The Future of Our Great Rivers Starts Now

February 23, 2017 , By Chloe Gurin-Sands

Chicago’s rivers are ripe for activation!

Ross Barney Architects

Making riverfront activation a reality was the topic of two recent workshops led by Great Rivers Chicago. Ideas to Action: Turning your riverfront into a neighborhood destination, took place on Thursday, Feb. 16 and again on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. Sponsored by CKL Engineers, LLC and hosted at the Chicago Maritime Museum, both sold-out workshops brought together 140 local residents, community organization leaders, government agencies and environmental groups to talk about their ideas for improving their stretch of river (including the Calumet system, Chicago and Des Plaines).Our rivers and riverfronts need physical improvements, amenities, stewardship, habitat, business and neighborhood programming like public art, recreation, and education. And YOU are the ones who will make it happen.

The workshops featured presentations about the Our Great Rivers vision, the dos and don’ts of placemaking, case studies of successful projects ranging from habitat restoration to programming and stewardship as well as funding opportunities.

The case studies included speakers from Urban Rivers, Friends of the Chicago River, Openlands, and the Little Calumet Waterway Stewards who talked about the process they took to get their ideas off the ground. They emphasized how important it is to work with nonprofit as well as business partners, and to start small to grow big.

The Chicago Community Trust shared information about the newly announced Our Great Rivers Fund, which will fund up to 15 river-adjacent neighborhood projects that align with the Our Great Rivers vision and focus on sustainable development, economic development, human health, or arts and culture. Grants will range from $25,000-100,000, with the possibility of renewal. Applications are due May 31, 2017.

Participants were motivated and inspired to think about innovative ideas that could come to life through variety of funding sources, such as the Chi-Cal Rivers Fund, which supports “green stormwater infrastructure, habitat enhancement and public use improvement” projects in the Chicago and Calumet regions.

Metropolitan Planning Council

Attendees continue to network after the event.

Metropolitan Planning Council

Small group discussion

Staying true to the name, attendees also had the opportunity to “workshop” their ideas with other participants and with our “expert coaches.” These volunteers represented many fields, government agencies and community organizations–such as:  architecture and planning, arts, recreation, events, stewardship, civil engineering, placemaking, microloans, business incubation, grantwriting, and more!

We heard so many great ideas for riverfront projects—from guided river-history canoe trips to public art installations in riverfront parks; from business incubation to restoring fish habitats; from connecting riverfront trails along the Calumet, Chicago and Des Plaines rivers to hosting neighborhood social and recreational events.

We are so inspired by the ideas and plans we heard. To help you make your river idea a reality, we will soon be publishing a resource guide that has information about placemaking, specific agencies and organizations you might need to work with for permitting and planning, as well as funding strategies and case studies to learn from.

To be notified when resource guide is released and receive updates about Great Rivers Chicago, sign up for our email list!

Many wonderful things are already happening along our rivers, and the momentum is clearly growing. Now is the time to take action and make our rivers great!

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