Everyone in Chicago should have equal access to our rivers - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Everyone in Chicago should have equal access to our rivers

Metropolitan Planning Council

At our Chicago River Day volunteer appreciation event, residents had a chance to kayak, fish and tell us what they want for Chicago's rivers.

I recently had the chance to meet with Josh Ellis and Kara Riggio of the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) to learn more about their Great Rivers Chicago Project. The mission of the project is to reimagine and revitalize how we as Chicagoans interact with our rivers. The City of Chicago has more than 100 miles of riverfront throughout the city, and MPC wants to build a coalition of partners who are committed to making those areas more accessible and better in terms of aesthetics, infrastructure and safety. The goal is to cultivate the same kind of investment and pride we take in the Lakeshore.

Think about how we interact with our rivers. I cross the river almost every day on my commute to Adler, but other than the occasional architecture tour or festival, I rarely think of the rivers as a destination. Having more access to the rivers, safe and attractive infrastructure, and more programming has the potential to increase our physical activity, make us happier and give us more opportunities to be social.

Where does social exclusion fit in? As it stands right now, not everybody in Chicago has equal access to active riverfronts. When we think of activities on the river, a common image is Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, where there are hotels, restaurants, architecture tours and a riverwalk. When we think about the riverfronts in other neighborhoods, we often think of industry or pollution. Some of our residents don’t have access to a resource that could make them healthier, in part because of a lack of citywide policy and investment. We see that as an issue of social exclusion and inequity. MPC wants to improve quality and consistency across the city so all communities with rivers have equal access to beautiful riverfronts and the potential mental and physical health benefits.

The Great Rivers Chicago project relates strongly to the Institute on Social Exclusion’s Pilsen/Little Village health impact assessment project because it, too, ties together urban planning, environmental justice and health. In the near southwest neighborhoods of Pilsen and Little Village, when we talk about the possibility of turning the former Fisk & Crawford coal plant sites into green and open space, we have found that community members want to make sure that that green space will be equally accessible and safe, maintained properly and used for activities the community wants. MPC shares these priorities. An important part of making this all happen is being intentional about designing the space to be used by people, instead of just open and empty. That is why it is so important to hear from Chicago residents from all over the city about how we currently use our rivers, and how we want to use our rivers in the future.

MPC recently launched a survey as part of the information gathering phase of the Great Rivers Chicago project. The survey will give MPC more information about what changes to advocate for regarding our rivers. It asks about your experiences, thoughts and feelings about the rivers in your neighborhood, and what kind of interactions and feelings you would like to have about the rivers in the future. After the information is gathered and analyzed, and after an intensive public outreach period, MPC plans to begin proposing changes in Spring 2016.

Pass it on! You and your friends can take the survey here: http://www.greatriverschicago.com/

Tell us what you think. How could access to the riverfronts near your neighborhood contribute to your sense of community?

This post originally appeared on June 9, 2015 on Adler University's Institute on Social Exclusion blog.

Chloe Gurin-Sands is a Masters student at the UIC School of Public Health, working toward an MPH in Community Health Sciences. She is completing her practicum with Adler Institute on Social Exclusion.


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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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