In 2016, the Our Great Rivers vision articulated goals and action steps to create more inviting, productive, and living rivers across Chicago. The vision, led by the City of Chicago, Metropolitan Planning Council, and Friends of the Chicago River, and advanced in partnership by many more, contains milestones for 2020, 2030, and 2040. The newly-released Achievements & Priorities report documents the progress rivers partners have made toward these milestones over the last four years. The report also captures how our collective vision is evolving.
Beyond highlighting accomplishments, the report outlines additional issues and opportunities that have emerged, or have become more prominent, since the release of Our Great Rivers. Many of these challenges center around a need for more coordinated and system-wide planning for river and riverfront land uses to ensure that we are prioritizing issues, specifically public health, water quality, and habitat. This type of proactive planning should go hand-in-hand with the use of informed and active community engagement to guide decision-making and changes to our rivers. Now is the time for a more systemic and collaborative approach to solving Chicago’s complex river and riverfront challenges.
Projects funded by the Chicago Community Trust’s Our Great Rivers grant highlight efforts of riverfront leaders that have been spearheading a systemic community planning approach to improving their neighborhood rivers. Over the past three years, communities along the Des Plaines, Chicago, and Calumet Rivers have been creating plans, activating spaces, and collecting data to inform and drive river planning and policy efforts. Along with MPC’s ongoing blog series chronicling these project successes and positive impacts, we want to highlight a few projects along the South Branch and Calumet River that have been strongly advocating for a comprehensive approach to riverfront planning. Learn more about the progress that has been made and hear directly from leaders about their projects (Calumet and South Branch).
Now is the time for a more systemic and collaborative approach to solving Chicago’s complex river and riverfront challenges.
As we continue to progress on the goals to make Chicago’s river system an ecologically healthier asset for all communities, the public sector must continue to drive, support, and amplify the actions and activities that are already happening. Greater coordination and alignment is necessary from all stakeholders, community, civic, private and public alike, to truly transform our river system into a citywide resource as great as Lake Michigan. The Rivers Ecology and Governance Task Force, which is convened by the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, provides collaborators a venue for dialogue and alignment on priorities. MPC looks forward working with members of the Task Force to continue this important work on Chicago’s rivers throughout 2021 and beyond.