Speak for the Chicago River: Don't Sell Damen Silos Site to Asphalt Plant Owner

Speak for the Chicago River: Don’t Sell Damen Silos Site to Asphalt Plant Owner

The State of Illinois needs a wake-up call regarding the Damen Silos site along the Chicago River.

We have witnessed the dramatic transformation of the Chicago River from an industrial corridor into a centerpiece of Chicago and the next great park system. In many places it is a vibrant public waterfront, with a rich river ecology inviting all, humans and wildlife, to visit.

Chicagoans can see this transformation on the North Branch along the eastern edge of Horner Park. The native plantings, attracting birdlife and inviting visitors to stroll through the tall grass along the river, have been a great success in the surrounding neighborhoods.

We also witnessed the creation of Ping Tom Park and the importance the Chicago River plays in the Chinatown community; the Wild Mile just north of Wolf Point; and city investments in boathouses on all branches of the river. Most dramatically, the rebirth of the main branch with the downtown Riverwalk now draws hundreds of thousands of people to the riverfront.

These are not one-time efforts. They are part of a larger plan to return the river to the people of Chicago as a healthy, natural and recreational resource. The long-term economic impact of this transformation is often overlooked, but it is an important component of our economic success.

As is often the case, private investment follows forward-thinking public investment. With Lincoln Yards to the north and The 78 to the south, as well as the Discovery Partners Institute at the University of Illinois, Chicagoans will soon see more open spaces, more public access, and more recreational access to River.

Organizations such as Friends of the Chicago River, the Metropolitan Planning Council, Openlands, Urban Rivers, Friends of the Parks, and the dozens of other organizations participating in the City of Chicago’s River Ecology and Governance Task Force have advocated for years that Chicago and the region needs to restore, protect and regenerate this long neglected water asset.

An idea from the past

The Chicago River has undoubtedly evolved from a primarily industrial and sewage infrastructure to a living, breathing natural resource rich in biodiversity and serving as an important and valued recreational facility. This is especially important in communities that lack open spaces and have other environmental stressors and inequities.

So I just don’t understand.

Someone tell me why the State of Illinois is taking a unique 23.4-acre South Branch site that is framed on three sides by the Chicago River and canal slides, and is also home to the spectacular architecture of the grain silos, and sells it to MAT, an asphalt plant owner?

It’s a step backwards that challenges what so many people have been working on for decades.

Pilsen is immediately to the north and McKinley Park to the south – two historic neighborhoods working to improve their quality of life and access to the river. How does this decision fit in with their community planning strategies?

The state needs to understand that the idea of ​​placing materials yards along the Chicago River is a thing of the past. In the long term, the environmental impact and public health costs will be higher for all of us. The Chicago community, its current and past two mayors, and numerous aldermen have endorsed people-centered and green visions for this river.

The Damen Silos site is expected to be a park, community asset, vocational training center, arts and cultural facility, and part of a more forward-thinking Southern Branch vision for this century.

This is a call to Governor JB Pritzker, Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Tammy Duckworth to stop the sale by the State of Illinois of these South Branch River lands. This decision will not make Chicago a healthier place to live and work, support the biodiversity and resilience our city needs, or help air and water quality, which is directly linked to the health and well-being of the people of Chicago.

Now is the time for all of us to stand together and speak out on behalf of this remarkable river.

Philip Enquist, FAIA (Fellow, American Institute of Architects), is an architect and urban planner.

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