Midway UPARR

A view to the southeast across the portion of the Midway Plaisance that lies east of the Illinois Central/Metra Tracks and west of S. Stony Island Ave. Taken July 9, 2020.

The Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners voted unanimously during its Oct. 13 board meeting to authorize the Park District to enter into a contract with the landscape architecture, urban design and architecture firm Site Design Group for a redesign of the east end of the Midway Plaisance.

The planned redesign fulfills the requirements of the federal review that was triggered by the construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park. It will transform a section of the Midway Plaisance east of the railroad embankment from an open space into a more developed recreational area. 

The scope of work is going to include doing a combination of different play areas, potentially a traditional playground along with the nature play space, preserving the open space and really returning the landscaping to some of what was envisioned under some of the Olmsted plans, way back when, as well as rehabilitating walkways, as you heard some of the sidewalks in this particular area, kind of degraded and also preserving the Cheney-Goode Memorial,” said Heather Gleason, Park District Director of Planning and Development, at the Oct. 13 meeting. 

Because the OPC converts a section of Jackson Park from recreational use to non-recreational use, appropriate replacement land must be found somewhere else, according to the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery (UPARR) Act of 1978. The UPARR program gave money and technical assistance to low-income urban communities to revitalize and improve recreation opportunities. 

The law stipulates that recipients of UPARR grants must maintain the site or facility for public recreation use in perpetuity unless the local governmental recipient makes a request to the National Park Service to convert the recreation area to a non-recreational use.

Jackson Park — excluding La Rabida Hospital, the Museum of Science and Industry and city and state thoroughfares — is covered by UPARR. 

 "When the Obama Foundation proposed going to Jackson Park, we had to find another place for this park mitigation to go," said Gleason. "And the determination, through that long federal review process, with a lot of community input, was that the east end of the Midway Plaisance was the appropriate location for that space.”

As noted in a letter to the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council (MPAC) from Heather Gleason, Park District Director of Planning and Development on September 8, 2021,  “Once a designer is hired, we will proceed with the community process to get public input on the design. The design process will adhere to the requirements of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) negotiated during the federal review process for Jackson Park and the Obama Presidential Center. In addition to the Midway design process, we will start the planning process on an interpretive program that commemorates the historic legacy of Jackson Park by year’s end."

 In August of 2018, MPAC passed a resolution stating that “the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council strongly opposes the loss or repurposing of any historic, public open green space, or the removal of any mature, healthy trees, on the Midway or in Jackson Park, such as could result from the use of the Midway or Jackson Park as a replacement UPARR site.”

Bronwyn Nichols-Lodato, president of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council (MPAC), wrote to the Herald, "At the Sept. 8 (2021) Meeting, MPAC voted in favor of sending MPAC's August 8, 2018 resolution regarding UPARR to public officials to make them aware of the body's stance on the utilization of the eastern portion of the Midway as a UPARR replacement site."

The August 8, 2018, resolution also “strongly urges that any proposed plans for the eastern section of the Midway should take into account its historical significance as part of Olmsted’s South Park System and maintain its integrity as an open meadow with flexible use, and strongly urges that any action taken with regard to locating a replacement UPARR site engage neighboring communities through broad community input, and take into account current community needs for access to public open space for nature and recreation.”

During the Oct. 13 Park District board meeting, Jackson Park Advisory Council President Louise McCurry (who is a member of MPAC as well) and neighborhood resident Mary Anton (who is a member of both the MPAC and the JPAC, but who spoke at the Board meeting as an individual) both spoke in favor of using the eastern end of the Midway Plaisance as UPARR replacement land. 

In her comments Anton said, "I know there are some who feel the UPARR designation placed on the Midway could be better utilized to create new parkland in other locations.  I don’t share that opinion. Rather, I see the UPARR designation as an added layer of protection for the Midway, which, once bestowed, will require future reviews for any significant change of use or design."

A “targeted market procurement process” — which means that the project was only eligible to be contracted to minority or women–owned business enterprises — was used to identify Site Design Group as the selected candidate for the project. Ernest C. Wong is the Founder and President of Site Design Group. (Wong is also Chair of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.) The contract is for $329,360 for a period of one year with three additional one-year extensions.

Site Design Group has been involved in a number of area projects including the Washington Park event plaza adjacent to the DuSable Museum's recently renovated Roundhouse and Comer Children's Hospital Play Garden. A more complete list of Site Design's projects can be seen at www.site-design.com/projects.

(2) comments



Ross Petersen

As a kid, growing up in Hyde Park, this space was often used for birthdays parties. The parents retired to benches, while we kids ran wild. It was a broad expanse of lawn, with plenty of room to play. I am saddened to read that this space, also, now has a playground going in. We were promised make-up land, not the conversion of an existing Park. I can only hope this design firm works with the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council.

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