To the Editor: 

We write with regard to the virtual community meeting held by the Park District on March 29 to present its plans for changes to the eastern tip of the Midway Plaisance. This session continued the typical top-down, predetermined approach that has characterized all proposals for changes to the Midway, Jackson Park and South Shore Cultural Center to accommodate the construction of the Obama Presidential Center. Questions and comments on the conceptual design were invited, but the webinar format, complicated by technical problems, thwarted any true discussion. 

The March 29 presentation did not alter our assessment of the project:

It is a travesty to propose using the Midway’s eastern tip to replace recreational areas lost in Jackson Park to the OPC. This is a missed opportunity to expand the open space available for nearby park-poor residents, particularly in Woodlawn and especially in West Woodlawn. 

The proposed plan, unchanged since its initial unveiling in 2018, does not reflect the publicly stated (and recently repeated) opposition of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council to the misuse of the Midway for so-called “replacement parkland.”  

The Park District’s design approach presumes this is a vacant space in need of “redevelopment” rather than an existing park space that is currently being used and enjoyed by the community.  If not for the lack of routine maintenance and care that is sorely lacking throughout the park system, particularly on the South Side, this park, in its current design, would be even more used and enjoyed by the community.  

The Park District’s claim that it is responding to broad community sentiment is just false (as with their proposals for the golf course merger or for the location of the OPC). The intended beneficiaries of the Park District proposal are the neighboring institutions (Obama Foundation, University of Chicago), not park users or community residents.

One central feature of the Park District proposal is the drainage and re-grading of the half-acre wetland that now covers the easternmost portion of the site merely to provide more open space for athletics. Park District staff asserted that this is just a low spot where rain collects, not a natural wetland. This is false and oblivious to the assessment of the site by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and  National Park Service.  This genuine wetland is fed by an underground stream running through Hyde Park from the northwest and draining into the lagoon behind the MSI. It will be outrageously expensive, if not outright impossible, to drain Mother Nature’s wetland.  Many participants in the Zoom session noted the obvious wisdom and value of preserving and nurturing the wetland area as a unique and useful natural feature.

The other main element of the Park District proposal is the construction of a universally accessible play area, one that can be used by all individuals of all ages, including anyone with disabilities (physical, emotional, sensory).  We fully support this goal, but we continue to see the site as inappropriate and unsafe for any formal play area, surrounded as it is by busy roadways and railway tracks. (There is no easy, direct access by foot or by car. It is not situated in the midst of a residential area, but on the fringe. There is no dedicated parking area; street parking is scarce and unpredictable and would become more so with the opening of the OPC.) A “universally accessible play area” would, of course, be a wonderful addition to the new OPC campus just across the street, which would have greater acreage to accommodate such a special facility away from busy roadways. 

The Park District, University and Obama Foundation are very good at generating ill will and anger by their efforts to re-make our communities for their own purposes while ignoring what’s already here on the ground and failing to address community concerns. We urge all residents and particularly park users to familiarize themselves with the proposal for the Midway and to provide feedback to the Park District in the coming days.  

The March 29 Zoom session was recorded and is to be posted on the Park District’s Featured Capital Projects website, though it was not yet available at the time of this writing. There is a link to an earlier, brief outline of the project (with map) on that website now.  Comments and suggestions should be submitted via the Capital Project Feedback Form, also on the Park District website. A second, in-person community meeting is to be scheduled for late April at which time CPD will respond to comments and present a refined design for the space. Make sure your voice is heard.

Brenda Nelms and Jack Spicer

Jackson Park Watch

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