THREATENED: Damen Silos To Be Sold to MAT Asphalt

“The State of Illinois needs a wakeup call about the Damen Silos site along the Chicago River.

“We have been witnessing the dramatic transformation of the Chicago River from an industrial corridor into a centerpiece of Chicago and the next great park system. In many places it is a vibrant public waterfront, with a rich river ecology inviting all, both human and wildlife, to visit.

“These are not one-off efforts. They are part of a broader plan to bring the river back to the people of Chicago as a healthy, natural and recreational resource. The long-term economic impact of this transformation is often overlooked, but is a substantial component of our economic success.

“As is often the case, private investments follow forward-thinking public ones. With Lincoln Yards to the north and The 78 to the south, along with the University of Illinois Discovery Partners Institute, Chicagoans will be seeing more open space, more public access, and more recreational river access soon.

“The Chicago River has, without doubt, shifted from a primarily industrial and sewage infrastructure to a living, breathing, natural resource that is rich with biodiversity and serves as an important and beloved recreational amenity. This is especially important in communities that lack open space and have other environmental stressors and inequities.

“Someone tell me why the State of Illinois is taking a unique 23.4-acre South Branch site that is framed on three sides by the Chicago River and canal slips, and is also home to the dramatic architecture of grain silos, and selling it to MAT, an asphalt plant owner?

“This is a step backward that challenges what so many have been working on for decades.

“Pilsen is immediately to the north and McKinley Park to the south — two neighborhoods, rich in history that are working to improve their quality of life and access to the river. How does this decision fit with their community planning strategies?

“The state needs to understand that the idea of putting material yards along the Chicago River is a thing of the past. In the long run, the environmental impact and public health costs will be higher for all of us. The Chicago community, its current and last two mayors, and many alderpersons have endorsed ecological and people-centric visions for this river.

“The Damen Silos site should be a park, a community asset, a job training center, an arts and cultural amenity, and part of a more forward-thinking South Branch vision for this century.

“This is a plea to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Tammy Duckworth to halt the State of Illinois sale of this South Branch river land. This decision will not make Chicago a healthier place to live and work, it will not support the biodiversity and resiliency that our city needs, nor will it help our air quality and water quality, which ties directly to the health and wellness of Chicagoans.

“It is time now for all of us to stand up together and speak for this remarkable river.” (Enquist, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/13/22) Philip Enquist, FAIA (Fellow, American Institute of Architects), is an architect and urbanist.

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