When I moved to Chicago in the 1970s, no one gave a second thought to the city’s riverfront—except to mock it. “Don’t fall in,” my new friends joked about the ominously murky Chicago River.
A look back through history shows many Midwest cities were founded near rivers because they provided a means of transportation, a source of water for industry, and, sadly, a dump for waste. As decades passed and cities grew, these waterways often became muddy backwaters, polluted and ignored.
But several cities are no longer turning their backs on them, transforming rivers from embarrassments into assets by cleaning up the channels and creating riverwalks along their banks. Restaurants and bars, memorial plazas, works of art, entertainment venues, museums, and all sorts of recreational opportunities on and off the water now beckon visitors and locals alike. Take a stroll and discover the appeal of these renewed riverfronts.