Already in 1909, when Daniel Burnham revealed his Chicago plan, he called for the individual owners of lakeshore and riverside properties to create a recreational corridor.
This urban vision has been achieved for the most part at the Chicago Lakefront, where patches of parkland have been connected into one long stretch of public space.
The development of public space along the riverfront however turned out to be a more complicated task. Wile most of the lakefront properties were owned by the city, the properties along the riverfront are almost exclusively in private hands. Hence most of the Chicago riverfront was inaccessible to the public.
The idea of creating a long, uninterrupted public promenade along the Chicago River
was relaunched in 1999 by mayor Richard M Daley, who implemented the Chicago River Corridor Development Plan which required developers along the river to create setbacks allowing the creation of public walkways.
Other parts along the river would be developed by the city. The ambitious plan should ultimately result in almost 28 miles (45km) of waterfront promenades.
Some first steps were made at the beginning of the twenty-first century with the reconstruction of Wacker Drive and the construction of the river esplanade, a waterfront promenade located along the north bank of the Chicago River
between Michigan Avenue and the North Lakeshore Drive bridge.
In 2002 The Chicago Park District completed a Chicago River Master plan that laid out strategies for improving open space on the river and in 2007 the Chicago Riverwalk Development Committee was formed to work with the city in developing the walkway, now known as Riverwalk. In 2009, architectural firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill created a framework plan that outlined guidelines for the construction of a continuous walkway on both
riverbanks along a 1.3 mile (2 km) long stretch along the Chicago river
between Lake Street and Michigan Lake. The plan focused on improving access to the riverfront and the return of plants along the river.
By that time a walkway along the south bank of the river had already opened and by the summer of 2009 stretched from State Street to Lake Michigan. This section, which had an estimated cost of 22 million dollar, included the creation of several underpasses. Before, the paths abruptly ended at junctures and whenever a visitor walked along the river he/she had to climb up, and cross the street to reach the next section. Reflective stainless steel canopies protect the
underpasses from anything that may be falling from the bridges above.
After the opening of the 0.69 mile (1,1 km) long stretch, the Riverwalk started to attract droves of tourists and Chicagoans, who enjoy the urban car-free walk along the river. A number of cafés and eateries opened along the river and there are several attractions such as boat cruises and art displays. The walkway also passes the Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum, located at the southwest tower of the Michigan Avenue bridge
. And you can rent bikes or take a water taxi from the Riverwalk.
The Riverwalk is at its widest between State and Wabash Street, where you'll find the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza, also known as Wabash Memorial Plaza.
The plaza, consisting of a terraced lawn, ramps and a memorial, was designed in 2009 by Ross Barney architects. The centerpiece of the plaza is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, built in 2005. The memorial features a waterfall and a central pool. Along the side of the pool is a timeline with significant events that took place during the Vietnam War. The names of more than 2,900 Illinois men who died in the Vietnam War are engraved in a wall.
The Riverwalk continues to be expanded and new office towers along the river such as the Trump Tower already provide public walkways. New sections under planning include the south bank of the Chicago River
between LaSalle Street and Lake Street and the creation of green space at the confluence of the river's north and south branches. There are also plans for an ambitious lighting display. These projects are expected to be completed at the end of 2016.