2018 Merit Award
City of Kankakee
Planning and Analysis
The City of Kankakee was founded along the Kankakee River in 1854 and, for decades, the river was central to the city’s image, culture, and prosperity. The river is an ecological gem, considered the cleanest river in the State of Illinois by the IDNR, and it is one of only 21 designated National Water Trails in the nation. But over many years of economic and social challenges, the city’s relationship with the River—at least from an urban design standpoint—was characterized by benign neglect. That changed in 2016 when newly-elected Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong put riverfront improvement at the center of her “Kankakee Forward” agenda.
The Kankakee Riverfront Master Plan was the initial result of her initiative. City leaders engaged Hitchcock Design Group (HDG) and a design team of allied professionals (Piggush Engineering, S2O Engineering, Market & Feasibility Advisors) in 2017 to consider riverfront improvement opportunities, create a compelling long-term riverfront vision, and complete a multi-dimensional strategy that includes a series of incremental implementation actions. Working collaboratively, the design team, City leaders, and key public/private sector stakeholders on the Riverfront Task Force developed a strategy to create and sustain an extraordinary riverfront experience that is the catalyst for Kankakee’s renaissance as a premier Illinois riverfront community. The Plan envisions this happening by 1) developing a package of new and revitalized recreation attractions that appeals to both residents and regional visitors, 2) improving safe, convenient and barrier-free access and connections to the river, riverfront attractions, downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, 3) catalyzing economic development, and 4) advancing stewardship of the City’s natural and cultural resources for future generations.
The effect on the Kankakee community will be transformational and long-lasting. As the Master Plan is implemented, the resulting Kankakee Riverfront will become a powerful attraction, a multi-dimensional connection, a compelling economic catalyst and a positive brand builder for the community. The Riverfront will attract residents, area workers and regional visitors to hike, cycle and discover nature in a genuinely exceptional river environment that is blocks from its historic downtown. The Riverfront will safely and efficiently connect patrons to the existing regional trail system, the nearby downtown, and adjacent mixed-age, mixed-income neighborhoods. The Riverfront will be a powerful catalyst for riverfront philanthropy, additional public-sector riverfront investments, and for exceptional private-sector land redevelopment in immediately-adjacent neighborhoods and the nearby downtown. Following the lead of dozens of other successful riverfront communities, the City is committed to making its majestic river and improved riverfront the centerpiece of its economic development and community enhancement strategy.