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What Should Be Built Along Chicago River? Rahm Announces New Push To Decide

 The view from River Front tower.
The view from River Front tower.
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Chicago Mayor's Office

CHICAGO — A new push will determine what should be built along the Chicago River as Mayor Rahm Emanuel redoubles his effort to bring more opportunities for work and play to its banks.

The Chicago Urban River Edges Ideas Lab, a funded by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and Comcast, will work with the city and Metropolitan Planning Council to pick six to 10 architectural firms to submit design concepts by June.

"From building to open spaces, developments along the river are helping to deliver economic, environmental, recreational and social benefits to the City of Chicago,” Emanuel said in a statement.

Chicagoans will be able to review those submissions at libraries and other public buildings as well as the Chicago Architectural Biennial. That input will be used by city officials to update the city’s riverfront design guidelines, set to be released in 2018.

The Idea Lab will build on the work Great Rivers Chicago — a partnership between the City of Chicago, Metropolitan Planning Council, Friends of the Chicago River and others — to craft a plan to drive new investment in parks, job opportunities, housing and transportation along the Chicago, Calumet and Des Plaines rivers. It is set to be released this summer.

Emanuel announced the push Monday as he and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo hosted 19 mayors from 12 countries spanning five continents, representing 45 million people, at a global forum on urban waterways.

The new guidelines, once ratified by the City Council, could determine whether the push by 43rd Ward Ald. Michele Smith and community groups to turn part of the North Branch Industrial Corridor into a park.

In an op-ed published in the Sun-Times, co-written with Hidalgo, Emanuel recalls that "a generation ago, it would have strained credulity to imagine jogging or eating lunch along the lakefront, let alone kayaking or canoeing in the river."

"But that is precisely what is happening today, thanks to the new Riverwalk and new boat houses in four neighborhoods along the river," Emanuel said, referring to facilities in Bridgeport, Roscoe Village, Albany Park and Chinatown.

"It is now possible to imagine a future with a continuous riverfront trail connecting neighborhoods throughout the city..." he said.