Jackson Park Watch – May 27, 2016

Mark your calendar:
Community Meeting on Jackson Park
Tuesday, May 31, 6-8 pm, at La Rabida

Greetings all,

Hairston strongly supports community involvement
As Alderman Leslie Hairston announced the May 31 community meeting on Jackson Park issues at this week’s 5th Ward Meeting, she set the stage by saying “Some people outside of the community have decided it’s best that they make decisions for us… Nothing is going to happen in these parks unless we are a part of it.”  Alderman Hairston’s strong support for community decision-making on the future of Jackson Park makes it vital to have maximum attendance at the meeting. We hope to see you all there!  (For more on Alderman Hairston’s comments at the Ward Meeting, see http://hpherald.com/2016/05/25/hairston-announces-community-meeting-to-clarify-parkland-proposals/ .


“No final decisions yet” say key Park District officials
Brenda and Margaret recently met with Park District officials Michael Lange and Heather Gleason at Michael’s invitation to discuss JPW issues and concerns.  Michael, a senior project manager, has been working with Project 120 as it develops its ideas; Heather is the CPD Director of Planning and Development.  The wide-ranging discussion included a focus on three key points:

  1. Project 120’s proposed pavilion and the traffic impacts that would result from the loss of the parking lot. We were happy to hear that the Park District is not committed to the pavilion concept and that discussion of alternatives is in order.  We were told that the Park District knows that there are many community concerns about the pavilion concept.  We argued strenuously that having regular vehicular traffic across the Darrow Bridge, as proposed in the Project 120 design, would truncate the park, create traffic hazards, and be bad for the park and for park users as well.  Michael and Heather listened attentively.
  1. The rebuilding of the Clarence Darrow Bridge. This is a CDOT project, not under the control of the Park District.  It is now in phase one, feasibility assessment, which may last a full two years.  The good news? Community input will be required.  Michael Lange said he would put us in touch with the right persons at CDOT so that we can insure that the broader community can indeed have input.  The bad news?  The design and construction phases to follow could last two years more, plus or minus.  We are looking at several more years of Darrow Bridge closure, and the attendant impacts. Which brings us to issue three.
  1. The proposed installation of Yoko Ono’s “Sky Landing” piece on Wooded Island.  Project 120’s Bob Karr continues to say this artwork will be installed this summer, despite the Bridge closure, which means that adjacent parking spaces and public restrooms will be completely unavailable.  Brenda and Margaret were somewhat surprised to discover that there is no record of any approval or agreement allowing Project 120 to install this permanent piece of privately funded art in the park.  We were even more incredulous to hear that there is no Park District process requiring any public review or input relating to the permanent installation of art in the parks (there is such a process for public art elsewhere in the city, surely there should be one for parks as well!).  However, we have discovered that there does need to be a Park District Agreement on installation logistics, liability, ownership, maintenance, and the like, and an Agreement of that sort related to this piece does not exist as of May 24. [Coincidentally, Project 120 revealed the design for” Sky Landing” at an event at the Art Institute on May 24—it is to be 12 human-sized lotus petals.] We urged the Park District to take a closer look at the logistics and sequencing issues in relationship to this particular Project 120 plan.  Again, Michael and Heather listened attentively to these points.


A Note on Wooded Island
The most recent issue of the Southside Weekly has a good and somewhat unhappy article on the current state of Wooded Island and its prospects for the next few years.  While Jackson Park Watch does not focus on issues related to the U.S. Army Corps’ current work, we know that virtually everyone is interested and thus wanted to alert you to the article.   You can access it online at: http://southsideweekly.com/behind-the-fence/ .

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Jackson Park Watch
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JPW Update – May 12, 2016

Greetings all,

This week’s Hyde Park Herald covers Alderman Leslie Hairston’s April 26 announcement that she has asked the Park District to convene a community meeting to discuss Project 120’s proposals. (See http://hpherald.com/2016/05/11/hairston-calls-for-clarity-from-park-district-and-project-120/) The Herald quotes Hairston: “There has been very poor communication with the community. Residents have said that the community has been ignored and that there has been little input from the community. I think we need to have a meeting to get clarity and to make sure there are no issues surrounding misinformation.” We will keep you informed as plans for the meeting are set.

In the meantime, we have updates on several things: the Yoko Ono installation on Wooded Island, the South Parks idea, and JPAC procedures.

First, Yoko Ono. As noted a few weeks ago, we had asked Bob Karr for information about this piece, including what it will be, the origins of the idea, and arrangements for its financing and maintenance, none of which is covered in the MOU or any other agreement between Project 120 and the Park District. Bob responded that, to quote, “…it is an art installation by Yoko Ono of the original Phoenix Pavilion. It is being funded by Project 120 Chicago. More information will be publicly shared about the project soon.” Since this doesn’t tell the community much about what is involved, we are continuing to investigate, and will share what we find.

Second, South Parks. We continue to do research into the historical accuracy of the picture that Project 120 puts out in relationship to its plans and projects. Because many have noted Project 120’s recent embrace of the “South Parks” idea, we turned our attention to that concept and found the information below. We would appreciate feedback as to whether this summary is helpful.

Why “South Parks”?

Those who have been following Project 120’s ever-expanding proposals will have noted that in September 2015 Project 120’s website suddenly shifted from referring to its plans for Jackson Park to claiming it is “developing plans to revitalize Chicago’s South Parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.”   Many have wondered: What was “South Parks”? What exactly did Olmsted design? And most especially, what relevance does the “South Parks” concept have today?

In fact, there once was an historical, single South Park, but only in concept, never in actuality. In 1869, the areas now known as Jackson and Washington Parks and the Midway Plaisance were designated as “South Park.” Olmsted and his partner Calvert Vaux were retained by the South Park Commission (one of three such geographically defined park commissions) to develop a plan to turn the large site, then uncultivated and with no more than a dozen small dwellings, into parkland.

Olmsted and Vaux presented their plan in 1871. Focusing on Lake Michigan as the most important feature of a flat, marshy site, they designed an interconnected series of lagoons linking the lake on the east with the prairie of Washington Park on the west via a long canal through the middle of Midway Plaisance.

Five months after their design was submitted, however, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 rewrote the plans for South Park. While the actual parkland itself was untouched by the fire, all work was suspended for a year, and Olmsted and Vaux’s ambitious vision was scaled back. By the late 1880s, Washington and Jackson Parks had been given their separate names and identities. Most of Washington Park had been improved, and it was a popular destination for city dwellers. Work on Jackson Park had proceeded more slowly — a promenade along the lakeshore had been developed, but only the northernmost end of the area had been converted into parkland.

When Chicago was selected as the site for what became the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, Olmsted was asked to help select the fair’s location. Stressing the importance of views of Lake Michigan as the fairground’s backdrop and noting the unfinished state of Jackson Park, he suggested this as the site for the World’s Columbian Exposition. Despite the earlier idea of a large, unified “South Park,” he ruled out using Washington Park for parts of the fairground, not wanting a disjointed site. Because of space constraints, the Midway Plaisance was utilized for some popular events.

After the fair, a series of fires destroyed many of the buildings, and most of the other structures were soon razed. In 1895, Olmsted’s firm began transforming the site of the fair back into parkland. Remaining true to Olmsted’s original ideas, the Jackson Park re-design included a system of lagoons, many of which exist today.

Given this history, what is the relevance today of the South Park concept (now adapted as South Parks)? What is Project 120 attempting to achieve by trying to revive it? What does the Chicago Park District have to say about this? What are the views of the community members in the many diverse neighborhoods adjoining the three distinct parks? All good questions. We need to keep asking.

And now, JPAC. At the Jackson Park Advisory Council meeting on May 9 we were surprised by President Louise McCurry’s proposed change to JPAC by-laws. It would require that a JPAC member attend at least four meetings (rather than two) before being eligible to vote. Given the support by some of the stalwart JPAC members in attendance, the amendment seems likely to pass at next month’s meeting. We believe the proposed change, which will limit participation, only underscores the extent to which JPAC is not fully representative of the community.   However, we will continue to attend JPAC meetings and share information about what transpires (and we are definitely entitled to vote!).

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Jackson Park Watch

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Jackson Park Watch applauds Alderman Hairston’s push for more community involvement in Project 120 (Hyde Park Herald) May 4, 2016

To the Editor:

Jackson Park Watch (JPW) is a community initiative dedicated to ensuring that community members have a decisive voice in any major changes made to Jackson Park.  In particular, JPW has focused on the varied and changing proposals for the north end of the Park that have been advanced by Project 120 over the past few years. The most significant of these concern a large multi-purpose visitors center/pavilion that would be located east of the Darrow Bridge and the very major changes in traffic patterns and parking options that would result.

For that reason, JPW applauds Alderman Leslie Hairston’s April 26 announcement that she has asked the Chicago Park District to convene a community process to consider those proposals, to sort out fact from fiction, and to identify a possible timeline for any work that might eventually occur.  We know that many JPW participants have communicated their concerns about Project 120’s proposals to the alderman, and we offer a collective JPW THANK YOU! to Alderman Hairston for her leadership on this issue.

For those readers who have not yet learned about JPW’s work to ensure that Jackson Park neighbors and users have a priority voice in future plans for our Park, we invite you to learn more by visiting our website (http://jacksonparkwatch.org) and to sign up to receive periodic email Updates by contacting us at the address below.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid,
coordinators, Jackson Park Watch