March 18, 2015

Mayor Rahm Emanuel And Metropolitan Planning Council Launch “Great Rivers Chicago”

Project will develop action plan for community, economic and recreational development along Chicago’s rivers

Mayor's Press Office    312.744.3334

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) today announced “Great Rivers Chicago,” an unprecedented effort to create a coordinated long-term vision and plan for economic and community development along Chicago’s riverfronts, building on the excitement around the ongoing Chicago Riverwalk expansion, as well as several new neighborhood amenities.

Over the next 15 months, the City of Chicago and MPC, in partnership with Friends of the Chicago River, topical experts and community stakeholders, will lead a plan for the future of Chicago’s rivers and riverfronts through a series of rigorous community outreach efforts with residents and business owners. The process, entitled “Great Rivers Chicago,” ( will develop a long-term vision and action agenda, exploring all waterways within the city limits—the Calumet, Chicago and Des Plaines Rivers—and asking residents and businesses to think about what they would like to see their riverfronts become and strongly encouraging them to take part in the process.

“Much like Lake Michigan is Chicago’s front yard, the Chicago River is our backyard, and should be an asset that people across the city enjoy,” said Mayor Emanuel. “With the excitement seen around the Chicago Riverwalk expansion, now is the right time to ask residents how they want to interact with their rivers in all of Chicago’s neighborhoods and today's partnership is the first of many steps that will lead to greater use of the river ways by Chicagoans."

Coupled with investment made throughout Chicago's neighborhoods along the river ways, the work will be funded by $350,000 in grants from the Joyce Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust and ArcelorMittal.

Beyond riverfront appearance, Great Rivers Chicago also will lay out a pathway to improved water quality and balanced usage, from freight access to recreational options to invasive species management. Coupled with riverfront improvements, this vision has the potential to transform Chicago’s rivers into a fully integrated network of economic, recreational and community amenities.

“With so many potentially vibrant riverfront neighborhoods, and efforts like Ping Tom Park in Chinatown and the development on Goose Island underway, it’s essential to develop a clear vision for community development along our city’s rivers,” said Terry Mazany, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust. “New development along the rivers, as well as improvements to the river itself, are a key to the vibrancy of the city we live in.”
MPC’s unique regional perspective provides the depth and breadth of expertise to lead this multifaceted effort. The organization has provided hands-on technical assistance in Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs on retail, housing and community development, intermodal freight, stormwater and water supply issues.

“I love every one of Chicago’s 28 miles of lakefront,” said Josh Ellis, director at MPC and the lead for Great Rivers Chicago. “But we have more than 100 miles of riverfront. Our rivers link our economy, environment and communities, and they have incredible potential for so much more. We’ve made great progress. Great Rivers Chicago will determine what comes next.”

Mayor Emanuel has appointed a Leadership Commission to spearhead Great Rivers Chicago, in conjunction with MPC. Leadership Commission experts and civic leaders include:

  • Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan
  • Paul Roldan, Hispanic Housing Development Corporation
  • Jeanne Gang, StudioGang Architects; 
  • Carol Ross Barney, Ross Barney Architects;
  • Mike Holzer, North Branch Works
  • Commissioner Andy Mooney, Chicago Dept. of Planning and Development
  • Michael Forde, Illinois International Port District
  • Paul Ozinga, Ozinga RMC, Inc.
  • Todd Hudson, ARTCO Lemont, and Illinois River Carriers Association
  • Mike Borgstrom, Wendella Sightseeing Company, Inc.
  • General Superintendent Mike Kelly, Chicago Park District
  • Jamil Satchu, IRI Global Analytics and Consulting, and World Sport Chicago
  • Kim Wasserman, Little Village Environmental Justice Corporation
  • Ted Beattie, Shedd Aquarium
  • Suzanne Malec-McKenna, Chicago Wilderness; 
  • David Farren, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation
  • Michael Faron, W. E. O'Neil Construction Company
  • Commissioner Mariyana Spyropoulos, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
  • General Superintendent Arnold Randall, Forest Preserve District of Cook County
  • Sandra Bruce, Presence Health
  • Dorri McWhorter, YWCA Chicago
  • Darryl Tom, Quintairos, Prieto, Wood and Boyer, P.A., and Chinatown Chamber of Commerce
  • Howard Radzely, The Boeing Company

“As Chicago invests in its riverfront downtown and its many riverside neighborhoods, it’s important to remember that our rivers are literally ecosystems that run through people’s communities—and that people are part of those ecosystems,” said Suzanne Malec-McKenna, executive director of Chicago Wilderness and a member of the Leadership Commission for Great Rivers Chicago. “Chicago Wilderness is excited to be involved in this effort to better connect all Chicago residents with the natural world.”

Mayor Emanuel’s goal of making the Chicago River the city’s next recreational frontier launched in 2011 with the construction of three new boathouses throughout the city as well as a fourth in the Bridgeport neighborhood that is set to be completed by 2016. The City’s commitment to investing in increased recreational usage of the river ways is also evident in the recent expansion of Ping Tom Memorial Park that opened along the Chicago River, north of 18th Street at the edge of the Chinatown and South Loop neighborhoods. The park reflects the City's pledge to river development with a $6 million investment in new parkland, riverwalk, native plantings, topography, new vistas, boat landings and a "disappearing" staircase into the water.

For more information about Great Rivers Chicago, please contact MPC Communications Director Mandy Burrell Booth at 312.863.6018 or


For more than 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area's toughest planning and development challenges. MPC works to solve today's urgent problems while consistently thinking ahead to prepare the region for the needs of tomorrow.