Water Line…Chicagos Urban River Corridor

Chicago has transformed from an industrial giant that depended on the Chicago River for moving materials in and out, to an influential 21st century global metropolis. The River itself, as it passes through Chicago\’s downtown, has been slower to transform than the City it runs through.River HistoryThis slow flowing river traditional came thru the inland dunes and prairies and led to the southern portion of Lake Michigan. The River created a short cut from the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes. Native Americans knew this for generations and showed European travelers this water based connection in 1673.The critical water transport link between the River and the Lake became the very reason Chicago located here. However, as the City grew, the River was used for flushing waste and sewage into Lake Michigan and it soon became clear that the City was polluting its own drinking water.The River was reversed by building the Sanitary and Ship Canal linking the River to the Des Plaines River and to the Mississippi River. This allowed Chicago to flush its waste down to the Gulf of Mexico. Today, the River passes through faded industrial lands, major rail stations, and the very center of the financial district. A New Century ViewThis design studio will take a fresh look at the South Branch of the Chicago River between Wolff Point and the Near South Side of the City. This corridor, of one mile, touches Chicago\’s Central City, its transit hubs, its office core, and its emerging residential and arts neighborhoods. We will examine, together, a series of issues/opportunities linked by this constrained, urban river corridor including:A future high speed rail hub that will link Chicago to other major citiesMajor vacant lands and vacant buildingsA lack of public open space and a quality public realmRiver Water qualityWater transit opportunitiesCreating a positive amenity that becomes a focus for the CityThe opportunity to strengthen Wildlife habitatsThis is a challenging and complex urban place. The City has squeezed the River into a tight corridor that is neither pedestrian friendly, civic in nature or environmentally smart. It is a River that is crossed by over 1,000,000 pedestrian trips every day. Yet rarely do people stop and contemplate the River as a positive amenity or a place one wants to spend time. Can this River space be transformed, informing the use of the major vacant spaces along it, and the infrastructure that feeds it? Can this space enliven the serious nature of this financial core, providing diversity, light, activities, and quality? Can we rethink the ecology of the River to make it a healthier waterway?From the collective studio assessments, urban design principles will be defined. Individual projects will then be developed that collectively add to the place, the interconnectivity of the City, the quality of urban life and the environmental quality of the River.Tours will be arranged to travel up and down the River and meetings with civic leaders and community activists will be scheduled. One or perhaps two trips to Chicago will be planned.