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Cleaning Up Stinky River Channel Just One Of Exhibit's Grand Plans For City

By Ted Cox | June 6, 2016 6:05am
 The Chicago Architecture Foundation plays host to the exhibit "50 Designers, 50 Ideas, 50 Wards."
CAF 50 Wards
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DOWNTOWN —  A new exhibit at the Chicago Architecture Foundation is proposing 50 high-concept ideas for each ward.

The exhibit "50 Designers, 50 Ideas, 50 Wards" is on display at the foundation, 224 S. Michigan Ave. It assigns 50 groups, primarily architecture firms, a ward apiece and displays what they've come up with under the topics of "Activate," "Dwell," "Gather" and "Reclaim."

Under "Reclaim," the one for the 12th Ward, submitted by Ross Barney Architects, imagines restoring the Collateral Channel off the South Branch of the Chicago River — an area neighborhood kids call "Ass Creek," according to the exhibit text.

"Ass(et) Creek" imagines turning the Collateral Channel off the South Branch of the Chicago River into a community asset for Little Village.
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Chicago Architecture Foundation

"I'm not familiar with that," said Ald. George Cardenas (12th), although he immediately allowed that the channel gives off a pungent aroma.

"It's not a pretty smell," Cardenas said. "It not only looks awful, but it smells awful."

Cardenas said there are already plans to restore the channel.

"We have been playing with this for a few years," he said.

The exhibit proposes cleaning the river water naturally through "a series of native plantings" that would filter out pollutants.

Cardenas said he's heard the idea referred to as "a natural habitat" cleaning the water through the use of a "detoxifier" in landfill.

"We want to convert the Collateral Channel from ass to asset," says the exhibit text, and Cardenas sai that would be a perfect complement to La Villita Park.

"It's literally across the street," he said. "I do welcome it. There's a lot of work to be done, and it's going to take a few years," but he added that if residents are "patient" it can happen.

Some of the concepts are more pie in the sky, such as an idea to build homes over "L" tracks. Yet others, like the restoration of the Collateral Channel, fit right in with current development, even if aldermen are unfamiliar with the exhibit.

Asked about a "Chicago River Kayak Park" proposed by moss Design for his ward, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said, "That sounds awesome."

Waguespack added the idea has already come up with the total redesign and reconstruction of the three-way intersection of Damen, Elston and Fullerton avenues.

"What's happening with the intersection is that as Elston comes over to the river, it's going to make a lot of that land unbuildable," he said. "We're basically trying to work that up with Friends of the River as kayak-accessible or boat-accessible for families that typically wouldn't go through your boathouses."

"I'm a canoeist," Waguespack added, owning one with his father. "I think it's a good idea."

Waguespack said that concepts from architects dreaming big, no matter how fanciful, can sometimes find practical uses.

"When it comes to funding and reality and things like that, you just try to pair it up with things you can do," Waguespack said.

Some of the exhibit ideas for other wards include:

• "Tiny Town," $60,000 homes for the homeless put together around "The Square," set for the 4th Ward.

• "Rebel Garages," allowing more liberal zoning for garages and "non-confirming" uses for small businesses along the sometimes wide alleys of the 47th Ward.

• "Boombox Micro Retail," a prefabricated kiosk for merchants set for the 6th Ward.

• "The Calumet Caravan," using trolleys to connect business areas in the 10th Ward across its abundant open land and wetlands.

• "Inside Out," a traveling stage for the Goodman Theatre.

• "Fiction Fort," a book stall designed to echo the Givins' Irish Castle, current home of the Beverly Unitarian Church in the 19th Ward.

• "Jefferson Park Exchange," imagining development around the CTA and Metra hub including the Ed Paschke Arts Center, with his imagist works painted on the walls of the nearby Kennedy Expy. underpass.

• "Quite Village," "a suspended public place" built above the intersection of Addison Street and Meade Avenue.

"It's our role to communicate why design matters to a wide audience," said Lynn Osmond, president of the architecture foundation. "In celebrating our 50th anniversary, we wanted to develop a special opportunity to connect with the public."

The exhibit will be on display through the rest of the year and also has an online component.

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