The Jackson Park Advisory Council's recent proposal to make it more difficult for community members with children, jobs, or other time commitments to participate in their organization's decision-making is outrageous, but unsurprising from an organization whose most visible recent achievement is the installation of locking metal "security gates" on the two bridges onto Wooded Island (originally intended to be locked each day at dusk — before 5 p.m., this time of year). This is a group that wants to exclude the community from both its meetings and from the park itself — because it fears the community. Why does JPAC fear the community? Because JPAC does not represent what the vast majority of Jackson Park's users want, and they know it.
And since this is clearly the case, why should community members bother with JPAC? Many of us prefer to pick up trash in the park alone, or with neighbors who aren't trying to prevent us from having a vote at park-related community meetings. And of course, the majority of us have jobs and other obligations that prevent us from having the leisure time to attend four 7 p.m. meetings and three "volunteer events" of unstated duration in order to qualify as voting members of JPAC.
If JPAC wants to be an exclusive, members-only club, let them be that. But if that's what they want to be, their desires should be given far less priority by the City's decisionmakers. A group as exclusive as JPAC is should not have the power to take away normal access to a park throughway from the majority of residents, who simply want to be able to take a walk after work and enjoy the sunset without fear of running into a locked gate. We do not all have time to attend hours of meetings and events, on top of our usual day-to-day work and family commitments, in order to protect the basic access to green space that is the core function of public parks.
I encourage all concerned park users to write to the Park District and the alderman to let them know that JPAC does not speak for the community, and that they must do more to base their decisions about the park on truly representative community input. Here's who to write to: Alderman Leslie Hairston (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the Chicago Park District (Area Manager for Jackson Park: Demitrice.Seaton@chicagoparkdistrict.com; South Region Director: Maya.Solis@chicagoparkdistrict.com; Interim CEO: Superintendent.Escareno@chicagoparkdistrict.com). Don't have the energy to write a letter? Send them a copy of (or a link to) this one.
I also encourage all readers to attend the next JPAC meeting on Monday, January 10 at 7 PM in the Jackson Park Fieldhouse to make your voice heard. (Good luck finding information about this public meeting on JPAC's website, though — it's not there).