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Rahm Touts Chicago River As 'Next Great Recreational Park'

By  Alex Nitkin and Ted Cox | March 22, 2016 8:11am | Updated on March 22, 2016 4:15pm

 The West Ridge Nature Preserve.
The West Ridge Nature Preserve.
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DNAinfo/Linze Rice

ENGLEWOOD — Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke at a 100-year-old Englewood fieldhouse designed by Daniel Burnham Tuesday to announce his "Building on Burnham" plan, calling it a "comprehensive vision" for the city's parks and natural areas.

Named for Burnham, the legendary "make no little plans" city designer credited with greening the dirty industrial Chicago of the early 20th century, the comprehensive project aims to beef up outdoor areas in different parts of the city, with the aim, Emanuel said, of "bringing and keeping more young families in our neighborhoods."

It would boost the amount of designated "protected natural areas" by nearly half, along with "increased access to the Chicago River at almost every mile" along the North and South branches, according to an Emanuel administration news release.

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel touts the Chicago River as the city's
Mayor Rahm Emanuel touts the Chicago River as the city's "next great recreational park" at the Hamilton Park Fieldhouse in Englewood.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

As usual in his administration, Emanuel gave special attention to projects to revitalize the river.

"Our river will be Chicago's next great recreational park," Emanuel said. "If the lake is our front yard, then the river should become our residential backyard."

He pointed to four new boathouses along the North and South branches and new pedestrian bridges, along with the Riverwalk Downtown, to be completed this fall.

He also pointed to new bridges across Lake Shore Drive at 35th, 41st and 43rd streets, to allow Bronzeville to better gain access to the lakefront.

In what amounted to a compendium of projects old and new compiled under the "Building on Burnham" theme, Emanuel also cited La Villita Park, the 606, Big Marsh and Maggie Daley Park, as well as the renovation of Theater on the Lake at Fullerton.

Emanuel rolled out several chunks of the plan earlier this week, including expanded paths on the lakefront and a network of "gathering spaces" along the Burnham Wildlife Corridor on the South Side. 

He touted separate bike and running paths along the Lakefront Trail anew Tuesday, pointing out that "more traffic brings more bottlenecks and even more collisions sometimes," but adding that the repaved stretches from Fullerton Avenue to Ohio Street and from 31st to 51st Street should relieve those pinch points. He also trumpeted the so-called Navy Pier flyover, to be completed in 2018 and also designed to relieve congestion on the Lakefront Trail.

On Sunday, during the announcement of Paseo, a new mixed-use path to link Pilsen and Little Village, Emanuel touted the attention he's given to outdoor spaces since becoming mayor in 2011. Between projects like the West Ridge Nature Preserve and a new 21-acre park in Little Village, he said, the city has opened the equivalent of "five Millennium Parks" in its neighborhoods during his tenure.

"Chicago used to be known just for a beautiful lake, but we actually have two waterfronts," Emanuel said at that event. "And we need to make both waterfronts work for our quality of life, for our cultural, as well as our recreational and economic growth."

On Tuesday, Emanuel pointed out the Paseo would run close by the South Branch of the river in Pilsen and Little Village.

Tuesday's announcement was delivered at the Burnham-designed Hamilton Park Fieldhouse, 513 W. 72nd St.

Park District Supt. Mike Kelly speculated that, named after founding father Alexander Hamilton, it might one day play host to a production of Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton" rap musical, but with that production still sold out on Broadway it might be a while — longer than it takes to complete the Riverwalk and Navy Pier flyover.

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