The Chicago Riverwalk is one of a number of initiatives to reclaim the Chicago River for the ecological and recreational benefit of the city. The goal of creating a fishable and swimmable river seemed impossible twenty years ago given the river's high levels of pollution. But today the vision is becoming a reality. The recent improvements in river water quality and the increased intensity of public recreational river use signal a growing life along the river, and suggest new potential connections with the water's edge. Building off previous studies, Sasaki developed the Chicago Riverwalk Concept Plan for the continuation of the riverfront public realm from State Street to Lake Street. The Chicago Riverwalk Concept Plan was inspired by the life of the river and finalizes the framework for the future of public access from the lake all the way to the confluence of the river's urban branches.
The design team worked within a 25-foot-wide permitted river build-out area to expand the pedestrian program spaces and to create underbridge connections. This expansion into the river completes the historic vision for a Chicago civic promenade along Wacker Drive developed by the famous 19th century urban planner, Daniel Burnham. The concept plan finally joins all the arcade spaces between each bridgehouse into one connected pedestrian path system.
Honoring these new connections of and potential for the river, each block takes on the form and program of a different river-based typology. These river spaces include a marina plaza, a cove, a river theater, a swimming hole, a jetty, and a fishing hole. As a connected path system, the concept plan's framework provides continuity while also offering uniqueness through the distinct programs and forms of each typological space. This variety allows for diverse experiences on the river ranging from unique dining opportunities, to expansive public event programming, to new amenities for human-powered craft.
Sasaki, along with a core design team including Ross Barney Architects and Alfred Benesch Engineers and a broader technical consultant team, is now in the process of construction documentation for the first three blocks of the Chicago Riverwalk.