A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT

Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia - - TRAVEL + LEISURE - — AS TOLD TO PETER TERZIAN

SINCE ITS COM­PLE­TION IN 2016, THE RIVER­WALK—A 2-KILO­ME­TER-LONG PEDES­TRIAN PATH ALONG THE CHICAGO RIVER—HAS BE­COME ONE OF THE CITY’S MOST POP­U­LAR AT­TRAC­TIONS. AR­CHI­TECT CAROL ROSS BAR­NEY, WHOSE NAME­SAKE FIRM

HEADED THE PROJECT, RE­FLECTS ON THE RIVER’S SIG­NIF­I­CANCE— AND HOW THE PROJECT IS IN­SPIR­ING FUR­THER CHANGES.

Chicago thinks of it­self as a city on a lake, but ac­tu­ally it’s a city on a river. The river is why Chicago is here: It was a quick con­nec­tion from the Mis­sis­sippi River Val­ley to the Great Lakes. The Chicago River was an in­dus­trial river—it served the stock­yards—but in time it be­came an open sewer. As the city shifted away from its in­dus­trial past, it left be­hind pol­luted land and water­ways, and in­fra­struc­ture that wasn’t use­ful any­more. To­day, slowly but surely, the Chicago River is be­ing cleaned up.

Ar­chi­tects and plan­ners dreamed about the River­walk (chicagoriver­walk. us) for gen­er­a­tions. There’s a draw­ing of what it might look like in famed ur­ban de­signer Daniel Burn­ham’s plan of Chicago from 1909. Just be­fore 2000, city of­fi­cials re­al­ized that they had to ren­o­vate Wacker Drive, the two-level road that runs along the river on the South Side, and there was enough money left over from that project to start think­ing about the river. Ross Bar­ney Ar­chi­tects de­vel­oped the de­sign of the River­walk over a pe­riod of 15 years with a broad team of col­lab­o­ra­tors.

What peo­ple re­fer to as the River­walk cov­ers eight blocks down­town. It’s a bit like the High Line in New York City, an in­dus­trial space that was left over—it was orig­i­nally the docks that served the Loop. There are play­grounds and pub­lic art­works and restau­rants and cafés along the River­walk, but it’s more park than peo­ple think. In fact, one of the nicest things about it is that it has re­ally en­cour­aged river­side de­vel­op­ment.

I’ve worked on some projects that are pretty high-pro­file and pretty emo­tional, like the re­place­ment of Ok­la­homa City’s Mur­rah Fed­eral Build­ing. But this one has been kind of as­ton­ish­ing. It’s so pop­u­lar that it has ex­ceeded peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions. It’s be­come a sym­bol of the city. If I see an ad about Chicago on TV, nine out of 10 times it shows the River­walk.

In the wake of the suc­cess of the River­walk, the city’s plan­ning coun­cil of­fers grants to other com­mu­ni­ties that want to plan river­front en­vi­ron­ments. It’s an equal-op­por­tu­nity river. It goes through de­pressed and af­flu­ent neigh­bor­hoods. This is a chance to ex­tend green space in a more just way.

The Chicago River of­fers a range of ac­tiv­i­ties, from ar­chi­tec­tural tours to kayak­ing.

Mir­rored canopies over the River­walk.

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