Are Visions of a Thriving Chicago River Just Pipe Dreams?

Engineering marvel, polluted sewer, magnet for development - the Chicago River has worn many hats in its day. For its next role, can it become an "example of environmental innovation and ecological stewardship"?
February 26, 2013, 5am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Matthew Power looks at the competing visions for the future of the Chicago River, the key node in the city's enduring water problems. "Myriad threats, from water pollution to flooding and invasive species, have made the question of what to do about the Chicago River one of the most important questions facing the city. And simply by asking it, Chicagoans are acknowledging a basic existential struggle."

"That struggle is between two competing visions," he explains. "One is remedial and pragmatic, the province of engineers and bureaucrats. In their eyes, the river can and should be cleaned up only to the point where it can operate as a safe, functional waterway that exists to meet the demands placed on it by commerce, flood control, and the dispersal of wastewater."

"In the alternate vision, however, the river meets all of these demands — and more. Its proponents seek nothing less than to turn the Chicago River into a civic treasure, its newly cleaned banks lined with parks and homes and restored ecosystems, its very presence a clear and shimmering symbol of a great city built on making, trading, connecting: a symbol of American history’s inexorable flow toward progress. And in the bargain, they seek to make the river a living — and flourishing — example of environmental innovation and ecological stewardship, one that generations of Chicagoans will cherish."

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Published on Thursday, February 21, 2013 in OnEarth
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