‘Two Waterfront City’: Chicago’s Riverfront Could Get Revamp

Chicago’s riverfront could soon be getting a revamp.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel outlined Monday what he said was his vision of “Chicago as a two waterfront city.”

The project would double the 5.5 miles of publicly accessible riverfront space, giving the city 11 miles of access stretching from the North Side to the West Side to the Far South side, the mayor’s office said. 

Emanuel announced plans to acquire additional parkland in the coming years. 

“By preserving, protecting and improving our natural areas, we are building on the blueprint of Daniel Burnham’s Plan for Chicago,” Emanuel said in a statement. “Efforts like making our lake more accessible, reconnecting the city with the River and building new neighborhood parks and playgrounds are not just for the Chicago of today; these efforts ensure the city our children inherit is even more vibrant, more beautiful, more prosperous, and more inclusive than ever before.”

So far, Emanuel's plan to develop the riverfront has brought four new boathouses to neighborhoods along the river and seen the completion of the Chicago Riverwalk. 

The new plans include improving the downtown Riverwalk east of State Street, creating 60 acres of open space with new fields, new networks of riverfront trails and an extension to the 606 Trail.

“People know that for about 100 years the river wasn’t really woven into the fabric of the city,” Emanuel said in a video detailing the project. “Economically it was but not recreational. It’s now going to become recreational…There’s a new energy around our river and that’s the spine of the city.”

Construction is currently underway at the 312-RiverRun, a nearly 2-mile "recreational hub" that connects Irving Park, North Center, Avondale and Albany Park neighborhoods. Once complete, the project will feature baseball fields, fitness centers, playgrounds, an indoor ice skating rink, tennis courts, an outdoor pool, boat houses and more. 

And plans for the El Paseo Trail through Pilsen and Little Village are underway, "including a roadmap for producing affordable housing along its length." 

Emanuel has said he launched the "Building on Burnham" project as a nod to Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, which recommended a series of projects focused on the protection and preservation of parkland in Chicago’s neighborhoods.

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