Chicago River Charette shaking ideas

Once in awhile you see yourself in a time and a place where everything seems right. On Friday, April 11th, in a Whole Foods parking lot, 20 individuals from a variety of disciplines met to discuss the future of the Chicago river. An event put on by Great Rivers Chicago, part of the Metropolitan Planning Committee. They are a non-governmental group figuring out how we use the rivers as our city evolves. Attendants at this event included architects(R2, SOM, MOSS), representatives from various governmental and regulatory organizations (MWRD, Chicago Park District, Chicago Department of Planning), and local organizations ( Naru Project, Friends of the Chicago River and Kayak Chicago).There was a spirit of optimism sweeping through the group.

We focused on the North Branch channel 1 mile strip, not open to boat traffic, that sits just north of Chicago's downtown. For years, local organizations tried to incorporate ecological amenities. One person present, Nelson Chung From the Chicago Department of Planning, co-authored a study in the late 90’s looking to bring wetlands to this slice of the river    .

But this time the energy feels different and seems like our city needs the Chicago River.


The conversations swirled around various topics pertaining to how to increase river access and how to work with regulators and how to better engage partners who currently occupy Goose Island. At one point our group was gazing upon the river looking at a Waste Management sorting facility and we were reminded that this area started off as a garbage dump.  Now the question is; how can companies who have occupied this island for years adapt to the river's future?


During this conversation, a lone beaver came into sight leisurely swimming down the channel. A true sign of what this river can represent. They  are the real residents of our rivers, these are the tenants we need to support.



Our final destination was the UI labs, one of Chicago's attempts at positioning the city for the future. Separated into 3 working groups, participants postulated three concepts, how to increase river access, how to be stewards to the environment and how to effectively work with the current regulations.


Water is a public trust, with many stakeholders who are essential to getting every project live. The true benefit of a meetup such as the ‘River Charette’, is opening communication between all parties, bridging the gaps and beginning real conversations. A special thanks to Great Rivers Chicago for hosting this event. Open forums such as this spark innovation and help facilitate inspiration.

If your city has a river which needs to be changed, this is the type of event which needs to happen. 



nick wesleyComment