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2020 Our Great Rivers Grantees: Putting a Spotlight on Productive

Calumet river view

In 2018, MPC tracked and wrote about the progress of and inaugural 10 riverfront projects funded by The Chicago Community Trust’s Our Great Rivers grant. 2019 saw the addition of 4 new projects and 7 continuing projects. 

We are pleased to announce that the 2020 Our Great Rivers grantees have been selected!  In 2020, 8 projects will be funded, representing both new projects and exciting new developments in existing partnerships. The funded projects all have a more intentional focus on equitable development, creative strategies for using the rivers to begin building community wealth, and the Productive theme of the Our Great Rivers vision. In addition, a handful of the projects focus on improving health and climate resilience in industrial riverfront areas, where decades of pollution continue to affect nearby residents. Utilizing the rivers to improve air quality, water quality, and climate resilience is more important now than ever amidst COVID-19, a respiratory health crisis being exacerbated by pollution exposure. 

In the coming year, MPC will continue to convene project leaders and their partners to build upon the existing cohort of river activators to share best practices, support local initiatives, and advocate for improved planning processes across the City which fully integrate the riverfronts. See below for a brief description of the funded projects. 

2020 Projects

Alliance for the Great Lakes, as a facilitator for the Calumet Connect Partnership, will continue to build out a local network of community organizations and municipal agencies to ensure the Calumet Databook – a compilation of public health, environmental justice, and economic data – is used as the foundation for the City’s Calumet Industrial Corridor Modernization Initiative. Calumet Connect will collect qualitative data to fill quantitative data gaps and elevate the experiences of residents. It will also leverage additional funds to complete environmental studies, design, engineering, and remediation for a community play space project located at 92nd and Buffalo/Ewing, site of the future Calumet River Gateway Garden in South Chicago. The Calumet Connect Partnership includes a Community Advisory Committee comprised of local Southeast side organizations such as Claretian Associates and the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke, and an Industrial Corridor Working Group which includes nonprofit research organizations such as the Center for Neighborhood Technology, UIC School of Public Health, and MPC.

American Indian Center will continue with its third year of programming for the Northwest Portage Walking Museum. The team will create cultural and ecological stewardship tours, which will showcase cultural knowledge from communities that have called the Northside home. They will create ecological stewardship programs in partnership with the Forest Preserves of Cook County and provide youth with summer employment opportunities by equipping them with the knowledge and skills to lead canoe tours of the river and the recently constructed effigy mound sites, the first known Native American mounds to be built in the U.S. since the colonization of North America. Partners include the Chicago Public Art Group, Forest Preserves, and Portage Park Neighborhood Association.

Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, building upon the previous rounds of Our Great Rivers grant funding, plans to create two summer pop-up dinner events under the Chinatown viaducts featuring backdrops of the popular “All As One” and “Between the Mountains and the Water” murals. This placemaking opportunity will be enhanced by new signage and lighting. The team will also conduct a baseline study of the business landscape and survey event attendees and Chicago Water Taxi users to collect data on visitor demographics, spending habits, and activities conducted while in Chinatown. The team includes CBCAC, Ping Tom Park Advisory Council, Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, Chinatown #73 SSA, Wendella Tours, and Northern Illinois University.

Current Innovation NFP’s H2NOW Chicago aims to become the first water quality monitoring project in the U.S. to measure microbial pollutants in real-time, a critical step toward better stewardship and more productive utilization of riverfront land. With tangible, visible information about water quality and related education, H2NOW enables Chicagoans to make more informed decisions about how to engage with the river, leading to increased activity. This project will inform policy advocacy, systemic management and investment decisions to better utilize the Chicago River as a catalytic asset for equitable community and economic development. Partners include the City of Chicago, World Business Chicago, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and technical providers such as Comcast and ESRI.

Nature Conservancy, partnership with Metropolitan Planning Council, will work toward launching a stormwater credit trading program, StormStore™, in Chicago and Cook County. A stormwater trading program is an innovative environmental market solution that enables productive redevelopment while encouraging intentional siting of stormwater infrastructure where the impact is maximized. Riverfront sites are often ideal for stormwater infrastructure. In 2020, the team will focus on helping residents, community groups and municipalities develop proof-of-concept projects at riverfront sites that can be used to demonstrate how a stormwater exchange will function.

North River Commission will activate an underutilized, river-adjacent site in Albany Park to establish a new neighborhood gateway, a platform for lively economic activity, a space for authentic cultural expression, and a catalyst that spurs investment in a vital neighborhood commercial corridor: Lawrence Avenue. Named “Confluence,” the project creates a civic commons via a public market, where local underserved Latino entrepreneurs develop their businesses, residents access amenities, and visitors experience Albany Park’s diverse cultures through food, art, and craft. Confluence will launch with community-driven planning and implementation to create a new, iconic riverfront destination, and build capacity that will continue to support local businesses and attract investment. Partners include the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce, Chicago Park District, and the Global Garden Refugee Training Farm.

OAI, Inc., will identify opportunities to build out a service-sharing model for green infrastructure along the Calumet and Little Calumet rivers.  The team will work with riverfront municipalities to develop a shared contract for high-quality maintenance at a lower cost to each municipality. The program also trains community residents for green infrastructure maintenance jobs, providing a match between municipalities’ specialized needs and those seeking employment. The project leverages public-private partnerships, cross-sector collaborations, and workforce development to increase equity by maintaining and protecting natural assets in Black and Latinx communities, creating jobs, and decreasing flooding. Partners include the Morton Arboretum, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Village of Calumet Park, and the City of Blue Island.

University of Illinois Great Cities Institute (GCI) will create a site plan for a scenic overlook with riverfront trail access on the Calumet River between the Chicago Skyway and 100th Street. This part of the Calumet River is largely inaccessible for public use, and the Southeast Side communities identified this site as a strong opportunity to provide public access to the river. The site was also identified in GCI’s Calumet River Communities Planning Framework, which was funded in the first Our Great Rivers grant cycle. Partners include the National Park Service, Calumet Collaborative, and Active Transportation Alliance