By Allison Matyus

The Chicago River stretches 156 miles through downtown, forest preserves, and residential communities. That’s 156 miles of opportunity to really make the Chicago River not only a geographical part of Chicago, but a destination in itself.

The idea to attract Chicagoans to the river started with the Chicago River Walk in 2015, and it’s continuing through the River Edge Ideas Lab. In partnership with Friends of the Chicago River and the Metropolitan Planning Council, visions and ideas for what the Chicago River edge could become sprouted last year.

“Chicago has three sectors of the river running through it, and there hasn’t really been a unifying vision for them,” said Chloe Gurin-Sands, an associate at Metropolitan Planning Council. “People really want a continuous riverfront trail and access to the river that mirrors a plan that the city has and desires to have.”

The main goal for the River Edge Ideas Lab is to get people’s input on what types of elements they like and don’t like in order to put forth new guidelines that will influence the future of development on the Chicago River. According to Gurin-Sands, the last guidelines for the development for the Chicago River were published in 1999, so it’s overdue for an update.

To create concepts of what a potential plan would look like, nine different design firms were asked to create a vision for three different sites on the Chicago River that would imagine the possibilities of future development. Ideas included adding trails, beaches, landscape, and structures that would increase interaction between people and the river.

Gurin-Sands said that according to the Our Great Rivers document that was drafted in August 2016 by the Metropolitan Planning Council in partnership with the City of Chicago’s Mayor’s Office, Friends of the Chicago River, and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, that there are three main things people want to see on the riverfront.

“We heard from 6,000 people across the city and people want the river to be inviting and somewhere they want to go,” she said. “Somewhere where there is an interaction between humans and wildlife, a productive atmosphere, and supportive of tourism and business for economic activity.”

She said the River Edge Lab in particular is an exciting way for people to see ideas about how these three themes play out. Since last September up until Jan. 7, the River Edge Idea Lab was on display at Expo 72, thanks in part to sponsorship by Comcast NBC Universal. The project invited people’s feedback about each of the 27 different visions.

Over the course of the four months the River Edge Ideas Lab was at Expo 72, Gurin-Sands said that over 250 people filled out a survey about their feedback on the project and ideas. She said the next step in the project is that within the next month or so, they will be presenting the feedback they received to the Chicago community.

“People are welcome to still submit comments via the email on the website, but we are in the process of going through all the feedback,” Gurin-Sands said. “We want to come together with an interesting and fun way to present it back to the public.”

For updates on the new location of the River Edge Ideas Lab project and when feedback will be presented to the community, you can sign up on the project’s main website to receive updates.