By 2040, Chicago’s rivers will be inviting, productive and living, providing everyone with opportunities to find or create their own place, their own experience and their own community on our rivers.

Our rivers will invite us to engage in stewardship, recreation and work.

Our rivers will connect people to nature, in the city and beyond, and function as thriving ecosystems.

Our rivers will be the best of us, where communities, habitats and businesses prosper together.

Ultimately, our rivers will define us, rivaling the lakefront in our hearts and minds, and become a key source of pride for metropolitan Chicago.

Our Great Rivers is the result of the most varied and sweeping public outreach process in the 82-year history of the Metropolitan Planning Council.

6,000+ people contributed to Our Great Rivers.

With help from Friends of the Chicago River and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, we met people where they use—or hope to use—our rivers, to see the present and future through their eyes.

We organized nine community open houses, plus factory visits, paddling trips, site walks, bike rides, boat tours, design charrettes and more. All told, there were more than 100 formal and informal opportunities for Chicagoans to tell us their vision. We also dug into reams of past reports and findings, and conducted original research. While we did our best to reach everyone we could, we know that there are many more people who have no relationship to our rivers, or difficulty accessing them, who must be engaged moving forward.

Our Leadership Commission, appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Resource Group met a total of 17 times and collectively gave thousands of hours to help us grapple with conflicting interests, deepen our knowledge on particular issues and serve as a sounding board for ideas.

Our Great Rivers is truly a product of the many ideas, suggestions and beliefs that Chicagoans hold for the future of our rivers. We met with hundreds of people where they use (or hope to use) our rivers to see the present and future through their eyes.

Despite the many forms our rivers take and their unique character in each neighborhood, we heard the same sentiments from residents from around the city and suburbs. People consistently told us about five key changes they would like to see for the future of our rivers:

  • Better access
  • More recreational opportunities
  • Improved aesthetics, water quality and habitat
  • More business and tourism along the rivers
  • More job opportunities along the rivers

We asked people questions to better understand how they currently use our rivers today and how they would describe current conditions, real or perceived. We also asked residents about their vision for the future, and what opportunities or areas for improvements they had in mind. The most frequently mentioned words from these answers were:

Recreation     Watercraft     Trails     Entertainment     Access     Biking     Pollution     Jobs     Wildlife     Safety

We asked a range of questions, in different formats, that produced qualitative answers. We recorded, coded and analyzed these responses in a database of community input. Learn more in the Appendix.

Why a vision, and how will we use it?

The vision of Our Great Rivers is a guide, not a mandate, meant to create expectations and establish priorities, not hinder flexibility or creativity.

For each section, you'll find aspirational visions of our rivers' future, looking out to 2020, 2030 and 2040, with recommended actions for the public and government to take. This is not a description of current conditions, but a vision of the future, and the full realization of the idea in question. We timed the goals based on a combination of feasibility and priority.

The vision articulates a greater whole that unifies discrete activities—e.g. a new park here, a new business there—increasing their impact and significance by making them part of something greater.

The vision inspires detailed plans, new projects, new designs and new ideas for buildings, public spaces, landscapes, habitats, policies and businesses.

The vision motivates residents and elected officials alike to invest time and energy in our rivers, and guides the development of new programs and infrastructure. Ultimately, the vision provides a basis upon which to prioritize the allocation of public resources.

Explore the goals

Spread the word

Stay up to date and keep track of our progress