To the Editor:
I'm writing to express my concern and disappointment with the recent gate installation at the Wooded Island in Jackson Park. I find the gates intimidating and unnecessary, and in keeping with a worrying trend of decreasing public access to public parks, especially on the South Side.
Alder Hairston and representatives from JPAC have emphasized that there is no explicit connection between the installation of these gates and the groundbreaking for the Obama Center. However, one reason this troubles me so much as a community member is that I see it as part of a pattern of restricting and privatizing our public parks. When the community has expressed concerns about the OPC's effects on locally favorite features of Jackson Park, such as the South Shore Nature Sanctuary, the existing golf course, the horse riding circle, and the many trees in the park, we have generally been rebuffed by the Ald. and the OPC planning team. I and many others in the community are justifiably anxious that the park is being changed from a community resource to a shiny tourist attraction.
I strongly believe that public parks are a core asset of our city, and that they should be as public as possible and focused on the needs of local users. But last year's unnecessary lakefront and playground closures, the Obama Center changes, and now these gates all point to different priorities for the Park District.
While I understand that vandalism and inappropriate vehicle use have been a problem on the island, I'm certain that with more community input, the park district could have come up with an alternative solution (such as a barrier that restricts vehicles but not pedestrians, or a park security officer). One of the reasons I bought a home in Hyde Park is that I greatly value the public parks, and I'm generally glad to know that my property taxes support them; but I've become frustrated with the unnecessary constraints on their use. I hope the Park District will reverse course on this.