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Next phase of mayor’s park plan features big ideas for Chicago River

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The ‘Building on Burnham’ plan will focus on citywide park improvements and accessibility

Image from North Branch Framework Plan
City of Chicago

Turning the Chicago River into the city’s next widespread recreational park will be the next focus of Building On Burnham, announced Mayor Emanuel at a press conference on Monday.

The mayor discussed the construction of a new riverfront trail from Ping Tom Memorial Park to Lake Street as well as developing the public space as part of the North Branch Framework Plan. Also, there are plans to make North Avenue Beach more family friendly, add triathlon training amenities to Ohio Street Beach and build a rock climbing wall at Steelworkers’ Park.

Two years ago, Mayor Emanuel first introduced the extensive plan to elevate the city’s lakefront, river, parks and natural areas. Since then the city has invested in public space with projects like the Theater on the Lake, the 606, Lakefront Trail improvements, and increasing park programming and recreation opportunities.

“It is critical that we invest in our urban green spaces and support the recreational opportunities that breathe life into our city,” said Chicago Park District Superintendent and CEO Michael P. Kelly.

Completed projects along the Chicago River include the Riverwalk from Lake Street to the lakefront and the four boathouses—River Park Boathouse in Albany Park, Clark WMS Boathouse in North Center, Ping Tom Boathouse in Chinatown and Eleanor Boathouse in Bridgeport.

There’s more to come, as residents can look forward to the 312 Riverrun project, an eastward extension of the 606, and a new art installation, Art on theMart.

The lakefront is also getting an upgrade with the Navy Pier Flyover project which will connect the North and South side sections of the trail. In addition to this, the Chicago Department of Transportation will build five pedestrian and bike bridges on the South Side.

And thanks to a hefty donation from billionaire Ken Griffin, all 18 miles of the Lakefront Trail will have separate bike and pedestrian pathways. Construction on the entire path from Ardmore Avenue to 71st Street will be completed this year.

The massive plan also takes into account sustainability—the last two coal fire power plants operating within a city were shut down and plans to build affordable housing along El Paseo Trail, which goes through Pilsen and Little Village, are underway.

The city will be working with select architectural firms, known for public space and riverfront design, to update the design guidelines for developers who plan to build along the Chicago River in the near future. That might be relevant for Chicago-based developer Sterling Bay, a company that continues to scoop up both existing buildings and vast developments sites along the North Branch.

Although City Hall sets aside 60 acres new green space in its grand vision to remake the North Branch Industrial Corridor, the mayor’s announcement ignores an independent proposal from two alderman calling for a contiguous 24-acre riverfront park, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.