The proposal to close Cornell Drive, widen Lake Shore Drive, and transform Stony Island into a commuter highway is ill-conceived.

Given the rising of the lake levels, the destruction of two Chicago beaches and major damage to the bike path, we should realize the this is only the beginning: the lake is going to rise further; storms and winter weather will contribute to major damage to the land close to the water's edge.

The portion of the Drive south of the 57th St. Beach to the land north of the 63rd St. Beach is already in danger and at times will become impassible; attempts to widen it, at substantial cost, make no sense. The city should prepare instead for alternatives when future storms affecting the lake will cause damage to this part of the Drive as it already has to sections of the bike path further north.

The plans to close Cornell Drive force traffic into Stony Island, and that, too, is unrealistic. During the times that the Drive is impassible, there will be no alternative to commuters but to use Stony Island.

Anyone who lives in the neighborhood and uses that street knows that it is a local street, with schools, neighborhood housing, local bus routes and foot traffic. It will no longer be safe for pedestrians, and it will create a huge bottleneck, especially given the need for visitors to make a left turn when going south in order to enter the projected OPC parking garage.

This brings us to a final point. If the Center is to be built, it will need to have an underground parking garage, to be built in the same way that the lot for the Museum of Science and Industry was built: with a "bathtub" in which to create the garage. At that time, the Chicago firm of A. Epstein and Sons built a structure for parking and for the Zephyr for about $57 million. Twenty years later we need to think realistically about creating a similar structure for the OPC. I assume that the rising lake levels might make this impossible. And even if the city wishes to venture into this swamp, it will also be a financial nightmare.

The argument that the OPC will bring economic opportunity to Woodlawn is a fantasy. The supposed "high end" shops and restaurants will be out of range for most local people (unless they are moved out, which will be a result of the new residential construction, no matter what the city claims). In the past similar claims have been made about the Museum of Science and Industry; clearly that hasn't worked.

A far better choice would be to place the OPC in the land west of Washington Park - if the University of Chicago and the city would make its land parcels available. There would be no need for road closures, since public transportation is there already. And there is the now-growing arts scene: the Arts Incubator, the Green Line Performing Arts Center, and the Currency Cafe; the surrounding area would benefit from the economic development that the OPC location will bring.

As for Woodlawn, I suggest that the city build on the vision of Theaster Gates and the Stony Island Arts Bank, which is already a "go-to" place. The installation of the memorial to Tamir Rice is another meaningful addition to the area. The city could put a public library on one of its land parcels in Woodlawn, and with a neighborhood that is growing from below, instead of top-down, there will be more and more economic opportunity.

(1) comment

Ross Petersen

The writer makes some good points regarding Stony Island. I'm concerned about the widening of Lake Shore Drive, and the impact that will have on 63rd St. beach. The Latest plan has the beach being narrowed, with a wider LSD now taking up our beach. The bridge, over the inlet to the 59th St. marina, will also need to be widened.

Between Stony Island, Hayes, LSD widening projects we are losing ever more of our park. We are seeing trees removed, cut down, that are over two hundred years old.

In their place, we will see more roads. They will plant more trees, but these will be scrawny, three inch diameter saplings, that will take a century or more to equal what was cut down.

We need to stop and consider, just what kind of a legacy are we creating, here?

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