Chicago’s lakefront has actually been in a constant state of transformation throughout the last 150 years. These various alterations have resulted in the creation of more than 1,000 acres of new land, the construction of dozens of buildings, and continued domination by changing configurations of Lake Shore Drive.

Existing Public Realm
Of the 252-acres comprising the Grant Park complex, approx. 45- acres (nearly 20%) are consumed by transportation infrastructures like roads and rail lines. The result is a disjointed, fragmented public realm. While significant institutions and civic spaces reside within the park, the overall state of the complex is deficient. The narrow lake edge along Monroe Harbor is particularly inadequate from a public amenity perspective.

Lake Shore Drive
No element dominates Chicago’s lakefront to a greater degree than Lake Shore Drive. For example, South Lake Shore Drive running along the eastern edge of Grant Park ranges from 8 to 12 lanes of vehicular traffic. This represents an approximately 125-foot wide barrier to lakefront access. No single urbanistic modification would have a greater impact on the quality of Chicago’s waterfront public realm and Grant park than reconfiguring the current alignment of Lake Shore Drive.

The Big Shift
We propose to realign Lake Shore Drive, separating local traffic onto a new winding at-grade boulevard, and allowing through traffic to bypass the park via a new vehicular tunnel. Such a modification has the potential to create more than 240-acres of new waterfront real estate capable of funding both the reconfigured roadway, and the enhancement and renovation of Grant Park.

Iconic Lake Front + Enhanced Connectivity
Our proposed reconfiguration of Lake Shore Drive would also generate the opportunity to create one of the world’s great public waterfronts at the center of the city, befitting of Chicago’s past urbanistic accomplishments and current global status. This new lake front district would become the centerpiece of Chicago’s 21st century evolution.

A Transformational Proposition
The Big Shift imagines a scenario where a major public infrastructural renovation is leveraged to create urgently needed municipal revenue sources while enhancing and expanding Chicago’s most important public spaces and civic assets.

Block Structure + F.A.R

Illustrated Floor Area Ratios Range (FAR)

Proposed Lake Shore Drive Reconfiguration

Proposed Lakefront District Road Hierarchy

Proposed Lakefront District Road Hierarchy

Proposed Land Reclamation + Development Phasing

Planting Surfaces + Canopy Palette

Primary Lakefront Circulation


PORT Urbanism
Christopher Marcinkoski, Andrew Moddrell, Brandon Biederman, Selina Chiu, Laura-Anne Wong, Ryan Hernandez, Alex Culler, and Chi Yin Lee.