With approximately six acres of open space, two acres of public parks and a half-mile of continuous river walk, the Riverline development creates a uniquely tranquil place for Chicagoans to live, work and play.
In recent years, the Chicago River has reemerged as an urban amenity with transportation, infrastructure, and even retail development enlivening a body of water that for years functioned like a crack in the otherwise smooth cityscape that was downtown Chicago.
Riverline’s 14-acre site existed as a pivotal rail center for Chicago from 1890 to 1969, before sitting fallow for several decades, and then being reimagined in 2014 as a new, 3,600-unit, eight-building development.
In a departure from decades of riverfront improvement in Chicago, Riverline is oriented around significant public and private spaces facing the river. It was intentional to have the full length of Riverline’s west boundary face the Chicago River edge to integrate a natural river edge into the design of Riverline’s riverwalk, totaling over half a mile.
The design includes a rich tapestry of native ecosystems, honoring the history of the site and revitalizing a once robust wildlife habitat. Plantings along the river’s edge were chosen for emergent and slope stabilization conditions (grasses, sedges, rushes), wet wood and riparian species for the embankment above the flood line along the river edge (grasses, sedges, and forbs), savanna and prairie species in the upland open spaces perched over the river (oak and hickory canopy trees over an understory of grasses, native wildflowers and perennials for both mesic and dry zones).
Serving as the main entry point along South Wells at the urban edge of the site, the plaza is the most symmetrically balanced space within the site. At the center of the plaza, the splashing water from the edges of a glassy water-table style fountain drowns the sounds of the surrounding city, while the fountain visually connects the headwaters to the natural wetland system in the background. High-quality stone paving and retail spaces bordering the plaza provide a glazed periphery that opens up and spills out into the plaza. Movable seating and tables encourage pedestrians to linger under a bosque of trees that provide dappled shade.
An opportunistic site for a water taxi stop, the end of Polk Street has been repurposed as a terminus point for pedestrian gathering. A vertical canopy marks the destination as a place for visitors to sit on long monumental benches under cover, sheltered from sun and the elements. This terminus will have matching wood composite decking and a guardrail that will facilitate taxi loading.
In accordance with the development’s overall mission imploring the discovery of urban nature, the Riverline experience creates opportunities that are atypical to a city, enabling the public to connect to a river’s edge, be it for learning, fishing, kayaking, or simply relaxing.