Chicago River Blue Awards
Congratulations to our 2023 Award Winners!
We celebrate that our Chicago River Blue Award winners are making intentional choices to drive innovation for the continued protection and improvement of the Chicago-Calumet River system and surrounding watersheds.
BLUE RIBBON AWARDS
The Blue Ribbon Award winners represent creative and river-sensitive development, design, planning and leadership throughout the watershed. Only one Blue Ribbon is awarded annually. Past winners include the Horner Park Ecosystem Restoration, the Chicago Riverwalk, the Eleanor Street Boathouse, former Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel, and RainReady, The Forge: Lemont Quarries, and the Ford Calumet Environmental Center.
2023 BLUE RIBBON AWARD WINNER
Alsip Boat Launch, East parking lot
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Increasing Green Infrastructure in the Little Calumet River Watershed
The Village of Alsip and the Morton Arboretum
This year we recognize an innovative project within the Village of Alsip in collaboration with the Morton Arboretum to transform an underutilized paved parking lot along the Cal-Sag Channel into a stormwater-capturing space that also serves as habitat and recreation. The project, called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Increasing Green Infrastructure in the Little Calumet River Watershed is a unique model for transforming river edge paved sites into nature-based solutions with a host of co-benefits for people and wildlife.
Additional Project Team Partners: USDA Forest Service, Chicago Region Trees Initiative, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Greencorps Chicago, The Calumet Stormwater Collaborative, PlanIT Landscape Perspectives
SILVER RIBBON AWARDS
The Silver Ribbon is awarded to projects that exhibit an exceptional level of sustainable practices and design excellence on multiple levels.
2023 SILVER RIBBON AWARD WINNERS
Photography by Kristin Pink
Palos and Sag Valley Forest Preserves Restoration
Forest Preserves of Cook County
The Palos and Sag Valley Forest Preserves Restoration Project is located in the southwest area of the Chicago-Calumet River watershed. This outstanding work that the Forest Preserves of Cook County and partners have achieved, is one of the largest restoration initiatives in the State. The project has restored hundreds of acres in the Sag Valley resulting in enhanced habitats for endangered species as well as increased stormwater capture and filtration along key tributaries to the river system.
Additional Project Team Partners: Friends of the Forest Preserves, Forest Preserve Foundation, Friends of the Chicago River, Palos Restoration Project, Anonymous Donor
Photography by Shigley Photo
Omni Ecosystems HQ Rooftop
The Omni Ecosystems HQ Rooftop is located in the Bronzeville community of Chicago. We celebrate the innovative and expansive rooftop landscape Omni Ecosystem’s headquarters was able to achieve with multi-layered native plants, trees, and shrubs. The project includes 150 trees, habitat and pollinator gardens, and extensive stormwater capturing features that support our goals for a more resilient and biodiverse watershed.
GREEN RIBBON AWARDS
The Green Ribbon Award recognizes projects that demonstrate a high level of river-sensitive design and consideration.
2023 GREEN RIBBON AWARD WINNERS
Pekny Park Green Infrastructure
Riverdale Park District
The Pekny Park Green Infrastructure project is located in the community of Riverdale near the Little Calumet River. Pekny Park demonstrates how the use of nature-based solutions can be employed to address community flooding and resiliency challenges while also providing other benefits. We think the project is noteworthy for the way that a partnership through the StormStore program was used to implement creative nature-based solutions and we hope that it becomes a model for other similar projects throughout the watershed.
Additional Project Team Partners: The Center for Neighborhood Technology, OAI, Inc., the National Fish and Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy, Cook County
Cougle Foods Company Headquarters
Cougle Foods Headquarters is located along Bubbly Creek. We recognize Cougle Foods’ efforts to be the first property owner to follow the 2019 updated version of the Chicago River Design Guidelines. We especially appreciate the way that the team incorporated a well-connected river edge trail, pollinator plantings and native plants, extensive new trees, stormwater filtering bioswales, and educational signage into the river edge setback. We acknowledge Cougle Foods’ willingness to work with the City and other partners to be the test case for applying the expanded requirements of the 2019 Chicago River Design Guidelines.
Photography © by Dave Burk
The Meadow at the Old Post Office
601W Companies LLC
The Meadow at the Old Post Office is located along the South Branch of the Chicago River. The incredible scale of this rooftop landscape is astounding and worthy of recognition for its contributions to improving river edge resiliency, supporting downtown biodiversity, reducing the heat island effect, and other environmental benefits. We know that the unique design of the roof garden absorbs hundreds of thousands of gallons of stormwater each year, and this supports the health of the river by reducing the burden on the combined sewer system.
Additional Project Team Partners: Bear Construction, Christy Webber Landscaping, Gensler Architects, Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, JLL Project Development Services
The Preserve of Highland Park
Park District of Highland Park
The Preserve of Highland Park shows foresight and creativity in transforming a golf course into a publicly accessible natural area along the Skokie River, which is the east fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River. The site’s transformation includes new habitat and native plants, stormwater filtering landscapes, invasive plant removal, trails, educational signage, picnic areas, and nature-play spaces. Friends sees this amazing project as a good case study for the multi-benefit approach to nature-based solutions that we promote through our Greater Chicago Watershed Alliance initiative. This is a site approach that could be applied to many other places throughout the watershed, and we celebrate the work that went into realizing this project.
Additional Project Team Partners: City of Highland Park, Hey and Associates, Inc., Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Lake County Stormwater Management Commission, Lake County Forest Preserve, Team REIL Inc.
Why We Care
Flowing and meandering through urban and suburban communities, forest preserves and parks, industrial and commercial districts, as well as the heart of downtown, the 156-mile long Chicago-Calumet River system connects millions of people to nature. It provides wildlife a place to live, considerable recreational opportunity, and an ever-increasing diversity of economic benefits derived from the waterfront.
As a result, the Chicago-Calumet River system is emerging as one of the best opportunities for improving quality of life for people who live and work in the greater Chicago metropolitan area. However, the pressure to develop the river’s edge in order to maximize economic opportunity also creates potential to destroy the magic the river provides.
It is critical to continue focusing on and comprehensively understanding what kinds of actions will protect the river system and its health while providing public access. It is also imperative to adopt sustainable land use and development techniques and address how our water resources are managed throughout the Chicago River watershed to provide a systematic approach for growth. How water flows in, on, and through properties impacts the quality of the river. Both on-site management and water conservation matter, whether it’s along the river’s banks or from miles away.
To address these issues, Friends of the Chicago River developed Chicago River Blue, a campaign aimed at educating, encouraging, and rewarding developments that take people, wildlife, and clean water into special account. We provide guidelines and resources to our panel of planning and design experts, then hold the annual Chicago River Blue Awards ceremony to honor those whose work exemplifies the “Blue Principles for River Design”.