Saying ‘Goodbye’ to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel breaks the tape at the Lakefront Chill 5k on January 15 to celebrate the official separation of the Lakefront Trail. (Photo submitted by CARA)
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  1. During your term, you did a lot to help the endurance community in Chicago, especially with projects like the lakefront separation and the river. Where did it all begin?

[Architect] Daniel Burnham had a big plan for the city, so our vision was to build on that plan, and make it current and relevant, hence Building on Burnham. I swim a mile every morning, have for 35 years. My wife and son are runners, my daughter is a rower; I really believe in exercise and recreation.

  1. When we shared the news about the lakefront trail separation, runners and cyclists in Chicago were very excited. Why was this project important to you?

Well everyone knows the story: I had lunch with Ken Griffin, and we went Dutch: we both put $12 million in, and out came the lakefront trail separation. We knew we had to separate all 17 miles too; it’s one of the greatest parks in America, the third most-used after Central Park and DC.

A lot of it was knowing that if you didn’t get out onto the path early, it was like rush hour traffic. Thousands of people use it every day, and we felt that citizens shouldn’t be stressed going out for a run, it should be a stress reliever. This made it enjoyable for everyone: runners, walkers, bikers and rollerbladers. We also fixed up the Theater on the Lake, adding a restaurant and reinvigorating that part of the lakefront.

  1. Your other big focus was the Chicago riverfront. Why is that?

One aspect that I was very big on was making Chicago a two waterfront city. When I first ran in 2011, I wanted the river to be the next park in the city. For so long, it was our industrial highway, so I wanted to make it a facility for canoeing, kayaking and crew. So, we built four boathouses along the river, two of them were built by Jeanne Gang, who’s book influenced my campaign. Now, the University of Chicago Crew team goes out of one of her boathouses. These sports are becoming major recreational options in the city. Then the focus became the Riverwalk from the entertainment side. Now they have yoga classes too.

  1. Are there any other projects related to recreation you’re particularly proud of?

Well, we rebuilt every one of the 385 parks in the city from top to bottom. We also built six different student sport centers, three of them are open and three are still under construction. A few do mentoring too, because we want to offer multiple sports and academic options for kids to make it easier on them. There’s also Gately Park in Pullman, where we’re building the first indoor track facility, which will be the first after-school joint park facility in the neighborhood.

  1. You’ve accomplished a lot. So, are you going to stick around and enjoy it all?

Yes, I’m going to stay in Chicago as a citizen. I’ve laid a foundation to put real neighborhood facilities in the city, so whoever comes in has to continue that. I do some 5ks with my son, so I’ll keep doing that, and run on the lakefront when I can.

  1. As you step down, do you still have a vision for Chicago?

Well, we sponsor the largest amateur triathlon, and we have one of the world famous marathons. There’s not a weekend that’s there’s not a 5k going on. For example, Englewood never had a 5k, so I helped get it going, and now it’s up to 800 people, and the neighborhood itself is doing better too. So really, I just want to try and help neighborhood runs out, and bring people from all walks of life to different neighborhoods they wouldn’t go to normally.

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