Jackson Park Watch Update August 12, 2016

Greetings all,

It has been a busy two weeks since the announcement that the Obama Presidential Center would be sited in Jackson Park. That busy-ness is reflected in the length of this Update. Bear with us.

Now what?

It’s a new ball game, as folks like to say. Project 120 is no longer the biggest elephant in the room. Now we have OPC.

To adapt to this new reality, Brenda and Margaret propose expanding JPW’s guiding principles and goals building on what JPW has represented and accomplished to date. We present a first draft below. BUT – we need feedback, critical comments and alternative suggestions, so that we can be sure that as JPW goes forward it is indeed reflecting community concerns.

  1. Continue to insist that a transparent process with inclusive community engagement is essential as plans for the OPC and its impact on Jackson Park are develope
  1. Maximize preservation of existing green space and trees for play, picnics, sports, and other local uses by local park users
  1. Ensure replacement of the track/athletic field within easy walking distance of the Hyde Park Academy High School with an equally high quality (or better) facility without using any additional park acreage and without any disruption in access by students or other community use
  1. Continue to oppose Project 120’s pavilion/music venue proposal; support new buildings in the park only if part of the OPC; otherwise, work to renew and then maintain existing buildings

Please give us feedback at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com. JPW can only be effective if we represent significant community voices!

Talking anew to the Park District’s Board of Commissioners about OPC and Yoko Ono

Margaret and Brenda presented an early statement of JPW’s expanded position to the CPD Commissioners during the “People in the Parks” segment of the August 10 monthly meeting. Noting that a new era had begun for Jackson Park with the announcement of the Obama Presidential Center location, we asked that Project 120’s proposals be set aside and the conversation about planning begin anew with a holistic view of Jackson Park with a particular attention to the needs and wishes of regular users:

Much of the public discussion to date has focused on the role of the Obama Center as a tourist destination, an anchor for a south museum campus that will spur economic development. Amid the hope and frenzy generated by that vision, Jackson Park Watch asks that the Park District, the Obama Foundation, and other responsible parties not lose sight of the importance of Jackson Park as a park — a place to enjoy nature, to play, to gather with family and friends; a place with a community of users who live in the surrounding neighborhoods and whose voices should be heard as the future of Jackson Park is discussed. We urge you, Mr. Kelly and Commissioners, to remember that your primary commitment is not to tourists nor to developers nor to politicians, but to the children and families who use the park on a regular basis and depend on it for recreation and renewal.

We also revisited a topic presented at the June and July meetings – the terms of the Yoko Ono installation on the Wooded Island. As with the Obama Center, “Sky Landing” is no longer a possibility but an emerging reality – construction for the installation began this week and we have just been told that the fence may come down next month to allow for the Sky Landing unveiling– but many questions are still unanswered:

We know that this past Monday work on the concrete base for the Yoko Ono sculpture began on Wooded Island. We know that that base will be clad in marble. We know that the sculpture itself will be installed in about three weeks. We know that plans to remove the existing walkway along the west side of the Osaka Japanese Garden and to reconfigure the fence around the Garden to include the Yoko Ono piece are now being made. These developments add to the questions we have raised in the past and make them more urgent. Who will own the sculpture? Who is paying for it and for its installation? Who will maintain it? At whose expense? What are the plans for the new space that will be created? How will they impact the adjacent nature sanctuary? And how do you intend to manage access to the celebrity art work given that the area remains surrounded by fencing and that, even if that fencing were to be removed, neither parking nor restrooms are readily available? This is a public park. This is public space. The public deserves to know.

 You can find the complete statements at http://jacksonparkwatch.org under ‘key documents.”

A good letter to the Editor

JPW participant Eric Ginsburg wrote a terrific letter “Less is more for Jackson Park” to the Hyde Park Herald, published August 10. You can find it at: http://hpherald.com/letters-to-the-editor/

Community benefits?

Much has been said and written about community benefits since the announcement that the OPC will be located in Jackson Park. Obama Foundation president Martin Nesbitt raised at least a few eyebrows with his claim that there is no need for any community benefits agreements since the Obama Library is in itself a benefit to the community.

That aside, believing as JPW does that the Park is itself a massive benefit to the community and that maintaining as much open parkland as possible for community users is essential, JPW coordinators Brenda and Margaret participated in a community benefit coalition meeting on Wednesday, August 10. We proposed that preserving open space in Jackson Park for local uses by local users should be among the community benefits that the coalition puts forward. While there were many priority items under consideration, the idea of preserving park space for local users was sympathetically received. JPW coordinators will continue to participate in such meetings and will report back.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Jackson Park Watch


Hyde Park Herald – Less is more for Jackson Park

To the Editor:

With the siting of the Obama Library in Jackson Park, and expansive talk of a “Museum Campus South”, it is even more important that plans for the rest of Jackson Park get more scrutiny.  As the surrounding neighborhood develops and land is sought to relocate the displaced track and athletic fields, there will be increasing pressure to build inside the rest of the park.  Some may see the music pavilion on Northerly Island as a model for the development of other parts of Jackson Park.

But the use of one corner of the park for an important new library and museum does not justify sacrificing the remainder of the park. Any additional development in Jackson Park should not be judged simply by how many tourists can be drawn to the South Side. If that were the measure of success, why not also build a casino and a roller coaster?

In addition to the upcoming Obama Library construction, Jackson Park has recently had the Army spend millions to restore its fish and wildlife habitat, Yoko Ono is supposed to install a sculpture next to the Japanese Garden, the Darrow Bridge will remain closed for several years, and Project 120 is proposing a music pavilion to the east of the bridge that would require removing at least a football field’s worth of trees.

Wooded Island and its surroundings are a rare piece of urban wilderness. The Army’s project was undertaken recognizing the “important migratory bird, fish and wildlife habitat within the natural portions of Jackson Park” with “the potential to provide pond, fringe marsh, sedge meadow, savanna and woodland habitat.” Residents from the surrounding neighborhoods treasure the park as a nearby, quiet place to walk, fish, bird watch and picnic.  Plans for any additional structures in the park should be vetted through extensive community engagement. Common sense would suggest that such plans take into account the Obama Library design, and that reopening the Darrow Bridge should be a high priority.

Jackson Park is not a blank slate in need of new development. It is hard to imagine there is another natural area in Chicago facing so much change in such a short amount of time. In this case, less is more.

Eric Ginsburg