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Chicago Rivers' Ashland confluence

The Chicago Rivers Plan, published in 2016, outlines three stages of development to clean, connect, revitalize and enhance languishing riverfront sites. Presently, few Chicagoans feel comfortable being around portions of the river. As undeveloped isolated properties, they are uncared for and unproductive. Of the five locations selected, this report will focus on the South Fork, where industry meets residents.

The Ashland project, near the Orange line CTA station and I-55 highway merging ramps, will probably connect several different sites along the confluence of the South Branch Chicago River and the Fork. In less than a couple miles the fork portion ends. It is strongly within the interest of community residents, businesses, and the city to work together and turn this vision into a reality.

The plan advocates beginning with a Chicago River Brand that connect the North and South Branches, dozens of walkways, trails, biking paths, parks, and regions of Chicago together. This daunting effort of unification, signage, and committees’ meetings hope to be completed by 2020. Real-time water quality information, management, and activities to engage residents will usher progress until 2030. Within a decade, all the riverfront trails will be continuous. Dozens of neighborhoods will gain access to the water. Sustained efforts of quality control aim to be 100% litter- and odor- free by 2040.

With galvanized efforts, and this vision, it seems very likely that reluctant residents of Chicago today, may head to the river for recreational activities like swimming, canoeing, and dining. When planning for development , the idea of “path dependency,” has never been clearer than this investigation into what might be done to revitalize tracts of land, preserve wildlife, and encourage business development and growth.


Title: Chicago River & Canal system:

What is happening on Ashland?

Star-date: 20170722

Location: 41.843770, -87.662625


The Ashland community comprises of residents in Pilsen, Bridgeport, McKinley Park, China-town, and beyond. Finger, esker-like extensions (man-made / glacier made?) extend between the streets of Ashland and Halsted. Thus, several riverbanks become isolated at this branching point. Connectivity is proposed by building a pedestrian bridge over Bubbly Creek.

During my 6 am visit, I saw St. Ignasius Highschool alumni rowing, docking, and the crew carrying their boat into the boathouse at Park #571. Seagull-like birds and geese roamed. A barge slowly made its way to Lake Michigan… these various pursuits, may have conflicting interests for the river. These will be negotiated through in the committes and years to come.

The planners believe ‘a mixed-use development will create a vibrant hub of activity.’ Currently, along the South Fork, one sees several warehouses, large and small industrial operations, single family homes, and visible even in the satellite image on the left, at least three large concreted properties with no development. At least one of these sites are privately held, perhaps by what may have once been a Chicago river-transport related business.

The housing development I came across, south of I-55 mimicked the public boathouse infrastructure – so recently built, it does not show-up in the satellite pictures?! As a suburbanite, I felt the variegated homes well-coordinated as they were, were lacking in ingenuity, on the smaller side and a curious choice, over say a medium-sized apartment complex or building. It would be a treat understanding the budgeting, design, and decision making process by Morgan Street Development for the Riverbend Estates site of 17 single family homes… over the many alternatives that must have been considered.


Having water taxis between the Canal Origins Park and #571 would be a non-infrastructural connection between the two South Fork river banks.

Stewardship for the rivers is entrusted between many public and private organizations: Chicago Park District, Department of Water Management, Forest Preserves of Cook County, EPA, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, the Chicago Park Foundation, Friends of the River, as well as the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Nurturing a thriving eco-system while balancing business and harbor operations, building controls for storm-water, gardens, cisterns, and over-flow make this a challenge. Nevertheless, a few decades from now, dreamers may see these transformations manifest for a greener, more naturally harmonious Chicago.

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