To the editor:
Let me first start by saying I really hate gates. The idea of a gated community has always turned my stomach; gates seem to almost always create more problems than they solve. I was not thrilled with the idea of putting gates to the entrances to the Wooded Isle, feeling initially that it was an overreaction. But my opinion changed after attending the Jackson Park Advisory Council meeting on last Monday evening when many people, including JPAC’s leader, Louise McCurry, listed the numerous reasons why the gates were necessary to preserve Wooded Isle. What were those reasons? Repeated vandalism of the Yoko Ono sculpture, motorcycles (yes, motorcycles) repeatedly tearing up the lawns both surrounding the sculpture but also in the Japanese garden, theft of the koi in the Japanese Garden, destruction of the restored vegetation by people going off the trails. Not to mention just giving wildlife a break for the overnight hours that they need to not have humans tromping through their homes. This is not a comprehensive list. All of this damage wears on the Wooded Isle and repairing the damage is expensive. Really expensive.
My opinion supporting the gates was even more reinforced when a few individuals that had come to the meeting started listing their reasons against the gates. I am sure they are well-intentioned, but their reasoning sounded like other outrages that are circulating in our communities involving mask and vaccination mandates. That people have rights to do what they want, to have access to every inch of public park at any time of the day (or night). (I and others pointed out that the vast majority of Jackson Park is still open throughout the night.) That government is imposing restrictions on what they want and what they are entitled to. That the damage can just be repaired… repeatedly, without acknowledging the cost in a time of limited budgets or that repairs limit access even during the day and that repairs, by their nature, are imperfect. That having people on the isle at night will keep the damage from happening. This last reason was obviously incorrect, or we wouldn’t be having this debate in the first place.
I think most of us hate the idea of gates. I also hate wearing a mask. But I do it because if we don’t, more destruction will occur, and we (and our parks) will be weaker for it. The South Side is struggling. Let’s look towards the communal good and make small sacrifices in the short term that will benefit us, and our parks, in the long term. I look forward to a day where those who are motivated to vandalize and steal have jobs, families and reasons to enjoy the park for what it is, not to terrorize it. Then we can take the gates down (and our masks off). But that is not our reality at this moment. We need to preserve what we have, using the limited resources that are there, to keep this area intact for us, our kids and future generations. Why can’t we agree on that?