City Hopes the New Chicago Riverwalk Won’t be Boring

VIATechnik's idea for gondolas along the Chicago Riverwalk

VIATechnik’s idea for gondolas along the Chicago Riverwalk

There are two things that Hollywood has taught us about urban planning.  First, don’t locate a major Asian city near an ancient hibernating dinosaur chamber; and second, “if you build it, they will come.”

The problem with the second part, is that when “they” come, they may get bored and leave.  That’s why the city of Chicago is soliciting proposals for ways to “activate” the new sections of the Chicago Riverwalk between Michigan Avenue and Lake Street.  The city’s previous efforts in this arena haven’t been entirely successful.  The activation of the riverwalk between Michigan Avenue and Lake Michigan has been largely limited to a very seasonal cafe with good ice cream, but an experience too muddy and too buggy to be enjoyable; and the world’s smallest massage parlor.

Fulton River District consulting firm VIATechnik dropped a dime on our tip line to let us know that its boffins have been knocking their heads together trying to come up with ways to turn the new portion of the riverwalk into all that it can be.

VIATechnik's idea for music venues along the Chicago Riverwalk

VIATechnik’s idea for music venues along the Chicago Riverwalk

Among the ideas that caught our attention: How about gondola rides along the riverwalk?  I don’t know if the river is shallow enough to allow for actual punting of gondolas, but maybe some of those motorized gondolas from Las Vegas might work.  Another proposal from VIATechnik is for a combination learning lab, library, and coffee shop.  In all, the firm has come up with five ideas.  You can read them all here.

The problem with these, and all of the other riverwalk proposals we’ve heard, is that they don’t factor in winter.  No coffee shop, music venue, or gondola company is going to survive if it has to shut down for seven months of the year when the leaves fall from the trees and the tourists blow away.

For that reason, it seems logical that any anchor facilities along the riverwalk will have to be either municipally-operated, or otherwise supported by tax dollars, since the private sector won’t come out in force when it’s cold.  And even buskers can’t survive on good intentions.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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