Yesterday afternoon, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel officially revealed a new vision for Chicago’s public parks, lakefront, and river as part of an initiative dubbed ‘Building on Burnham’ — a name intended to evoke the famed Chicago architect and park-friendly urban planner. While Emanuel touted the prior achievements of his administration such as opening 750 new acres of parkland, 256 new playgrounds, the first phase of the Chicago River Walk, and the elevated 606 trail, the mayor also looked towards the future, announcing plans to increase park access for all Chicagoans and expanded programming.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of Emanuel's plan involves an initiative to separate cyclists from walkers and joggers along much of the city’s busy Lakefront Trail. A long-time goal of city officials, the trail improvements will take place over a three year period, according to a WBEZ interview with the mayor.
Emanuel also heralded the Paseo project, a new pedestrian and bike trail replacing an abandoned rail line on Chicago’s lower west side. While certainly significant announcements, both the Paseo news as well as the plan for a widened and partitioned Chicago Lakefront Trail were reported in the media days before Tuesday’s press conference took place.
The mayor spent a portion of his speech touching on the Chicago River, declaring the waterway Chicago’s "next great recreational park." Emanuel praised the city's increased access to its river thanks to a series of newly constructed boathouses and applauded the recent news of water quality improvement efforts.
Though parkland improvement is the type of feel-good story usually universally welcomed, many can’t help but view the mayor’s announcement through a more cynical, political lens. For example, Chicago’s most high-profile park story, the on going legal battle between the Emanuel administration and Friends of the Parks over the proposed lakefront Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts, was never mentioned during the speech.
The Chicago Tribune even dismissed the ‘Building on Burnham’ name by labeling it as "the latest example of the mayor slapping a quotable title on a speech to try to help it gain traction and underscore that he means it to have special significance."
View Mayor Rahm Emanuel's full announcement in full below:
- Mayor Emanuel Announces Building on Burnham, A Comprehensive Strategy To Invest In Chicago’s Waterfronts, Parks And Neighborhoods [City of Chicago]
- Mayor Emanuel Outlines Changes To Chicago’s Lakefront Trail [WBEZ]
- Emanuel makes parks pitch [Chicago Tribune]
- The Mayor Announces "Building On Burnham" [Youtube]
- Chicago Parks archives [Curbed Chicago]