Long-awaited Chicago Riverwalk brings leisure to the heart of the city

We were entrusted with the responsibility to transform what had become a post-industrial leftover into a 21st century urban waterfront. It returns the river to Chicago and returns Chicagoans to the river.
– Carol Ross Barney

After 15 years and three phases of development, Chicago studio Ross Barney Architects have completed their dramatic transformation of the city’s central riverfront – the most visible public project in the city since Millennium Park opened in 2004.

The Chicago Riverwalk – a 1.5 mile (2.41 km) promenade along the Chicago River lined with public amenities, restaurants, cultural activities and access to natural habitats for city residents and visitors – was once an industrial space that had fallen into disuse.

Carol Ross Barney, the lead design architect for the project – developed in collaboration with landscape architects Sasaki Associates (Phases 2 and 3) – said the aim was to “return the river to Chicago and return Chicagoans to the river.”

“The swampy Chicago River gave birth to arguably the greatest city of the 20th Century,” she said. “In Chicago’s formative years, the river was its lifeline, brimming with traffic. The urban planner Daniel Burnham built his 1909 plan for Chicago on a civic waterway and promenade along the river.

"We were entrusted with the responsibility to finally complete that vision and transform what had become a post-industrial leftover into a 21st century urban waterfront."

Since opening in late October, the Riverwalk has experienced high foot traffic, with restaurants reporting an average of 45 minute wait times for tables, and water boat and bike tours sold to capacity.

In addition to their work on the Riverwalk, Ross Barney Architects have also collaborated with the City of Chicago and the Metropolitan Planning Council to provide a wider unified vision for the Calumet, Chicago and Des Plaines Rivers.

Their report, titled Our Great Rivers, sets out how the city’s waterways – which are home to more than 70 species of fish and encompass 150 miles of riverfront – are “an evolving ecosystem of inestimable natural value” that should be “reconnected to the daily experience of the city.”

Speaking about the city’s approach to its rivers and their importance to urban regeneration, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said: “From opening new boat houses to reinventing the Riverwalk, we’ve made significant investments in the Chicago River to make it the city’s next recreational frontier.

“We will continue our efforts to ensure that residents across the city have access to recreational opportunities on all three of the city’s rivers.”

Chicago Riverwalk  Chicago  architecture  design  Chicago River  Rahm Emanuel  Ross Barney Architects  
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After 15 years and three phases of development, Chicago studio Ross Barney Architects have completed their dramatic transformation of the city’s central riverfront – the most visible public project in the city since Millennium Park opened in 2004. The Chicago Riverwalk – a 1.5 mile (2.41 km) promenade along the Chicago River lined with public amenities, restaurants, cultural activities and access to natural habitats for city residents and visitors –
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After 15 years, Chicago studio Ross Barney Architects have completed their dramatic transformation of the city’s central riverfront / Kate Joyce Studios
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Company profile: Alliance Leisure Services Ltd
The company’s core business is the provision of facility development and support for local authorities, educational establishments and leisure trusts that want to improve or expand the leisure products and services they offer.
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