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 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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