The Trust for Public Land - The 606

The Challenge

Turning the idea into a reality

During construction of The 606 – Chicago’s 2.7-mile park and elevated trail system – organizers faced a significant dilemma: how do you spark interest in a place no one can visit yet? In the final three years of this decade-long project, Marj Halperin and team were brought on board by the project’s lead private partner, The Trust for Public Land, to raise awareness of the rails-to-trails project and introduce it to the general public and local communities. Marj was charged with increasing the media profile of the park and trail system as it was being designed; to launch and manage a name change; to ensure open, transparent communication throughout the 1.5-year construction phase; and to generate excitement and attendance for the grand opening.

The Solution

Connecting the trail to the community

Marj and team knew that construction would cause short-term hassles in the four surrounding communities and that neighbors needed to be informed. As a result, the team identified hyper-local media and social media outlets that could speak directly to these communities and deliver the most relevant news, while stressing how the long-term benefits would outweigh the short-term inconveniences. The team also educated the media, explaining how a never-before-experienced, elevated, nearly three-mile-long park would dramatically impact the lifestyles of 80,000 neighbors within a ten-minute walk. The team chose key messages that stressed park benefits. These included bringing green space for park-poor communities and a transformation to the abandoned rail line that was once a barrier and would now be a community connector.

Another key component was managing the project name. The entire project was initially referred to as The Bloomingdale Trail, which reminded people of the downstate Illinois college town rather than an association to the Trail’s location along one of the least-well-known street names in the city. Marj and her team urged a change. They shepherded the process successfully, thanks to a melding of team skills with our client’s expertise, leading to a comprehensive community, government and media relations campaign to sell the new name: The 606.

The Results

Winning over the media – and the neighbors   

Marj Halperin and team successfully secured four glowing columns from Blair Kamin, the Chicago Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture and design critic, including the front page of the Sunday, May 31, 2015 editions. The 606 was also the subject of Chicago’s first-ever live drone shot, which aired on one of Chicago’s highest-rated television stations, WLS-TV. The team won coverage of event and media materials by virtually every major Chicago media outlet – print, radio, TV, and online. Stories all appeared in international outlets including Australia, South Korea and the United Kingdom. The project was particularly popular among art journals, green space conservation publications and engineering and landscaping outlets.