Off-Site Programs: The Chicago River: From Industry and Barges to High-Rises and Kayaks
City of Chicago, Chicago
The Chicago River is one of Chicago's most precious and recognized natural resources. For most of Chicago's history, the river has been an essential working asset, serving as the city's harbor, supplying water for industry, and carrying away wastewater. Within the last couple of decades, the river has become a prime destination. There has been a significant amount of public and private investment that has transformed underutilized riverfront areas into new parks and paths with new showcase office, hotel, and residential high-rise development. Continued growth is anticipated, and Chicago's Department of Planning and Development has led several initiatives related to river planning, design, and governance.
As part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial held in 2017, Chicago's Department of Planning and Development curated the River Edge's Ideas Lab exhibit which displayed 27 visions along the riverfront from world-renowned architects and landscape architects. Using public feedback gathered from that exhibit, the Department updated the Chicago River Design Guidelines to enhance the natural environment, to improve the river's water quality, and to provide a more unified aesthetic in materials and branding. Earlier in 2019, the River Ecology and Governance Task Force was created to coordinate between government agencies, civic and nonprofit organizations, private developers, and local communities relating to river planning, investment, management, stewardship, and programming. And more recently, the department has completed a plan for the Wild Mile, a mile-long floating eco-park within the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River.