Lessons for Chicago’s Riverwalk: Engage With The City

Midwest
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
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Wolf Point on the Chicago River. (Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli)

Wolf Point on the Chicago River. The towers’ landscaping spurred a good year for riverside development downtown, which saw Mayor Rahm Emanuel call for an expansion of the Chicago Riverwalk.(Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli)

As Chicago gears up for an overhaul of the city’s Riverwalk, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has touted his architectural cause célèbre as a way for the city to reengage with its “second shoreline.” The renderings by Sasaki Associates show six new blocks of riverfront parks, effectively connecting the shore of Lake Michigan with a small park at the foot of  the three massive towers planned for Wolf Point, at the confluence of the Chicago River’s three branches.

Chicago riverwalk (Courtesy Sasaki Associates)

Chicago riverwalk (Courtesy Sasaki Associates)

Chicago Magazine scribe Whet Moser has a good suggestion for “Emanuel’s latest obsession”: learn from other riverwalks. The three he points to are in Indianapolis, San Antonio and London.

Indianapolis has come back considerably from the depths of its urban flight. Its riverwalk should be a big beneficiary of that resurgence, but Moser quotes an Urbanophile blogger who notes Indy’s riverwalk remains relatively separate from its downtown business district.

San Antonio and London took steps to integrate their riverwalks into the surrounding communities by adding mixed-use and expanding into neighborhoods beyond downtown.

The plans as presented currently are ambitious in engaging the river downtown, but they focus on recreation rather than retail. While a riverside shopping mall is not ideal, a little more room for mixed-use development probably would enhance the experience.

Likewise, the six blocks planned lay a framework for expanding into neighborhoods along the river to the north and south of the Loop, but are currently limited to downtown. Ping Tom Park in Chinatown is not far away, and one can even imagine (with a little optimism) that the industrial legacy of Goose Island just to the north could be reborn with a bit of greenspace.

And other cities around the Midwest are renewing their riverfronts, as well. Des Moines’ new riverwalk is nearing completion, and Detroit’s recently got a boost in funding to build on a design competition spotlight.

Ross Barney Architects and Sasaki Associates are the designers on the project.

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