I took this picture last night from the LaSalle Street bridge facing east toward the lake. Wacker Drive separates the river from the buildings on the right, but the buildings on the left butt up right to the river with only a small public river walk separating them from the water.
The Chicago River originally flowed into Lake Michigan, but as Chicago exploded in size in the 19th century, the river became a dumping ground for garbage and sewage—especially from the city's massive slaughterhouses. The pollution moved directly into the lake, contaminating the city's fresh water supply and creating severe threats to public health. In 1900, the Sanitary District of Chicago managed to reverse the flow of the river in a remarkable feat of engineering and sheer willpower. While the change stopped the pollution of Lake Michigan, the river continued to be a dumping ground all the way up to 1990, when a cleaning and beautification initiative by Mayor Daley made the river the appealing attraction it is today.
Because the bridges that cross the river are built as flexible bascules that raise and lower to allow boats to pass underneath, they actually bounce when traffic crosses them. So it was impossible for me to get a clear picture of the view last night as I stood on the bridge with cars and buses rumbling past me. But I think the blurry effect is kind of cool.