City to host global waterfront forum


Wesley Herold

Chicago will get the chance to show the world its recent river enhancements this March as it hosts a global mayors’ forum on urban waterfront redevelopment.

By Courtney Wolfe

In the midstof a major initiative to renovate the city’s waterfronts, Chicago will get a chance to showcase  its work during a global mayors’ forum on urban waterfront redevelopment early next year. 

Josh Ellis, vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, the organization responsible for the Our Great Rivers project that recently released a report on how the city’s river system will be redesigned, said it made sense Chicago was chosen as the destination for the March 13, 2017, forum.

“Chicago has made a lot of efforts in enhancing its range of waterfronts over the years,” Ellis said. “We have a more diverse array of waterfronts than most other cities because we not only have a lake and rivers, but the rivers are so different in different parts of the city.” 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced that the two cities would be co-hosting the forum, according to a Dec. 1 press release from the mayor’s office.

The press release said the forum comes at a crucial time because transportation and manufacturing have evolved, and old industrial waterfronts are ready for re-purposing.

“As we re-imagine, redevelop and reinvest in our waterfronts in Chicago, we can learn from cities across the world undergoing similar transformations—and they can learn from Chicago as well,” Emanuel said in the press release.

Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, another organization active in improving Chicago’s waterfronts, said she is delighted Chicago was chosen as the example city.

“It’s a testament to how innovative Chicago is,” Frisbie said. “We have been a leader in many things for a long time, and Mayors Emanuel and Daley have really made Chicago a world class city. [It] is the kind of forum that will draw international attention appropriately to the truth that Chicago is an important city across the world.” 

Ellis said he hopes other mayors will see that Chicago is developing the river fronts in all neighborhoods, not just tourist areas.

“[I hope they would see] that there are ways to bring people to the rivers through a whole mix of community types and land use settings,” Ellis said. “Rivers really can be connectors for neighborhoods; [they] can connect people to work, connect people to nature.”

Water access is a universal interest and one that deserves attention, said David Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, that represents 127 U.S. and Canadian cities around the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence Seaway. Emanuel serves on the organization’s Board of Directors.

“Water really is magical,” Ullrich said. “People love to be near water, and what is so significant, particularly with the renewed emphasis on the Chicago River, is that these are forgotten resources. They are the ones that have been abused for hundreds of years with industrial and municipal waste and bad land use planning.”

Frisbie said Emanuel spoke to her briefly about being  involved in the forum, but there is still extensive planning  to be done.

“It is still unfolding what the final summit will look like, but bringing these people together to look at our river and our city is a really exciting opportunity across the board,” Frisbie said. “Especially given the political changes afoot, it is nice that we will be establishing Chicago’s identity as a big city for big ideas.”