For much of the past century, the bank of the Chicago River was a place that people avoided. Running through one of America’s most architecturally spectacular cities was a body of water so foul-smelling it earned the nickname “the stinking river.” An late 1800’s decision to reverse the natural current of the river away from Lake Michigan left the water flowing sluggishly, if at all.
Tell anyone who lived through the river’s peak trash-heap years in the ‘70s and ‘80s that it’s now a destination spot, and they might react with disbelief. My mother is one of those people. When I informed her I was writing about a project to revitalize the Chicago River, she wrote back: “Yikes! It’s all sludge, right?”