On The Table: How Might Lake Michigan Be A Unifying Force For Chicago?

On May 10th, Delta joined thousands of organizations and individuals across the Chicago region to host an event for the Chicago Community Trust’s On The Table event. For the last three years, On The Table has provided an umbrella for thousands of Chicagoans to gather around a table, share a meal, and discuss important issues that affect our region.

Delta’s breakfast discussion focused on Lake Michigan, an important natural resource and a prominent natural space in our city. While it is a resource that all Chicagoans have in common, it is accessed and experienced differently across the city. For our discussion, we talked about these differences and asked “How might Lake Michigan be a unifying force for Chicago?”

Chicago Skyline and Lake Michigan

Chicago Skyline and Lake Michigan

Our group discussed how a history of segregation and redlining has left barriers to inclusion and access. Few east/west bus routes reach all the way to the lake, and few beaches have bus stops or free parking, forcing some to take multiple bus routes or pay for expensive parking. Lake Shore Drive can also act as a barrier, as pedestrian crossings above and below the Drive are few in number and unmarked in parts of the city, which can make finding a way to the beach difficult.

Participants raised the fact that being at the beach may not be a comfortable and welcome experience for everyone. Faith in Place, Uptown Coastal Initiative, and the Chicago Park District shared information about their programs that bring people to the lake, often for the first time. Group trips to the beach allow people to feel less intimidated by showing up alone. The lake is a source of food, history, and fun, and these experiences in guided tours can increase appreciation for all aspects of it.

So, how might we use Lake Michigan as a unifying force in Chicago? Here are some of the ideas we came up with from our On the Table discussion:

  • Bring together diverse groups at the beach for shared experiences,
  • Encourage everyone to share how they enjoy and experience the lake on social media,
  • Bring elements of the Lake into neighborhood parks and schools,
  • Organize guided walks and bike rides to the lake,
  • Offer community swim lessons so more people feel comfortable and safe in the water, and/or
  • Share routes to the lake and access points for the whole city.

Chicagoans enjoy the Lake in a number of different ways, and that is something to be celebrated and shared! Perhaps by experiencing Lake Michigan with other Chicagoans, we can create a more inclusive beach experience and a collective sense of ownership of this wonderful resource.

Thank you to those who joined us:

  • Ramont (Ray) Bell, Faith in Place
  • Lauren Daurizio, University of Chicago
  • Melanie Eckner, Uptown Coastal Initiative
  • Nishaat Killeen, Delta Institute
  • Danielle Littman, Chicago Park District
  • Antonio Lopez, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization
  • Lorena Lopez, Faith in Place
  • Nicole Machuca, Friends of the Park
  • Kellen Marshall, Freshwater Lab, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Sarah Neville, Alliance for the Great Lakes
  • Eve Pytel, Delta Institute
  • Bill Schleizer, Delta Institute
  • Diane Tecic, Illinois Department of Natural Resources Coastal Management Program


We look forward to incorporating some of these ideas in our #loveLakeMichigan campaign, and we invite you to share your ideas and reactions using our #loveLakeMichigan hashtag!

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