Planning for Productive Waterways with the Illinois International Port District - Metropolitan Planning Council

Skip to main content

Planning for Productive Waterways with the Illinois International Port District

A master plan balances industrial, community, and local needs. But how do you convene stakeholders in a pandemic?

Image courtesy Illinois International Port District

Since its adoption in 2016, Our Great Rivers, developed by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the City of Chicago, Friends of the Chicago River, and Metropolitan Planning Council, has played a vital role in planning efforts across the region’s riverside communities. One of the ways we are implementing the plan is by working with the Illinois International Port District (IIPD) on a master plan for its facilities on Lake Calumet and at the mouth of the Calumet River. Although up against some challenges due to COVID-19, the team is implementing new virtual approaches to public engagement.


The Illinois International Port District owns nearly 2,000 acres of industrial and recreational land on Chicago’s southeast side, which has long served as a manufacturing and freight center of national importance. The Port is a large part of the freight-intensive area in southeast Chicago, enabling national and international cargo shipments to come through via the Saint Lawrence Seaway and Mississippi River.

Photo courtesy of Illinois International Port District

The multimodal facility also provides the freight industry with the means to move bulk commodities like lumber and mineral aggregates across the Chicago region and beyond, whether by water, trains, or trucks. In addition to its role as a freight and economic driver, the Port also is a neighbor to Chicago communities — like Hegewisch, the East Side, Pullman, and Riverdale — and a steward of natural resources like Lake Calumet and Square Marsh.

This large southeast side area serves industries, neighbors, and the natural environment. Despite its outsized importance, the Port historically hasn’t been the subject of much formal planning. A new call, as described in Our Great Rivers, to promote and balance local industrial, environmental, and community needs and priorities has helped spearhead a master planning process. The purpose of the master plan is to provide a clear vision of how the Port should develop and use its facilities and land through 2050 with input from communities and stakeholders, ultimately executed by the Port and multiple government partners.

“We’re doing a full analysis on what we could be doing and what we should be doing … But it’s not one or the other. It’s a total look.”

- Clayton Harris, III, IIPD Executive Director

The plan will include strategies to reinvest in the Port’s central purpose as a modern, productive waterfront that promotes environmental stewardship and provides community amenities. Open space, a hotel or commercial center, a bicycle and pedestrian path, gardens, or a boat house are among the amenities being considered.

Since last year, IIPD, CMAP, and project consultants have been working on the first phase of the planning project: engaging stakeholders, collecting feedback on ideas about the Port’s future, and analyzing data to understand current conditions and begin development of a clear vision for the facility that can span decades.


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the second phase of this project. Originally, this phase was designed to rely on in-person input from residents, organizations, and government agencies. Feedback is critical for deciding the Port’s future.

“CMAP has some really great tools to gather people’s input virtually. This project is really important. It’s an active port. We don’t want to hold up the process by waiting through the uncertainty. There is a lot of value in moving forward in this new environment.”

- Elaine McKenzie, project manager, Cambridge Systematics

To complete the project by next spring, the master plan process now will rely on 100 percent virtual engagement. The project team is testing interactive tools, including large conference calls, videos, online comment submission, and more. We’re keeping in mind different realities among stakeholders, like limited access to broadband and significant time constraints due to childcare needs. We are dedicated to an equitable, effective approach with robust — but socially distant — community engagement as we look to make our great rivers in the region more “inviting, productive, and living places.”


No comments

MPC on Twitter

Follow us on Twitter »

Stay in the loop!

MPC's Regionalist newsletter keeps you up to date with our work and our upcoming events.?

Subscribe to Regionalist

Most popular news

Browse by date »

This page can be found online at

Metropolitan Planning Council 140 S. Dearborn St.
Suite 1400
Chicago, Ill. 60603
312 922 5616

Sign up for newsletter and alerts »

Shaping a better, bolder, more equitable future for everyone

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 »

Donate »