Our relationship to the Chicago River is in cultural crisis. We rely on it for our sanitary system. It is the lifeline for much of our industry. It defines us geographically. It presents environmental threats to our ecology. We want to enjoy it for recreation. Not all of these cultures are compatible, or even desirable. Barriers, both physical and political, limit human interaction with the river, restricting some cultural uses unevenly across the city. Other forms of river culture found around the world have yet to emerge in Chicago.
Chicago’s progress has been inseparable from that of its River since before the arrival of European missionaries and traders. Many of the River’s greatest stories are found in the interventions we have made to allow those various cultural shifts. When we sought to use it for shipping, we dug canals to new routes and straightened the bends. When we needed to isolate our drinking water from the sanitation system, we built a lock and reversed its flow. New developments continue to demand new ways of thinking about the Chicago River. Today, we continue to debate how to respond to the threats of invasive species entering the region from the river, and the impact our system has on the Great Lakes. At the same time, we experiment with the best ways to bring citizens closer to the river as a civic space and tourist attraction.
The goal of this IPRO project is to identify both barriers to existing cultural forms and emerging or potential forms, followed by proposed interventions and a series of on-site tests for effectiveness. The success of this project will be measured by the breadth of initial investigations, the depth of proposed interventions and tests, and the delivery of the body of work. Future semesters may build on the work achieved or operate parallel to it, and multiple semesters may be collected as a larger knowledge base.
“Maintain in conditions suitable for growth”…..throughout this course, we will employ this definition of culture to evaluate suitability. To begin, we will investigate the contemporary and historical cultural conditions of the Chicago River, and the associated interventions which brought about its current conditions. Critical reading, site visits, and interviews with community members will be our primary tools. We will then identify one or more specific stakeholders and propose potential cultural interventions based on both shifts in local needs and desires, and traditional global patterns of use. Some research of past precedents and processes may be required. We will develop small scale prototypes and test for effectiveness through additional site visits and interviews. To conclude, we will present and publish our findings and recommendations.
Students who join this team will develop a distinctive portfolio of experiences: