2020 Chicago River Blue Awards Announced

Friends of the Chicago River has named the winners of the 2020 Chicago River Blue Awards recognizing river-sensitive projects for exceptional contributions to continuing the improvement of the waterway. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the awards. 

Watch Executive Director Margaret Frisbie Announce the Awards

The top prize, the Blue Ribbon Award, was given to the Center for Neighborhood Technology for its RainReady program. This highly successful initiative helps build local community capacity to address flooding, resiliency, and equity in vulnerable communities.

Winners of Silver Ribbon Awards include the Chicago Riverwalk East Reconstruction by the City of Chicago; Greenest Region Compact by the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus; and the Southbank Riverwalk by Lendlease.

Honored with Green Ribbon Awards were the Odyssey Chicago River by Hornblower Cruises and Events; Southeast Cook County Land Acquisition Plan by the Forest Preserves of Cook County; North Street Permeable Paving by the Village of Tinley Park, and Bubbly Creek Riverfront Clean-up Project by Amberleaf Cabinetry.

“Each of the 2020 award winners represent excellence in river-sensitive design, planning, and creative thinking that is needed to protect the Chicago River system as a natural, vibrant and healthy blue-green corridor,” said Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River.

Since the first awards in 2010, Friends of the Chicago River has recognized a total of 68 projects that represent both large scale initiatives and the equally important individual actions of river-edge property owners and elected officials including Chicago Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel to improve and protect the Chicago River system.

“All 68 award winners over the past 10 years are outstanding examples of how to create a healthy, clean, and accessible river system that is welcoming to all, resilient to climate change, and supportive of healthy human and wildlife communities,” Frisbie said.  

Traditionally, the awards are announced at Friends’ annual Big Fish Ball which was established in 2006 to benefit Friends’ efforts to improve and protect the Chicago River system. Last year, more than 540 guests attended the sold-out event.

“CNT thanks Friends for recognizing our RainReady initiative. RainReady is built on principles of equity, community, affordability and resiliency. Our initiative seeks to contribute to environmental justice and community vitality, in partnership with many," said Marcella Bondie Keenan, Program Director, Center for Neighborhood Technology.

Images available here.

Blue Ribbon

The Blue Ribbon Award winners represent the rare project, design, or leader exemplifying the highest standard of consideration for the Chicago River system. Only one Blue Ribbon is awarded annually. Past winners include the Horner Park Ecosystem Restoration, the Chicago Riverwalk, the Eleanor Street Boathouse, and former Mayors Rahm Emanuel and Richard M. Daley.

Blue Ribbon Award - RainReady Program

Award Winner: Center for Neighborhood Technology

RainReady contributes substantially to the protection of our waterways by reducing flooding at the local level. The innovative tools, projects, and educational resources that are part of the RainReady program are essential components to reducing damaging stormwater run-off and flooding in the Chicago River watershed. RainReady has provided flood prevention assistance for homeowners, guidance for flood-prone municipalities, and helped implement green infrastructure projects throughout the region

CNT wishes to especially recognize the efforts of their staff that manage RainReady, including: Marcella Bondie Keenan, Rebecca Raines, Drew Williams-Clark, and Anna Wolf. 

Silver Ribbon

The Silver Ribbon is awarded to projects that exhibit an exceptional level of sustainable practices and design excellence on multiple levels.

Silver Ribbon Award - Chicago Riverwalk East Reconstruction

Award Winner: City of Chicago Department of Assets, Information and Services

The landscape improvements to this area of the downtown riverwalk have improved the health of the trees and plants, as well as created a safe and inviting atmosphere for the pubic to access enjoy the Chicago River. New seating areas, better defined amenity zones, and extensive new plantings have transformed this aging portion of the riverwalk into a downtown river edge destination.

Additional Project Team Members: Site Design Group, Mueller 2, dbHMS, and David Mason Associates.

Silver Ribbon Award - Greenest Region Compact

Award Winner: Metropolitan Mayors Caucus

The leadership and policy guidance provided through the Greenest Region Compact (GRC) contributes substantially to the protection of our waterways by promoting individual municipal environmental plans and action agendas. The foundation of the GRC are 49 goals including to, “Protect and improve water quality; Practice Stewardship of water resources; and Encourage strategic development that upholds sustainability principles.” Municipalities adopt the GRC by formal resolution and agree to work to achieve the GRC goals in their community and in collaboration with other municipalities across the region.

Additional Project Team Members: Metropolitan Mayors Caucus wishes to recognize the efforts of Kevin Burns, Mayor, City of Geneva and Chairman, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Environment Committee and Energy Sub Committee, for his contributions to this project.

Silver Ribbon Award - Southbank Riverwalk

Award Winner: Lendlease

The Southbank Riverwalk is a spectacular new addition to the downtown riverwalk system.  Great care and attention went into the overall approach and implementation to the landscape design. This new riverfront area is a beautiful new space for people to enjoy the Chicago River and it improves the health of the river-edge ecosystem downtown.

Additional Project Team Members: Confluence (formerly known as Wolff Landscape Architecture), and Lendlease Construction.

Green Ribbon

The Green Ribbon Award recognizes projects that demonstrate a high level of river-sensitive design and consideration.

Green Ribbon Award - Odyssey Chicago River

Award Winner: Hornblower Cruises and Events

The Odyssey Chicago River provides a whole new way for visitors and residents to experience and appreciate everything the Chicago River has to offer. Purpose-built for the Chicago River, this unique glass-enclosed vessel provides year-round boat cruises and a new perspective for guests. Hornblower Cruises and Events are also supportive business advocates for the mission of Friends of the Chicago River.

Green Ribbon Award - Southeast Cook County Land Acquisition Plan

Award Winner: Forest Preserves of Cook County

This plan represents a unique and innovative approach to identifying and protecting valuable open space and natural areas in the watershed. The protection and stewardship of regional green infrastructure, as proposed by the Cook County Land Acquisition Plan, is critical to protecting the health of the Chicago River system. The suitability analysis conducted as part of the plan incorporates indicators for public health, equity, ecological value, and flood mitigation. These components are closely related to Friends’ blue-green corridor vision.

Additional Project Team Members: The Conservation Fund, Metropolitan Planning Council, Antero Group, Rudd Resources, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation.

Green Ribbon Award - North Street Permeable Paving

Award Winner: Village of Tinley Park

Innovative stormwater management projects, such as North Street in downtown Tinley Park filter and retain stormwater before it enters our urban waterway system.  They also are essential in increasing our resiliency to damaging large storm events. This successful partnership between MWRD and the Village of Tinley Park replaced over 16,000 square feet of asphalt with water absorbing permeable pavers. The project provides more than 69,000 gallons of stormwater storage on site. Friends celebrates these local municipal efforts.

Additional Project Team Members: Metropolitan Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Robinson Engineering, and Austin-Tyler Construction.

Green Ribbon Award - Bubbly Creek Riverfront Restoration Project

Award Winner: Amberleaf Cabinetry

Amberleaf Cabinetry recently moved their business to a site along the South Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River (known as Bubbly Creek). Their employees immediately recognized the importance of this new location and the need to clean-up and restore their riverfront. After reaching out to Friends of the Chicago River for guidance, they took on the removal of years of trash, construction debris, and layers of stacked concrete along the river’s edge. After hard work on the part of the employees, they revealed the unique beauty of their river edge property.