To the Editor:
I submit that Project 120’s plan to put a music pavilion east of the Darrow Bridge in Jackson Park might not have been appreciated by the park’s designer, the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. In 1891, he wrote a letter protesting the placement of a music hall on Wooded Island, saying that people should consider it “a place of relief from all the splendor and glory and noise and human multitudinousness of the great surrounding Babylon.” In his public advocacy, Olmsted repeatedly showed that he understood the value in unbuilt spaces, saying for example that Presque Isle in Michigan, “should not be marred by the intrusion of artificial objects.”
Jackson Park is one of our city’s few remaining spots of urban wilderness. Birdwatchers come from far away to see the animals it draws, families come to picnic, many come to fish. As our population grows, such places become fewer and fewer, and as habitat decreases across the hemisphere, the number and variety of birds decreases as well.
The proposed pavilion will displace trees and green space, impair views, and bring extra noise, all unnecessarily. We already have many permanent music venues on the South Side of Chicago. Jackson Park itself already hosts the Chosen Few festival every year without the need for permanent structures. If the communities surrounding Jackson Park collectively decide, through a local, open process, that public land is needed for a new music venue, we can find a more appropriate location for it than in the center of a natural area.
Olmsted’s attitude was prescient. He was writing in an era before amplified music, before the Park was surrounded by road noise from traffic moving at highway speeds, before several bird species once found in Chicago went extinct. Olmsted knew from experience what neuroscientists have since quantified, that a walk in nature has beneficial effects on the brain. He would have understood that that there is no need to mar the middle of his park with another intrusive “artificial object.”