Not Just a Walk in the Park


Saturday in the park, I think it was the Fourth of July. People dancing, people laughing. A man selling ice cream, singing Italian songs. Can you dig it? Yes I can.

For those who don’t recognize them, those are lyrics from “Saturday in the Park” by the band Chicago. They seem especially appropriate when one contemplates the new Chicago Riverwalk, which is taking its place among the great urban amenities of our generation.

This recent redevelopment project along lower Wacker Drive in Chicago is an excellent example of a thoughtful and creative urban monument. If you haven’t had a chance to experience this new portion of downtown Chicago designed by Architect Carol Ross Barney, you need to make it part of your next trip there. The walk extends from Michigan Avenue west to Lake Street. Her design solves several functional problems, including flood control, a severe width restriction and ADA accessibility requirements in an elegant and sculptural way. The steps, ramp and walkways are inviting and human-scaled in contrast to the adjacent skyscrapers and provide a much-needed link to the wide expanse of the Chicago River.


Slow motion riders fly the colors of the day. A bronze man still can tell stories his own way.

The walk incorporates the Chicago Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Plaza commemorating the sacrifices of Illinois’ fallen soldiers. Diverse opportunities appear as the walk winds its way through downtown Chicago. The public can experience unique dining options, areas for public events and waterfront amenities for human-powered watercraft.

The detailing is exceptional and the execution of the joints, edges and even expansion joints are done with precision. The integration of lighting slots and dots, drainage grilles and planters create a harmonious and beautiful urban park environment. The esplanade of the Riverwalk winds its way under bridges and follows the curve of the river. It provides an outdoor space in an otherwise frenetic city to be enjoyed mutually by joggers, walkers, strollers and the lunch crowd.  

People talking, really smiling. A man playing guitar, singing for us all. Will you help him change the world? Can you dig it? Yes I can.

In this case, it’s a “her” and not a “him” who changed the world. The Chicago Riverwalk design was conceived and detailed by female architect, Carol Ross Barney. While women represent only a small portion of the male-dominated profession of architecture, it is clear that talent is not limited to one gender. Our society in general normally accepts men as architects, but we don’t take the time to think about the opportunities or the benefits of working with women. To be a woman in this profession, let alone a practitioner, women have to be exceptional just to survive. So why wouldn’t a client want to work with a person who is an over-achiever, an American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal Winner, one with a proven reputation for outstanding design? This project represents exactly why clients should. Female architects should be hired because of their experience, reputation and passion for making our built environment more beautiful.  

Take a look around and enjoy the experience!  It’s not just a normal walk in the park. Can you dig it? Yes you can.

Carol Ross Barney is founder and principal of Ross Barney Architects, Chicago, Illinois.

Photo credit: Kate Joyce Studios

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