Thursday, August 8, 2019

Developing the South Brand of the Chicago River to Spur Economic Development on the South Side Makes Sense to Us

My work crew has rented one of those small boats on the Chicago River today and ironically we stumbled upon this thought-provoking Chicago Tribune Editorial.  It makes an interesting case - use the South Branch of the Chicago River to benefit the South side:
It’s a sun-splashed afternoon in the city. You’re trying to think of something to do. For many Chicagoans and tourists alike, one of the first notions that comes to mind is the downtown riverwalk. People-watching on a long stroll, renting a kayak, sipping a pinot at City Winery — the options abound along an esplanade that has become an urban jewel.
Credit former Mayor Rahm Emanuel for the downtown riverwalk’s success. Before leaving office, he also oversaw the makeover of a Chicago River segment between Michigan Avenue east to the Lakefront Trail. And the former mayor was a driving force behind the planned Lincoln Yards mega-development on the North Side, which when finished will include its own riverwalk along the Chicago River’s North Branch.
The Chicago River has a second branch, however, the South Branch. Maybe you knew that, maybe you didn’t. If you didn’t, perhaps it’s because the South Branch hasn’t gotten the same spotlight as the North Branch or downtown stretch of the river.
That needs to change.
Obviously we know that the Sloop is at the forefront of this South Branch transformation and the editorial piece acknowledges that:
Parts of the South Branch have been already transformed. There’s Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chinatown and Bridgeport’s Park 571, which features a boathouse designed by famed Chicago architect Jeanne Gang. Ping Tom also has its own boathouse. South of the confluence of the South and North branches, a quarter-mile stretch of riverwalk is taking shape between Harrison Street and the River City Apartments. And penciled into plans for the planned “78” mega-development is a proposed riverwalk stretching between the South Loop and Chinatown.
It makes the final case nicely:
There’s a cachet now to living, working and playing along the river. Riverfront beautification can spur economic growth — something that has eluded neighborhoods on the South and West sides for far too long. The Chicago River as an asset? Yes, we remember when the river was justly maligned as the city’s waste bin for industrial muck, when Chicago was the only major American city to dump partially treated sewage into a major waterway.
The river’s much cleaner now. We wouldn’t swim in it, but we like that we can enjoy a riverside margarita without getting knocked over by wafts of putrefaction. The Chicago River is indeed on its way toward becoming the city’s second marquee waterfront.
Now it’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s turn. She campaigned on a pledge of equity. She promised that the South and West sides would be just as much of a priority as the downtown and North Side. That can apply to everything from education to development to transit. It should also apply to riverside recreation — and the South Branch.
Interesting perspective - would be nice to see!

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