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Announcing the 2022 Our Great Rivers Projects: Supporting Healthier River Communities

North River Commission

Since 2018, the Metropolitan Planning Council has been tracking the progress of riverfront projects funded through The Chicago Community Trust’s support for Great Rivers Chicago and the Our Great Rivers vision. So far, 20 projects have been supported by The Trust, and are continuing to make major changes throughout the river system. Learn more about these projects in MPC’s interactive story map

Drum roll please: The Chicago Community Trust has selected the next round of Our Great Rivers grantees! In 2022, eight projects will be funded, including new projects and the expansion of existing projects. This cycle’s grantees all have an intentional focus on the living theme of the Our Great Rivers vision, exploring how to improve the health of Chicago’s waterways to benefit humans, habitat, and the environment. Additionally, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for complete communities, where services and amenities are relevant, affordable, and accessible — and this includes high-quality natural areas. At their best, Chicago’s riverfronts promote wellbeing by providing space for physical recreation, social connection, and psychological restoration. This year’s projects touch on these themes and will create healthier river communities.   

2022 Projects

Alliance for the Great Lakes. In close partnership with the Southeast Environmental Task Force, the Alliance will work with City of Chicago planning staff, elected officials, and community leaders to create a model community engagement process for the Calumet Industrial Corridor Modernization initiative and other planning processes within the City. Partners will advance policies that ensure equitable land use practices and lead community advocacy events that elevate local leaders, activate community members, and uplift successful community-led campaigns. The Southeast Environmental Task Force will continue to manage the Calumet Connect Partnership as a community-owned asset.

Calumet Collaborative. As part of larger acquisition and restoration along the Little Calumet River in Chicago’s Riverdale community, local leaders will co-develop programs that draw residents to the river and amplify rich local histories of water, food, and land. Conversations will intentionally pivot to how the community will build from these historical assets to make healthful and wealth building connections to water and land. Major funded activities would include community programming on the water and along the restored riverbanks; buildout of community managed riverbank sites; and community planning for sustainable economic development. This grant would better position Riverdale residents to benefit from the upcoming Red Line extension.

Current. This project implements and expands H2NOW Chicago, the first real-time water quality monitoring platform in a U.S. river system to measure microbial and other pollutants. Initiated in 2019 and launched publicly in 2021, H2NOW streams water quality data for the Chicago River via an online data visualization platform. Improving public information about water quality enables safer and more productive use of urban rivers for recreation and economic development, and better stewardship to improve the health and vitality of waterways. H2NOW will inform policy advocacy, system management and investment decisions and individual use decisions, and will help demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of investments in improved water quality.

Friends of the Parks. Friends of the Parks will convene and coordinate community stakeholders on Chicago’s Southeast Side to prioritize and organize around various “Living” goals from the Our Great Rivers vision. Building on previous site activations, capacity building, and support of recent environmental justice campaigns, Friends of the Parks will facilitate a community-centered park prioritization process. This includes engaging and enhancing local capacity and coordination to advocate for a park at the current Confined Disposal Facility site at the mouth of the Calumet River, and articulating local visions for Park 576.

Great Cities Institute (UIC). Great Cities Institute will continue to partner with the National Park Service, Calumet Collaborative, NeighborSpace, and Active Transportation Alliance on a project to create community access on the Calumet River between the Chicago Skyway and 100th Street. The Southeast Side communities identified this site because it presents a strong opportunity to provide public access to the river. To date, the project team has initiated conversations with the owners of the site and the City of Chicago, conducted ongoing community outreach as well as started to develop community stewardship for future site management. In addition, the team has undertaken an initial environmental analysis of the site and its immediate surroundings. 

Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. In partnership with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, LVEJO will advance plans to transform the Collateral Channel, an abandoned and stagnant waterway on the Chicago River’s South Branch. Due to its methane emissions, poor water quality, the Channel is in urgent need of remediation and revitalization. This project will advocate for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to remediate the Channel and partner with the Little Village community to collectively envision a new future for the Channel and surrounding land. The result will be a blueprint for collaborative planning in a community where toxic land becomes a driver for health and economic opportunity benefitting Latinx residents, and an amenity for public health and pollution reduction.

North River Commission. Confluence is a river-focused community development effort in Albany Park begun in 2020, where it focused on Ronan Park. During the initial period, over $7.5m in public funding was allocated to local riverfront projects, including $3.5m to fund a vision developed for the Ronan Park area as a river-centric neighborhood gateway. Confluence will continue to support the development of Ronan Park as a dynamic public space that creates a new, river-centric neighborhood gateway for Albany Park, and will expand to also support the other local riverfront projects to imbue each with the priorities of Our Great Rivers to enhance habitat and environmental quality, encourage utilization of the river as a park, and catalyze local equitable investment.

OAI, Inc. OAI will continue to work with riverfront municipalities to address the critical issue of maintaining green stormwater infrastructure to reduce flooding and prevent pollution from entering Chicago’s rivers. This workforce project restores neglected green stormwater infrastructure, implements a maintenance plan for a new site, and trains landowners and stakeholders to continue maintenance. OAI will focus on sites located in economically disadvantaged, majority Black and Latinx communities with river-adjacent green stormwater infrastructure, and communities that need assistance ensuring new infrastructure is successfully established. 

Stay tuned for progress updates on these exciting projects!

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. 

Looking for information about 2018, 2019, and 2020 grantees? Find the summary pages for those years here: