Intention: My intention in collaborating on the Backwards River media project is to draw connections to the compounding policies that put profits over people and serve to maintain and amplify systems of oppression baked into our capitalist society, using the engineered Chicago waterway as the throughline for exposing this disparity by design. I grew up hearing stories of the Chicago River reversal as an engineering marvel that was key to our city’s growth and success. Meanwhile I experienced tranquility and easy access to the Upper North Branch of the river, biking and hanging out along it as a kid, with no concept of the very different function of the rest of the river. It wasn’t until much later that the curtain was pulled back on my white, middle class capitalist upbringing to see that my river and life experience came at the expense of Black and brown communities across the city, communities who are walled off from the waterway by dangerous industrial and warehouse operations that use the waters as a highway for products and pollution. All this has come into starker focus and felt ever more urgent as we worked on this project during the Covid-19 pandemic and uprisings against state brutality and racial inequity. How dystopian it felt for the city of Chicago to literally use the Chicago River as a moat, separating the wealthy downtown from working class people, and the bridges as literal leverage to only allow elites into the loop and to kettle in protestors who dared to take to those streets.
Bio: Becky Lyons is an urban planner who specializes in community development and environmental justice. She holds a Masters of Urban Planning & Policy from the University of Illinois Chicago and is currently a research associate in the Chicago River Media Project where she focuses on industrialization, structural racism, and fostering an equitable and resilient society. In May of 2020, she launched the podcast, The Water Chronicles, to unearth stories about people’s relationship with water. Building on her lengthy experience managing environmental education programs, Becky is a lead volunteer at Northwest Side Solidarity Network where she coordinates mutual aid efforts to increase food access and redistribute resources to the South and West sides of the city. As a native Chicagoan and nature lover, Becky is passionate about reimagining a region and a society based on principles of collective ownership and care work.