Architect: Ross Barney Architects
Owner: City of Chicago
Catalyzing the slow-rolling transformation of the city’s neglected spaces and the remnants of its industrial heyday, the Chicago Riverwalk is an achievement of 15 years of planning and construction. A 1.25-mile-long civic space running between Lake Michigan and multiple confluences of the Chicago River, this project has activated the waterfront and transformed the urban span of the river from overlooked industrial sink to cherished civic amenity.
A reinvention of life in Chicago’s booming core, the Riverwalk was envisioned, block by block, as a series of unique rooms defined by the infrastructure surrounding it. A series of connections running under the city’s famed bascule bridges stitches them all together. The Riverwalk’s completion represents the realization of a key aspect of Daniel Burnham’s “1909 Plan of Chicago,” which designated the river as a place for both leisure and commerce. Since its opening, countless visitors have flocked to the river’s edge to explore it further and enjoy wine bars, kayak tours, water taxi access, and a host of public programs.
"This is an exemplary urban intervention; the design and execution are perfect." ~ Jury statement
Beyond connecting residents and visitors to the water in exciting ways, the Riverwalk has played a significant role in altering the river’s water quality. Forty years ago the number of aquatic species to be found there reached its nadir at seven. Today, according to Friends of the Chicago River, that number has risen to 75 and continues to trend upward.
The success of the Riverwalk has had a transformative impact on the city’s economic landscape as well. It helped spur the implementation of Great Rivers Chicago, an effort by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Metropolitan Planning Council to develop a long-term economic and community development vision for the city’s riverfronts. So far the initiative has paved the way for a massive 3,600-unit development located across from a 62-acre parcel that was recently snatched up by another developer. Overall, it is estimated that the Riverwalk has generated nearly $7 billion in construction value for Chicago.
"The impact on the community is transformative." ~ Jury statement