Sign shore drive

One of six signs installed along the 5400 block of South Shore Drive

Earlier this year, two different groups of East Hyde Park residents submitted rival petitions to Ald. Leslie Hairston's (5th) office over how best to deal with noise issues along South Shore Drive and in Burnham Park. 

Hairston brokered a temporary compromise, leading to the formation of a new group that has been doing community cleanups. Still, the short-lived controversy revealed an underlying disagreement between those who think police can safely be dispatched to deal with public safety issues, and those who worry about the potential for harassment, profiling and misconduct. 

At Ald. Leslie Hairston's (5th) Oct. 27 ward meeting, city officials unveiled their own solution: signs to remind people that loud music is in violation of municipal code, which will allow police to enforce the law to a greater degree. The signs were installed later last week.

"I went and looked at the location from 53rd Street to 55th, the entire park area," said Deidre Holmes with the Chicago Department of Transportation at the meeting. "What we've done … is to remind people that they're coming into a neighborhood.

"Because it's Park District area and police enforcement, I think that's what we're going to have to do, is more signs to bring it up to municipal code for no drinking, no loud music in that area. That allows the police some tools to enforce it with."

Officials with the Department of Finance said the agencies and the police would enforce the rules, including ticketing for parking violations early in the morning and over the weekend.

Hairston identified a northbound cul-de-sac with unpaid diagonal parking off the 5400 block of South Shore Drive, by a playground and the Shoreland Apartments, as the particular problem area.

"The police come, and then they leave and come back," she noted. "The other thing is that they park in that parking lot all day and never pay a meter."

Hairston's assistant Lanita Ross said another suggestion from meetings with nearby residents has been to impose residential permit parking along the block, but the cul-de-sac is not zoned for residential parking and thus cannot be subjected to those rules. 

Seasonal pass parking is likewise a no-go for the cul-de-sac, because it would disproportionately impact residents who use the 35 spaces alongside it for overnight parking. Seasonal pass parking by definition would take away the spaces use as overnight parking.

"Basically, 35 people who live in that area would not be able to park there," Ross said. "We definitely don't want to impact parking in Hyde Park, because we basically know there's no parking in Hyde Park."

The development comes after debate among East Hyde Park residents about appropriate police presence along the lakefront. Resident John Hieronymus with a group called We Keep Us Safe noted that South Siders come to Promontory Point for its safety and said his group petitioned Hairston to seek non-police intervention and reduce their presence at the park.

"We felt that the Point particularly was being subjected to a disproportionately amount of attention from the police in a way that we noticed and in a way that friends from other parts of the city, especially up north, weren't experiencing," he said. "We felt that the barricades and police presence were being used at the Point in particular in ways that were not equitable and were specifically targeted because of the racial composition."

He said discussions with Hairston led to a more relaxed environment along the neighborhood lakefront by August and September, but that We Keep Us Safe will re-engage as the signs have gone up at the cul-de-sac.

"When the parks are open by ordinance until 11 o'clock and you live by Lake Shore Drive, noise is what it is," he said. "People live in a city, they don't live in the suburbs. And people do what they do, and that's part of being in a community with lots of different kinds of folks."

Jourdan Sorrell, who lives in East Hyde Park, formed the compromise group in July with Rebecca Hall. Dubbed Hyde Park Together, it has been arranging community cleanups for the past three months.

"We have to mindful of the words and how we're positioning what the issue is," he said, reflecting on some of the summer's meetings around the issue. "To be quite candid, I said, 'A lot of times, we may not want to admit what the bigger issue is, but I know there are lot of people who look like me who may come from different parts of the city and want to come and enjoy the lakefront and/or meet, because of the different areas in which they live.' 

"While we have — and I understand and I respect — people who want to have quieter areas, we also have to be mindful of keeping our neighborhood and our place as inclusive and welcoming as possible," he continued. "I do understand that there are residents here who are paying to live here and have the expectation that, as best as possible, the neighborhood is quiet."

But Sorrell noted that public space is at a premium in a pandemic. He also said that the noise is preventing nearby residents from being able to go to sleep.

He credited Hairston for beginning the process that led to putting the signs up, but he conceded that language stating that those who violate the prohibition on loud music "are subject to enforcement by the Chicago Police Department" is not ideal because "of what's been going on amongst relations that's impacting Black and Brown people the most."

He suggested that an acceptable middle ground might be getting Office of Emergency Management workers and volunteers to help quiet down noisy revelers. But he said the work needs to be done by the time warm weather comes back in April and May.

"I think to do things like that and not have much more police, per se, could be an alternative. I'm neither for nor against, quite frankly, the signage itself, because if the signage is going to be here in the Hyde Park area, I would expect the signage to be in Lincoln Park, Belmont Harbor and downtown," Sorrell said. "If it's inequitable, then I understand. If it's not equitable, we have to ask the question why Hyde Park is the exception to that."

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