Investing in Chicago’s Rivers, One Neighborhood at a Time

$800K in grants to revitalize communities along Chicago’s river system, thanks to #OurGreatRivers Tweet This

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Last month, the Executive Committee of The Chicago Community Trust approved $800,000 for locally driven projects that seek to revitalize communities along Chicago’s vast river system.

These grants—part of the Our Great Rivers initiative—are a demonstration of the Trust’s ongoing commitment to unlock the potential of the rivers as catalysts for change and inspire new generations of Chicagoans to see the system as a modern asset rather than an industrial relic.

View of the Lathrop Homes from across the riverLathrop Homes. Photo by David Wilson / Flickr

Our Great Rivers Grants

Des Plaines River

  • Active Transportation Alliance, in partnership with the municipalities of Franklin Park and Schiller Park, the Forest Preserves of Cook County and the West Central Municipal Conference, to develop the Central Cook Des Plaines River Trail Coalition. The Coalition will advance the multijurisdictional planning, development and management of the Des Plaines River Trail between Touhy and North Avenues. $50,000

Chicago River – North Branch/Des Plaines River

  • Chicago Public Art Group, in partnership with the American Indian Center and the Portage Park Neighborhood Association, to develop the Northwest Trail Outdoor Museum. The Outdoor Museum will be a living, accessible, outdoor concept featuring multiple art installations and gardens along a 9.5-mile trail, and will tell the story of the Native Americans who settled the area. $75,000

Chicago River – North Branch

  • Heartland Housing, in partnership with The Chicago Housing Authority and Lathrop Community Partners, to establish a “Friends of Lathrop” entity and create a sustainable model of community engagement with a newly revitalized riverfront at Lathrop Homes. $50,000
Canal Street railroad bridgeCanal Street railroad bridge at Ping Tom Park. Photo by ArchitectureChicago PLUS

Chicago River – South Branch

  • Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, in partnership with the Ping Tom Park Advisory Council, Wilderness Inquiry and the Greater Chicago Dragon Boat Club, to strengthen Chinatown as the city’s preeminent riverfront neighborhood through a wayfinding program orienting residents and visitors to the river and culturally significant place-making activities in Ping Tom Park, including a mural installation and dragon boating. $75,000

Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal

  • Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, in partnership with the Southeast Environmental Task Force, to explore the public health implications of Chicago waterways through analyses of industrial sites along the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Calumet River, and to shape policy that attracts sustainable economic and recreational uses to riverfront communities. $85,000
  • Metropolitan Planning Council, in partnership with the South Branch Park Advisory Council, Active Transportation Alliance and Friends of the Chicago River, to build community capacity to plan for and improve riverfront access, including undertaking a feasibility analysis for a contiguous riverfront trail along the South Branch and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. $100,000
Crawford coal plant in Little VillageCrawford coal plant, Little Village. Photo by Midwest Generation

Little Calumet River

  • Forest Preserves of Cook County, in partnership with The Chicago Housing Authority, Metropolitan Planning Council and Altgeld Gardens residents, to conduct a community engagement process for a 10-year plan to connect the Altgeld Gardens housing development with nearby natural amenities, including Beaubien Woods, Flatfoot Lake and the Little Calumet River. $75,000
  • Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago, in partnership with Active Transportation Alliance, archi-treasures, Forest Preserves of Cook County and Terra Engineering, to mobilize far South Side cyclists to inform and support environmental and aesthetic improvements to the Major Taylor Trail near the Little Calumet River. $85,000

Calumet River

  • Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in partnership with Alliance for the Great Lakes, South Chicago Chamber of Commerce, Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago, Claretian Associates, NeighborSpace, Friends of the Parks and Chicago Public Art Group to facilitate a community-led planning process to identify sustainable economic and recreational opportunities along the Calumet River. $130,000
  • Wildlife Habitat Council, in partnership with Southeast Environmental Task Force and OAI, Inc., on behalf of High Bridge, L3C, to promote conservation and activate natural recreation at five locations along the heavily industrialized shoreline of the Calumet River. $75,000

In early 2017, the Trust called on rivers-focused organizations to submit ideas for community-led planning, programs and projects that align with the Our Great Rivers vision. To encourage proposals that mirror the complexity of the river system itself, applicants were asked to integrate two or more Trust funding priorities—namely, sustainable development, economic development, public health and arts and culture. Metropolitan Planning Council administered technical assistance to community organizations on their applications.

The result of this deliberative process is a cohort of Our Great Rivers-inspired initiatives that reflects the diversity of uses and activities along the river system.

Map of Chicago showing community areas and locations of projects from grant applications(click to expand) The Trust received 40 proposals to help achieve the Our Great Rivers vision, totaling more than $3 million in requested funds. The highest number of proposals focused on the South Branch of the Chicago River, Bubbly Creek and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, with Chinatown and Bridgeport serving as an epicenter for river-centric ideas. Map by Chloe Gurin-Sands, Metropolitan Planning Council

In early 2015, the Trust and partners Joyce Foundation and ArcelorMittal worked with City leaders to select Metropolitan Planning Council as principal administrator of a process to explore the potential of Chicago’s river system. With added support from Friends of the Chicago River and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the newly created Great Rivers Chicago initiative engaged more than 6,000 Chicagoans in the creation of Our Great Rivers, Chicago’s first-ever comprehensive vision for the entirety of its river system.

The Our Great Rivers vision provides consensus parameters that guide the community-scale investments required to achieve the vision. The Trust is proud to partner in this effort.