Many actors—governments, nonprofit organizations, property owners, community groups—have a stake in and some control over our rivers. Coordination is key.
Kate Joyce Studio
However, coordination is not the full responsibility of any of those key players. On specific projects—for example, a new boat launch, new park or lock repair—recent history has proven that key players in managing Chicago's rivers can coordinate well. But for broader initiatives and concepts—marketing the rivers, ensuring accessibility, handling litter—coordination is often lacking. What's more, many issues cross political boundaries: Barge traffic, stormwater, endangered and invasive species, even cyclists simply do not confine themselves to the borders of a single municipality. Thus, even the Mayor's Office of the City of Chicago is limited in its ability to coordinate the many players and activities needed to consistently and thoroughly transform our rivers.
Yet, coordinated planning, investment and management is a fundamental necessity for achieving Our Great Rivers. Coordination needs to be somebody's job. An existing entity may be able to handle coordination, but it is equally likely that a new entity will need to be created and empowered to pursue this vision.
We interviewed the leaders of river and riverfront visioning processes from 10 U.S. cities. While each process was unique, common themes emerged when it came to coordinating implementation:
- Political champions help, but they come and go as administrations change. A formal, independent institution is vital.
- The institution responsible for coordination can be a single unit of government, an intergovernmental partnership, a private entity (either for-profit or nonprofit) or a hybrid. Each city or region must find its own way, but an intentional process is needed to determine the optimal institution.
- Early successes in implementation are helpful to show the public the potential of the plan.
- Dependable revenue streams are helpful to continue implementation, and more importantly, for maintenance.
- Having a clearinghouse for projects helps keep people and ideas organized and moving.
- Public outreach can never, ever stop.
- Strong philanthropic support is critical.
By 2017, the Metropolitan Planning Council, Mayor's Office of Chicago, the Leadership Commission and many partners must determine the optimal coordination structure and entity to marshal resources, shepherd projects and initiatives to completion, and continue to engage the public. This institution must be able to work across political borders.
See case studies from other U.S. cities »
It is vital that local stakeholders form the foundation for a regional rivers coordination system, whatever form the latter takes.
A handful of local implementation advisory committees should be established in order to be stewards of the Our Great Rivers vision, as well as spokespeople for local concerns. The heads of these committees would be part of the regional rivers coordination system, and each local committee would represent a distinct stretch of the rivers. Depending on the specific geography, these local committees could include City Council members, suburban elected officials, Park Advisory Council members local businesses, youth, faith-based organizations, and more. In essence, they would reflect the distinct users and would-be users of that stretch of river.
By 2017, the Metropolitan Planning Council, Mayor's Office of Chicago, the Leadership Commission and many partners must determine how local implementation committees would be formed, managed, funded and intertwined with the regional coordination structure above.
See case studies from other U.S. cities »
Coordination is important; so, too, is securing resources to implement. Our rivers need investment to flourish.
Coordination is important; so, too, is securing resources to implement. Our rivers need investment to flourish. Given other critical city needs—schooling, policing, transportation infrastructure, debt responsibilities—asking taxpayers to invest in our rivers at the scale and consistency needed to really make a difference is a tall order. At the same time that we explore the optimal structure for institutionalizing coordination, we also must consider potential revenue sources dedicated to our rivers.
Through our extensive stakeholder outreach in this visioning process, several criteria for revenues emerged:
- All users of the rivers must contribute, and those that use and benefit from the rivers the most should contribute the most.
- The benefits of investment will be shared by communities upstream, downstream and across the banks from Chicago. Ideally, some new revenues will be regional in nature.
- The source of the revenue must be related to use or protection of the rivers.
- Investments and expenditures made with these new revenues must be determined through transparent processes with ample opportunity for public scrutiny and input.
- Maintenance and operations must be funded as robustly as initial capital improvements.
- Multiple revenue options are likely necessary.
- They must add up to enough money to make a true, lasting difference.
The questions of revenue and coordination are intertwined, i.e., the optimal coordination institution is one that can best manage available revenues. Ideas suggested by members of the community through our outreach process included a Special Service Area throughout the riverfront of the city, a fee on boat rentals and tours, a small fee on water and sewer bills linked to stormwater improvements that will ultimately enhance downstream water quality, and even a portion of revenues from a casino, should Chicago ever build one. Many of these merit further investigation, and there are likely many other options worth consideration.
While it is premature to offer a recommendation here, a full and comprehensive study of revenue options that meet the criteria above must be one of the immediate next steps. By 2017, the Metropolitan Planning Council, Mayor's Office of Chicago, the Leadership Commission and many partners must determine the optimal revenues to support implementation of Our Great Rivers, and be on the path to creating those new revenue streams.
Public—City of Aurora
Public-Private—City of Aurora, Aurora Civic Center Authority, Seize the Future
Majority of funding came from grants; $8M came from the Ill. River Edge Redevelopment Zone Program.
Fort Wayne, Ind.
Public—City of Fort Wayne
They are considering creating a 501(c)3 to serve as the management and fundraising arm once the projects are completed. They are also considering creating a commission to oversee and select projects.
Public-Private—Clemson University's Center for Community Growth and Change with joint sponsorship from the City and County of Greenville
Public—City of Greenville
The plan recommended that, at this point in the overall process, a separate managing entity is not appropriate to oversee the implementation of the Reedy River Master Plan.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Public—City of Los Angeles
Public-Private—L.A. Cooperation Comm., L.A. River Corp., Friends of the L.A. River, L.A. Mayor's Fund
The plan proposed a joint planning authority as governing entity: L.A. River Revitalization Corporation (nonprofit overseeing financing and implementation of projects), and L.A. River Foundation (nonprofit fundraising arm). Yet, the current governance structure is different than proposed.
Private—Milwaukee Greenway Coalition
Public-Private—River Revitalization Foundation
The Milwaukee Greenway Coalition created the position of a director, who is housed within the River Revitalization Foundation. The Coalition still exists and its partners help implement and raise funding for projects. The director is responsible for overseeing implementation of the plan.
New Orleans, La.
Private—Greater New Orleans Inc.
The plan calls for a Regional Water Management Authority. This has not yet been created but there is a strong regional collaborative.
New York City, N.Y.
Public—City Planning Dept.
Public—City Planning Dept.
Implementation was public, but included the Waterfront Management Advisory Board, a private group of stakeholders appointed by the mayor. Led by new position of Director of Waterfront and Open Space within City Planning Dept.
Public-Private—Pittsburgh Riverlife Task Force
Riverlife is responsible for implementing projects and securing necessary funding. The funding came from philanthropic and city and state funding.
Public—Central Waterfront Committee and City of Seattle
Public-Private—City of Seattle Office of the Waterfront and Friends of the Seattle Waterfront
Both the Office of the Waterfront and Friends of the Seattle Waterfront were created based on the recommendation of the Committee. The City also created a new Local Improvement District to pay for the costs of the project.
St. Paul, Minn.
Public—City of St. Paul
Public—Dept. of Parks and Recreation
The Plan proposed a division within Parks and Rec. Dept. called "The Great River Passage" because it will have its own revenue stream from a concert venue and parking. It also will have its own executive director.