Chicago has done a great job developing public space along its lakefront. Not so much along the river. But, new federal money is coming that will help the city improve the downtown space along the Chicago River:
A $100 million federal loan to build an urban playground along the Chicago River downtown is a “done deal,” outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday.
Appearing along the river with LaHood, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he expects groundbreaking for the extension of the Riverwalk to take place in 2014. The six-block project would run along the south bank from State Street to West Lake Street.
The Riverwalk extension is set to include a learning center focusing on the river’s ecology, a “zero-depth fountain” for children to splash in, kayak rentals and a wood-planked section dotted with floating gardens, among other amenities. Details were announced last October…
Emanuel has pressed to continue branding the riverfront as a recreational destination for Chicagoans along the lines of the lakefront or Millennium Park. On Thursday, he characterized developing the riverfront — begun by Mayor Richard Daley — as an important moment in Chicago moving beyond its industrial past.
Why has it taken so long for Chicago to utilize this asset? This part of the Chicago River runs right through a set of impressive buildings and a business district as well as borders tourist areas. As Emanuel suggests, the river is part of Chicago’s industrial legacy. Indeed, Chicago is still dealing with improving the a lot of the land around the river. Originally, the railroad bringing freight and goods to Chicago came up from the south to the southern edge of the Chicago River east of Michigan Avenue. This was a docking area. This is the same area that has only boomed in recent decades and now includes hit buildings like Aqua. Lower Wacker Drive might be nice for cars and the original truck traffic that would be routed off surface streets might it doesn’t exactly lend itself to a pedestrian park.
In the end, this could be a great space for Chicago. I do wonder how the water quality of the river might impact these park spaces but there is a lot of potential here. If Chicago is going to boost its tourist numbers, this could help.