About 70 people crowded into the Washington Park Refectory Monday evening, Jan. 30, for the Jackson Park Advisory Council's ( JPAC) first meeting under new leadership.
Newly-elected president Michael Scott presided over the meeting, having won the December runoff election by a margin of four votes. He began his tenure in keeping with his previously stated goal of creating a more "democratic, inclusive organization."
His election came after a year and a half of contentious and divisive JPAC meetings, which followed the Chicago Park District's 2021 construction of gates on the bridges that allow access to Wooded Island.
Standing before the crowd gathered in the first floor meeting room of the Refectory, 5531 S. Russell Drive. Scott, a University of Illinois Chicago engineering professor, started off with reading the section of the organization's bylaws that described “the purpose of JPAC”.
Per the bylaws, the purpose includes providing a forum for sharing information related to the park; advising and making recommendations to the Park District regarding programs, maintenance and patrons; encouraging long-range planning; promoting Park District programs and facilities to the community; increasing community involvement in the planning of JPAC and Park District projects; and to assist in locating alternate funding sources for park enhancements.
Scott then turned to the business of the meeting. After calling the meeting to order and the routine approval of minutes from the last convening, Scott said “we're going to shift things around and do a workshop for about an hour and a half to talk about what we want out of Jackson Park and the JPAC over the next year."
The crowd was divided into eight breakout groups tasked with answering two questions: “What do you really like about what you've been doing recently in Jackson Park and what JPAC has been doing?" and "What would you like to do that we're not doing?"
South Shore resident Alex Ensign kept notes for breakout group one, which comprised seven people from the Woodlawn, South Shore and Hyde Park neighborhoods.
Akari Rokumato and her mother Miyoko Rokumato, both Hyde Park residents and new to JPAC, spoke to the breakout group about their interests in Wooded Island and the Japanese Garden of the Phoenix and in soccer programs for the youth.
Jeanette Foreman, a South Shore resident, stressed the need for collaboration between the Park District, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and other organizations.
Hyde Parker Azaria "Tree" Stoner concurred with Foreman, relating childhood memories of moving seamlessly between Park District and CPS facilities after school into the evening.
At the end of the workshop, Ensign had compiled lists of things that group members liked about Jackson Park, what JPAC has been doing and what they would like to see done.
Among the things members of the breakout group liked were the restoration of Wooded Island, the tours and workdays in the Japanese Garden, sports programming for youth, the golf course, mentorship programs that connect youth and elders, Jackson Park Harbor programs and the fieldhouse.
Regarding what group members would like to see done, suggestions included surveys of nearby communities to determine their desires for activities in the park, swimming lessons, a talent show, more financial support for the park from the Park District, more Park District sponsored soccer programs to make soccer accessible to more people, expanded collaborations with other parks and other entities, including schools and private groups, and the repaving of bicycle, pedestrian and golf cart pathways.
Notes from all eight breakout groups were gathered by Scott at the end of the meeting. JPAC officers will collate and summarize the notes and report their summary to the whole group during its next meeting at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 13 at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr.
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