Ass(et) Creek

Ross Barney Architect’s proposal, Ass(et) Creek, is featured in an exhibition, 50 Designers, 50 Ideas, 50 Wards, at the Chicago Architectural Foundation, currently on view.

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(Site boundaries: West 31st Street to the North, South Kedzie to the West)

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(View from abandoned trail overlooking Collateral Channel)

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(Charrette with community stakeholders)

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(Concept rendering of swimming hole near West 31st Street)

In celebration of CAF’s 50th anniversary, 50 designers were asked to create transformative proposals aimed at improving the quality of life for residents in each of Chicago’s 50 wards. Working in collaboration with the Metropolitan Planning Council on the Great Rivers Chicago vision, we elected to study the 12th ward, better known as Little Village.

The neighborhood of Little Village reflects a rich and colorful culture. Originally settled by Irish and Eastern European immigrants in the late 19th century, modern Little Village has become a port of entry for many Latinos who now call Chicago home. As one of the communities least served by open space, our approach was to discover how best to connect the daily life of residents back to the Chicago River, which sits adjacent, but inaccessible. Working with community advocates, the Collateral Channel was identified as a site of opportunity.

Built as part of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in 1900, the Collateral Channel connected the original West Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River to the Canal, which was filled around 1935. Its core purpose had been omitted, but the Canal continued to serve the industry around it for decades to come. Years of misuse and pollution contaminated much of the Chicago River bed, particularly the south branch and canal, which resulted in the well-known “Bubbly Creek”. Presently, due to poor water circulation and inactivity, the channel has become stagnant and emits an unpleasant smell during the summer months. Children from the community have nicknamed it “Ass Creek”.

After engaging in conversations with stakeholders such as the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, La Villita Park Advisory Council, Friends of the Chicago River, Chicago Park District, Chicago Department of Transportation, Chicago Department of Planning and Development, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and others, we developed a proposition that converts the Collateral Channel into a natural wetland park.

Part of this proposition builds on a study done by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the University of Illinois Chicago to actively cap the river bed. Part of this procedure includes the installation of geotextile fabric overlaid on a GeoNet support grid atop the contaminated soils. A thick sand layer is installed with a second GeoNet, which allows gas to be captured and diverted to designated outflows. This approach allows for the installation of new soils and native plantings which will naturally filter water from both the channel and river.

A complete loop is envisioned for the channel that both cleans incoming water and recontributes it back to the canal/ river. Water travels north from the canal through the channel’s series of native and engineered filters and terminates in a swimming hole, that one day could become a community gathering spot for debate, fellowship, and enjoyment. Water from the swimming hole is then pulled back towards the canal, through an adjacent wetland park on the former Torcco Oil site which transects what we have proposed become an extension to the Paseo; an elevated rails to trails project in the heart of Little Village that is currently on the City’s planning agenda.

The Collateral Channel plays host to a myriad of opportunities that could redefine our relationship to water and stewardship of an inestimable natural resource. This approach, while specific to this site and community need, can be duplicated throughout the Chicago, Calumet, and Des Plaines rivers. It is our hope that the river will one day be restored to its natural ecological state, safe for swimming, enjoyment, and recreation.

50 Designers, 50 Ideas, 50 Wards is currently on view in the CAF Atrium Gallery at 224 South Michigan Avenue. You can investigate our proposal, Ass(et) Creek, along with 49 others in person or by exploring the online exhibition.

UPDATE: We are pleased to announce that some of this study may become a reality sooner rather than later. The capping of the channel, as well as development of a park space, is currently being investigated by several local agencies and championed by Alderman George A. Cardenas.