Chicago River Blue Awards

Help us Celebrate our 2020 Award Winners

This year is the 10th anniversary of the Chicago River Blue Awards. Since the awards creation, Friends has recognized 68 projects within the Chicago River watershed for their river-supporting characteristics. Our 2020 award winners represent excellence in design, planning, and the creative thinking that is needed to realize our vision for a vibrant and healthy blue-green corridor.

View a complete list of past winners.

Traditionally, the awards are announced at Friends’ annual Big Fish Ball, but this year they were announced online due to the pandemic. An awards announcement from Friends' executive director can be viewed in the following brief video.

Blue Ribbon Awards

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 Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel.

2020 Blue Ribbon Award Winners

RainReady Program
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 Awards

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

2020 Silver Ribbon Award Winners

Chicago Riverwalk East Reconstruction
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, Muller 2, dbHMS, and David Mason Associates.

Greenest Region Compact
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.

Southbank Riverwalk

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 Awards

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

2020 Green Ribbon Award Winners

Odyssey Chicago River
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.

Southeast Cook County Land Acquisition Plan
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.

North Street Permeable Paving
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.

Bubbly Creek Riverfront Clean-up Project
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.

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 River 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 River 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 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".