Urban Waterways Forum Brings Global Mayors to Chicago

Leaders discuss how waterways can generate economic, environmental and social benefits for cities

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo recently convened 17 mayors spanning five continents, 11 countries, and who represent 44 million people for an Urban Waterways Forum in Chicago. The event, co-hosted by World Business Chicago and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, fostered an international conversation about the future of urban waterways.

Urban waterways – whether on rivers, lakes, seas or oceans – have always been natural centers of gravity. Over time, transportation and manufacturing have evolved and the old industrial waterways that turned into unused land are again ripe for new design, development and purpose.

“Throughout our history Chicago’s waterways have connected us to each other, to opportunity and to the world,” said Mayor Emanuel. “It is an honor to host leaders from around the world in Chicago to help shape the futures of rivers, lakes, and oceanfronts in ways that protect our environment, grow our economy, and improve our quality of life.”

As mayors of major cities worldwide consider how to drive economic opportunity, create new public spaces and find more environmentally sustainable uses for aging infrastructure, they are increasingly turning to the development of urban waterways. To harness the power of that movement, government officials gathered in Chicago from five continents:

Asia: Lahore Mayor Mubashar Javed (Pakistan), Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav (Israel), and Shenyang Vice Mayor Huang Kai (China)

Africa: Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille (South Africa)

Europe: Gothenburg Lord Mayor Lena Malm (Sweden), Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala (Italy), and Paris Mayor Hidalgo (France)

North America: Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Chicago Mayor Emanuel, Dallas Mayor Michael S. Rawlings, Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Mexico City Mayor Miguel Mancera, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu

South America: Buenos Aires General Director of International Relations and Cooperation Francisco Resnicoff (Argentina)

“I am delighted to join Mayor Emanuel, and leaders from such a diverse group of cities to share ideas on how to transform the waterways of our cities into sustainable and socially inclusive communities,” said Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris & Chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, an international network of megacities committed to addressing climate change. “The urgency of the climate crisis makes this more important than ever.”

The forum featured two discussions. The first focused on environmental protection, and was moderated by Mark Watts, the Executive Director of C40. This discussion concentrated on projects around the world utilizing waterways to push environmental efforts critical to cities in the 21st century. Jeanne Gang, Founding Principal of Studio Gang and Anders Bringdal, Founder & CEO of SeaBubbles, also participated. The second discussion focused on economic opportunity and was moderated by Bruce Katz, the inaugural centennial scholar at the Brookings Institution. This session discussed innovative ways cities are approaching economic development with an eye on nontraditional uses of their waterways and how issues of social equity play into these efforts.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is producing a report in collaboration with the City of Chicago, the City of  Paris and World Business Chicago that will summarize the discussions and outline the findings of the Forum to build on existing research around urban waterway development. The report will be released later in the spring.

The Forum was held at River Point Office Tower, a new 52-story office building at 444 W. Lake St., located at the confluence of the Chicago River’s north, south and main branches.

In addition to the discussion sessions at River Point, mayors participated in events including a public program at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center, moderated by Ivo Daalder, President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and visits to Chicago incubators strategically located on the Chicago River: MATTER and 1871. At 1871, mayors joined a roundtable discussion with tech leaders moderated by 1871 CEO Howard Tullman. The roundtable focused on immigration challenges facing the tech industry. Additionally, Current, the city’s water tech innovation accelerator, and UI Labs hosted a Symposium to profile innovative technologies and initiatives that address pressing water needs, enhance quality of life and support economic development.