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Mayor Emanuel announces plan to expand Chicago's lakefront and riverfront parks

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

At a press conference today in Hamilton Park on Chicago's South Side, Mayor Rahm Emanuel repeatedly stressed the legacy of Daniel Burnham, the urban planner who laid out his "Plan of Chicago" in 1909. Burnham emphasized the importance of green and recreational space in a modern city, declaring that every citizen should live within walking distance of a park. In a self-congratulatory speech, Emanuel highlighted the ways in which his administration has built upon Burnham's plans, opening more than 300 playgrounds through the Chicago Plays program, completing work on the 606 elevated trail and forging ahead on the 278-acre Big Marsh nature preserve on the city's Southeast Side, which is scheduled to open this fall.

After the requisite back-patting, Emanuel detailed his administration's plans to expand access to the two bodies of water that run through and around Chicago. "Our river will be Chicago's next great recreational park," Emanuel stated before declaring that he wants to "use Chicago's two bodies of water to enhance the quality of life in our neighborhoods." Emanuel presented his "Building on Burnham" plan, a comprehensive overhaul and strengthening of park facilities based around the lakefront and the banks of the Chicago River. 

Chicago's Lakefront

Emanuel began speaking about the banks of Lake Michigan by pointing out that more Chicagoans are using the 18-mile Lakefront Trail than ever before, a fact which makes preserving and improving upon the existing facilities of vital importance. As part of the "Building on Burnham" plan, the Lakefront Trail will continue to see improvements that make it safer and more accessible for all, beginning with the Navy Pier flyover which will be completed by 2018. Emanuel also promised the construction of separate paths for bikers and runners between 31st and 51st Streets and Fullerton Avenue and Ohio Street—good news for joggers who have long dealt with impatient cyclists. Seven heavily-used miles of the trail will be repaved and crushed rock will be installed on either side of the path, similar to the 606. Additionally, the 35th Street bridge will be renovated and reopened, allowing for easier access to the trail by Bronzeville residents.

Chicago River

Finding a way to bring tourists to the banks of the Chicago River has been a focus of Emanuel's administration since the mayor took office, shepherding the creation of the Chicago Riverwalk project. Though Emanuel failed to mention his ambitious plans to turn the Riverwalk into the Chicago equivalent of Times Square, he did report that the remaining portions of the project will be completed this fall. He also took a moment to highlight some questionable statistics about the improving health of the Chicago River, citing a Friends of the Chicago River statistic that found that the number of aquatic species in the river has increased from seven to 75 within the past 40 years. We're not sure that's indicative of the river's health—the last time we checked, the water still looks (and smells) highly polluted.

In the future, Emanuel promised to improve access to the Chicago River beyond the Loop, highlighting the recent addition of boathouses to three Chicago parks and the upcoming Studio Gang-designed Eleanor Boathouse in Bridgeport. He also called attention to the previously announced Paseo rails to trails project in Pilsen and Little Village, which will convert four miles of unused railway into a pathway much like the 606 on the city's North Side. Emanuel also announced plans to expand the South Loop Riverwalk between Roosevelt Road and Harrison Street and expand Thillens Park on Devon Avenue, among other endeavors that seek to improve access to the North and South branches of the Chicago River.

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