The Backward River team is composed of members of the Freshwater Lab at the University of Illinois Chicago. As artists, city planners, writers, scientists and scholars in Chicago, we bring a multi-faceted approach to reimagining a thriving watershed with equitable access to a healthy river system. Our team formed in May 2020, amid record flooding in Chicago and the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the urgent need for addressing the environmental and public health impacts of our current water infrastructure, we created and designed The Backward River. During a time of global pandemic, economic meltdown, mounting violence toward Black and Indigenous people of color and the rise of a civil rights movement, we studied how the Chicago Area Waterway System produced the city and conditions in which we live and began to envision their transformation.
The Team
Rachel Havrelock
Erika Chávez
Becky Lyons
Citlalli Trujillo
Tristen Ortiz
Anish Tailor
Kathleen Blackburn
Braeden Nelson
Alexander P. Garza
In Gratitude

The Backward River reflects the support, contribution and consultation of many people. We take full responsibility for any of its missteps while expressing gratitude to the following:



  • Samer Alatout, Vilas Associate Professor of Community and Environmental Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Jordan Bailly, UIC Freshwater Lab land use and planning expert
  • Carol Ross Barney, Founder and Principal, Ross Barney Architects
  • Olga Bautista, Community Planning Manager, Alliance for the Great Lakes 
  • Tony Briscoe, Journalist, ProPublica
  • Stella Brown, Artist/Anthropocene Adapter
  • Antoinette Burton, Maybelle Leland Swanlund Professor of History, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • Kayla Butler, Region 5, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Benjamin Chambers, Reverend, Faith Movers Church
  • Ralph Cintron, Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies and of English, Interim Director of Latin American and Latino Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Drew Williams Clark, Managing Director of Urban Resilience at Center for Neighborhood Technology
  • Ross Compton, Actor
  • John Connor, Illinois House of Representatives, District 85
  • Teresa Córdova, Director, UIC Great Cities Institute
  • Frank Ettawageshik, Executive Director, United Tribes of Michigan
  • Alison Fore, Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
  • Dirk Fucik, Owner, Dirk’s Fish
  • Ricardo Gamboa, Creator of The Hoodoisie
  • Beate Geissler, Professor, UIC Department of Art
  • Troy Hernandez, Data Scientist, IBM and Volunteer Director, Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (P.E.R.R.O.)
  • Ryan Hidden, Executive Director, Change Peoria
  • Robert Hirschfeld, Water Policy Specialist and Communications, Prairie Rivers Network
  • Brian Holmes, Art and cultural critic, cartographer and political activist
  • Tonika Johnson, Social justice artist/photographer, Creator of the Folded Map Project
  • Jennifer Jordan, Professor and Department Chair, Sociology and Urban Studies, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
  • Matthew Kaplan, Photographer
  • Marcella Bondie Kennan, Program Director, Climate Planning and Programs, Center for Neighborhood Technology
  • Abigail Kremer, UIC Freshwater Lab lead pipes expert
  • Angel de Jesus León, David Bedolla, and Saul Nunez, Local experts/Los Billys 
  • Sarah Lewison, Associate Professor, Radio, Television and Digital Media, Southern Illinois University
  • Yibing Li, Associate Director for Business and Finance, UIC Great Cities Institute
  • Antonio Lopez, Historian and environmental justice consultant
  • Léo Marty, Ecole nationale supérieure d’architecture de Toulouse
  • Chelsea Maupin, Research Manager, Güd Marketing 
  • Izayotilmahtzin Mazehualli, Research Assistant, American Indian Center
  • Bryan McDaniel, Senior Policy Analyst/Government Liaison, Citizens Utility Board
  • Derek Nelson, Actor
  • Allison Neubauer, Visiting Great Lakes Outreach Associate at Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant
  • Allyson Nolde, UIC Freshwater Lab advocacy expert
  • Mike Nowlin, Senior Public Relations and Policy Manager, Güd Marketing 
  • Mike Oquendo, Executive Producer, Mike Oquendo Events, Inc.
  • Samer Owaida, grassroots organizer and researcher
  • Gizem Ozcelik, Founder, go pr
  • Fawn Pochel, Education Coordinator, American Indian Center
  • Zhenya Polozova, Regional Organizer, Midwest Office of Food & Water Watch
  • Cristina Radevski, translation consultant
  • Nate Roseberry, Adjunct Professor, UIC Department of Urban Planning and Policy
  • Stephen Schlickman, Principle, Schlickman & Associates
  • Ryan Schnurr, Editor-in-Chief, Belt Magazine 
  • Sarah Rachel Schol, Actor
  • Pinqy Ring, Rapper
  • Jessica Seno, MS, Pre-Award Specialist, Office of Social Science Research, UIC
  • Iyana Simba, Clean Water Advocate, Illinois Environmental Council
  • Cynthia Soto, Director, UIC Native American Support Program
  • Janet Swatscheno, Co-Director of Digital Humanities Initiative, Digital Publishing Librarian, Assessment and Scholarly Communications, University Library, UIC
  • Holden Thomas, UIC Freshwater Lab flooding expert
  • Edith Tovar, Community Organizer, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization
  • Luis Alberto Urrea, Novelist
  • Sanjeev Vidyarthi, Associate Professor, UIC Department of Urban Planning and Policy
  • Daniel Wendt, Public Affairs Specialist, MWRD
  • Andrew Yang, Associate Professor, Liberal Arts, School of the Art Institute