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From Filth to Fun: Big Designs for the Chicago River

Invited to dream up the future of the Chicago Riverwalk, designers imagine everything from lush wetlands to a filtered “swimming bowl.”
The “Congress Filter” proposal by Ross Barney Architects.
The “Congress Filter” proposal by Ross Barney Architects.Ross Barney Architects

Until its direction was reversed in 1900, the Chicago River was such a receptacle for effluent and filth that it poisoned Chicagoans’ beloved Lake Michigan (from which they drew their drinking water). Then it was channelized and entombed in concrete. The river has long been the city’s forgotten waterfront.

But that’s steadily changing, as the last decade has seen sections of the Chicago River transition from what was practically an aboveground sewer to a world-class pedestrian promenade and public space, the Chicago Riverwalk.