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After a long time coming, the Chicago Riverwalk has opened to much acclaim. Visitors were thrilled by the initial reveal and looked with anticipation toward future developments.

What was once a river of refuse has become some of Chicago’s most coveted property. The new Chicago Riverwalk has created a space to celebrate the evolution of one of the city’s iconic natural features. Since the 1990s, Mayor Richard M. Daley and his successor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, have made the Riverwalk a priority. Both desired to create an oasis in the Loop that celebrates the river as a major force that has helped shape Chicago.

Sinking Barges, Endless Devotion

The project has been ongoing. Construction on Wacker Drive made it possible to accommodate pedestrians in the 1990s, followed by the completion of a Riverwalk Vietnam Memorial in 2005. In 2009, a section at Michigan Avenue and Wabash was completed, followed by a 2011 expansion project that extended the path from Ogilvie Station in the heart of downtown all the way to our beautiful lakefront. Over the last several years, pedestrians have watched the construction of the Riverwalk—barges carrying supplies (one actually sank), engineers and construction workers toiling through torrential rains and cold. Chicago-based Carol Ross Barney Architects collaborated with Boston-based Sasaki and Associates to design, shape and execute this vision, with the initial phase opening in June of 2015.

What’s New and What’s To Come

With a yawp of joy—and despite actual flooding from the rains of 2015's summer—the public flooded the new addition, which is divided into three separate arenas for play and relaxation. Each section is thematically different:

  • Lounge on oak benches at The Marina.
  • Tie up your boat and launch your kayak at The Cove.
  • Anticipate possible stages floating atop the river at The River Theater, or use the space’s tiered amphitheater seating to do some world-class people-watching. 

The most thrilling component of the project, however, is the flush design. The concrete pathway extends almost to river-level, where you can get as close as you feel comfortable.

As progress continues, we can expect the remaining sections—The Swimming Hole (LaSalle to Wells), The Jetty (Wells to Franklin) and The Boardwalk (Franklin to Lake)—to open to great interest and excitement.

This first phase opened with accolades from the critics. Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune noted that the Riverwalk is a “bold stroke worthy of Daniel Burnham.” But beyond its beauty, the new Riverwalk is an audacious step away from the one-time river of refuse and a step toward better, smarter and more people-friendly public spaces in and around the Loop.