top of page




The Fulton Market District

Chicago, IL


Jacobs Engineering &

Chicago Department of Transportation



Since the late 1800s this District has served as a wholesale meatpacking district providing food distribution to the Chicago Loop and adjacent areas.  Lately the portion of the district east of Carpenter Street has been rapidly transitioning to entertainment and office land uses.  This change is similar to what occurred along Randolph Street at the beginning of the millennium.  The district is also in transition west of Carpenter, with new office and art gallery uses, and traditional and innovative manufacturing uses.  The character of the district is protected by a historic district which was designated by ordinance passed by the Chicago City Council on July 29, 2015.  An overlaying Innovation District was adopted by the Chicago Plan Commission in July 2014.   The Innovation District is intended to provide a coordinated land use plan where both traditional and innovative businesses can both coexist and experience economic growth.  


The goal of the project is to support that economic growth through an innovative streetscape and urban design.  The existing street is a combination of traditional curbed street and a curb-less “flexible” street configuration.  Operation of the street can be chaotic, given a wide pavement that can encourage drivers to speed, and in the flexible street area, allows for tailgate loading and unloading at intersections, crosswalks, and on portion of sidewalks.  The proposed design clearly designates protected pedestrian realms on each side of a clearly defined twenty-foot wide street (including flush gutters), and provides areas which flex between tailgate loading and unloading uses during peak distribution times (typically beginning about 3 AM to about 1 PM Sunday through Friday), then to parallel and angle parking lanes to support restaurants and other commercial uses whose peak activities typically occur during evenings.  The existing “flexible” configuration from east of Morgan Street to Sangamon Street will be extended one block east to Green Street.



Several design components demonstrate design excellence and ingenuity. In the “flexible” street area, custom designed street furniture and LED street lights will be placed along a band of ribbed tiles at the back of parking lanes to designate an ADA accessible route along each side of the street.  Retractable bollards will be used to close varying portions of Fulton Market between Morgan Street and Green Street for on-street special events. Infiltration planters with benches will hold intersection corners, separating turning vehicles from pedestrians and providing pedestrians with a place to sit. All planters will have power supply outlets to provide festoon lighting or support street festivals.  Some planters will have potable water supply connections.  Granite cobblestones will be reclaimed from the site and used at interiors of the intersections at Morgan, Sangamon, Peoria, and Green.  Those same intersections will be raised, thereby slowing approaching traffic and emphasizing safety at pedestrian crossings.  A field of stones wrapped in geotextile fabric will be placed beneath parking lanes and be connected to the infiltration planters. These stone fields will have voids where stormwater is detained, will have a controlled release to the existing sewer system, and will keep surface water in the curbless portion of the street to a minimum.  Recycled and regional materials will be sourced for construction.


The implementation strategy is to construct the project in two sections.  Construction section 1 extends from Halsted Street to Carpenter Street and includes ½ to 1 block of improvements north and south of Fulton Market on all cross streets between Morgan Street and Carpenter Street, and along Sangamon Street between Wayman Street and Randolph Street. Start of construction is planned for late 2016 or early 2017.  Section 2 extends from Ogden Avenue to Carpenter Street and includes ½ to 1 block of improvements north and south of Fulton Market on all cross streets.  Located just west of Halsted Street, the Fulton Market District gateway arch was constructed in 2014 to create a community identity for the district.



The three key concepts for the design of the project are to encourage the continued use of the district for meatpacking and food distribution, to accommodate permitted redevelopment, and to preserve the historic context of the area.

A primary challenge is to design the street for activities associated with a meatpacking district all while also considering many buildings are rapidly being converted over to mixed-use office, commercial, and entertainment uses.  Elements in the public way that contribute to the historic context include sidewalks raised about 2 to 3 feet above street level, steel faced curb, the “flexible” portion of the street without curbs, and building-attached awnings that provide protection against the weather during loading. Neighborhood design principles include accommodating movement of large trucks, and tailgate loading and unloading of palletized product using forklifts and handcarts. 

The project responds to and advances the principles of the Charter of the New Urbanism in many ways at both neighborhood/district/corridor level and at the block/street/building level. We believe the project responds to district design principles 10 to 12 and 15, as well as block design principles 19 to 24. The project also advances the general operating principles 1 and 3, street/block/network principles 1 through 6 and neighborhood/town/city principles 1, 2, and 11 as presented in the Canons.  


The project is within a compact district which forms an identifiable area, reinforced by both a formally designated historic district and an innovation district.  To encourage citizens to take responsibility for maintenance and evolution of the district, an organization is being formed to administer a Special Service Area.  This organization will program on-street activities such a year-round farmers market, or larger events such as the recent Fulton Market Harvest Festival.  The design includes on-street power and potable water connections which can be used to support these events and will be maintained by the citizen organization.  The district has an interconnected network of streets, and the project includes improvements to encourage walking, reduce the number and length of automobile trips, and conserve energy.  The design organizes the existing chaotic nature of the street into three distinct realms.  First, a pedestrian realm is identified by sidewalk and curb and gutter on blocks with a traditional design, and by bollards, street furniture, infiltration planters and by a definition edge using ADA tactile pads in the “flexible” street area. Second, the vehicle realm is clarified by a single westbound lane between Racine Avenue and Halsted Street and a lane in each direction between Ogden Avenue and Racine Avenue.  The lane is wide enough to allow passing a stopped vehicle.  Third, flexible use parking lanes provide areas for tailgate loading while also separating pedestrians from through traffic. Finally, the original catalyst of change for the neighborhood was construction of the CTA Green/Pink rail transit line station at Morgan Street.  This improvement put the entire district within walking distance of a major transit stop and created a viable alternative to the automobile.

At the block level the project responds to six principles.  The urban architecture and landscape design is the physical definition of streets and public spaces as places of shared use.  The project retains historic components that seamlessly link the street to its surroundings. LED street lighting is energy efficient and enhances safety and security. Street furniture reinforces the concept of a safe environment, but not at the expense of accessibility and openness.  The design adequately accommodates trucks and automobiles while also respecting the pedestrian and the form of public space. The project is intended to be safe, comfortable, and interesting to the pedestrian. Properly configured, they encourage walking and enable neighbors to know each other and protect their communities. The urban architecture and landscape design is based on the Chicago climate, topography, Fulton Market District history, and building practice.




Funky is cool, then rapid transition kicks in!  For the district, transition is in terms of redevelopment, but also in the unusual way the neighborhood functions.  These factors provided the context that requires a unique streetscape design solution.  

How has the district functioned?  In early morning to mid-day trucks of all shapes and sizes rule the street.  Starting at about the lunch hour truck traffic calms, and cleanup activities begin. 


Meatpackers need to comply with USDA cleanliness standards, so cleaning typically involves power washing building interiors, loading docks, and cleaning portions of the street with detergents.  Midafternoons can be pretty quiet, restaurant staff start showing up for work, and in pleasant weather sidewalk café space is set up.  Pedestrian and automobile activities dominate in the evening, when patrons visit predominantly high-end restaurants and bars.  


The big question is how to design for the future of the district?    The planning context is to encourage food distribution activities to remain, perhaps modified to include retail outlets, while also accommodating new uses.  The reality is that market forces have created financial conditions that encourage building owners to sell.  The economics of food distribution are no match for those generated by entertainment and office uses.  With but a few exceptions, the food distributors are moving out. 


These conditions created an interesting environment for design development.  Adoption of a historic district created the need for an inclusive process.  Coordination with developers was critical to understand design adaption needed for redevelopment.  Close coordination between the Chicago Department of Transportation, the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks was crucial to obtaining design approvals. Early on, a full-day public workshop was held to gain an understanding of resident and business owner needs and desires.  Two public meetings and a series of meetings with property and business owners were conducted to review planned improvements.  This process resulted in several design modifications which balance the needs of all users.

bottom of page