Significantly inaccurate or incomplete statements have recently been published by the Hyde Park Herald concerning the selection of the eastern end of the Midway as a UPARR (Urban Park and Recreation Recovery) replacement site.
The City of Chicago has acknowledged, on its website, that it received two UPARR grants for Jackson Park in the early 1980s. The first grant was $125,300 for “community-based recreation awareness, anti-vandalism training, and park rehabilitation programs” and recognized that “[t]he area lack[ed] recreational programs available in other areas of the city which hinder[ed] the redevelopment of the community.” The second grant was $135,870 “for the replacement of 700 trees and shrubs and restoration of 7,000 yards of landscaped area within Jackson Park” and was “intended to improve the aesthetics of Jackson Park and to enhance picnicking and other passive recreational activities through improved landscaping.”
The selection of the eastern end of the Midway as a UPARR replacement site flouts both planning objectives. Under no circumstances can the eastern end of the Midway be considered part of an area “lacking in recreational programs available in other areas of the city.” And there is no need to divert UPARR funding to the eastern end of the Midway to aid the “redevelopment of the community.”
In a May 16, 2022 article, the Herald quoted Eiliesh Tuffy of the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning, as stating that “[t]here were a number of sites that were reviewed [for UPARR replacement], including some smaller pocket parks within the Woodlawn Community. And some of those locations were found to be inadequate for the sizing and the location.”
Ms. Tuffy failed to indicate who reviewed those sites, avoiding the issue of the absence of any public input into the selection of a UPARR replacement site. A public process could have involved a discussion of the divestment of underserved communities of parks and recreation funding. A public process also could have identified additional sites in underserved communities that could have been considered.
Unfortunately, the UPARR replacement story fits all too well within a pattern of disinvestment in Chicago’s low- and moderate-income communities, especially those on Chicago’s south side.
In a May 23, 2022 letter to the editor, the incorrect observation was offered that “[t]he Park District has, it seems, $3,000,000 that can only be spent here under arcane Federal-State-Local agreements governing OPC development. And they are going to spend it.”
This funding issue was addressed at the May 2022 meeting of the Midway Plaisance Park Advisory Council. When asked about funding for work at the eastern end of the Midway, Heather Gleason (the Chicago Park District’s Director of Planning and Development) told MPAC that $260,000 in UPARR replacement funding was available for playground structures, but an additional $2.7 million of funding for contemplated wetland drainage has not been secured from any source.
The creation of a “destination park” on the eastern end of the Midway as described in the May 23, 2022 letter, at the expense of destroying a wetland, is an unnecessary, inappropriate, unduly expensive, and environmentally destructive choice.
First, and most importantly, the Park District should be acting as a steward of natural resources. As a steward, the Park District should be developing a plan for the eastern end of the Midway that embraces nature, rather than destroys it. The Midway’s natural wetland should be recognized and enhanced as such. Native wetland plants that absorb and thrive on seasonal excess water could greatly enhance the beauty and biodiversity of the Midway. Midway wetland restoration – achievable at a relatively modest price – would provide habitat for birds and native pollinators and create an opportunity for timely environmental education, while offering a carbon sequestration function that the current mowed lawn aesthetic at public parks does not provide.
Second, the destruction of the naturally occurring wetland on the easternmost portion of the Midway means that rainfall and underground water running beneath the surface of the eastern end of the Midway will be diverted elsewhere. It makes no sense to maximize the diversion of rainfall and groundwater into the City’s sewers, to be mixed with pollutants while increasing opportunities for flooding.
Third, the cost estimate of $2.7 million for wetland drainage is unsupported by any plan. The rule of thumb for public projects is that initial cost estimates are unduly rosy.
Fourth, the cost estimate for wetland abatement does not include any accounting for flooding of streets or basements, or flooding after-effects such as mold and mildew, arising from stormwater management problems created by wetland drainage.
An alternative vision for UPARR would be to keep the $260,000 of funding in underserved communities, which could use the investment in parks and playgrounds to enhance redevelopment and to simply make these areas more enjoyable places to live. There is no reason why Hyde Park should be muscling out communities with fewer resources.
The general public should have an opportunity to be heard concerning this alternative vision – and the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District have refused to allow it.
It has been suggested that nothing can be done about this misguided approach to UPARR replacement, because it has been included in the Memorandum of Agreement related to Jackson Park. It simply isn’t so.
The Memorandum of Agreement, at Stipulation VIII, expressly provides for amendments. At Stipulation IX, the Memorandum of Agreement provides that a signatory (such as the Chicago Park District) can choose to not perform an undertaking, and if so, the agreement is to be amended or terminated.
There is no legitimate reason why the Memorandum of Agreement cannot be amended, so that the UPARR funding can be allocated, once again, to an underserved community, enhancing park equity and accountability for the stewardship of funds allocated for south side parks.
Bronwyn Nichols Lodato
President, Midway Plaisance Park Advisory Council
Vice President, Midway Plaisance Park Advisory Council
Secretary, Midway Plaisance Park Advisory Council
Treasurer, Midway Plaisance Park Advisory Council