Letter from the team

When we set out to lead this process, we knew the work would be daunting: one document to convey a consensus-based future for three very different rivers, encompassing more than 150 miles of riverfront, connecting dozens of unique riverfront neighborhoods.

Our rivers constitute a final urban frontier that occupies the imaginations of our city’s leading architects, designers and developers. They attract runners, walkers, paddlers, birders and tourists. They sustain tug boat and tour boat operators, industrialists, entrepreneurs and restaurateurs.

There is no shortage of good ideas for our rivers—and more importantly, many of these ideas are compatible and widely held. At the heart of them all is a sincere desire to embrace our rivers and maximize their potential today and in the future.

This process has confirmed the core of Chicago’s vision for our rivers: We want inviting, productive and living rivers and riverfronts. This will look differently in different places. We will have forested trails, diverse and historic neighborhoods, the heart of downtown, job centers and restored open spaces. While certain stretches of river are more compatible with a specific type of use, as a whole, Chicago’s 150-plus mile system creates myriad opportunities for people to have an unparalleled metropolitan river experience.

This report represents the city and region’s collective next step in what has been nearly five decades of work to reclaim our rivers from a history of environmental abuse. It should guide a sustained, structured civic engagement that unites philanthropic, public and private leadership to realize this vision. Metropolitan Planning Council and Friends of the Chicago River are in this for the long haul, and we are confident our funders and partners will be too.

Our Great Rivers has been an honor and a privilege to lead. We sincerely thank our funders, partners, Mayor Emanuel and his team, the Leadership Commission and Resource Group, our staff and the thousands of Chicagoans who have worked with us to create this vision and action agenda. This is your vision for our rivers, Chicago, and it’s a beautiful one.

What’s next? We need to build trails, restore habitats, repair shorelines, clean the water, protect plants and animals, start businesses, change policies and connect communities back to our rivers. We can do all these things and more if we work together.

See you on the rivers,

Josh Ellis, Metropolitan Planning Council

MarySue Barrett, Metropolitan Planning Council

Margaret Frisbie, Friends of the Chicago River

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