Community voices finally heard on July 13
The final “Community Conversations” meeting last Thursday was well attended, with some 200 very engaged participants. In a welcome change from the previous City-led “Community Conversations,” the meeting ended with a two-hour session led by Alderman Leslie Hairston that provided an opportunity for residents to express directly their concerns and questions about the changes to Jackson and South Shore Parks proposed by the Obama Foundation, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, and the Chicago Department of Transportation.
After the presentations, which were a rerun of those given at the three prior meetings residents lined up for over two hours to voice their comments and questions about the rerouting of traffic to accommodate the closure of Cornell Drive, the loss of park space and recreational facilities, the expanded footprints of the golf course and the OPC, the rushed schedule for approving the proposed changes, and the planners’ misleading assertions that the current parks are underused and therefore in need of radical change. Many spoke also about the impact of the proposed changes on the surrounding communities and expressed support for a Community Benefits Agreement to hold the City and the Obama Foundation accountable for promises made about economic development, affordable housing, and other community issues.
Alderman Hairston repeatedly assured attendees that there are no “done deals” – that she would not be hosting a three-hour session if in fact all the decisions had already been made. Picking up on the many frustrations expressed about incomplete plans and inadequate information, Hairston reminded the three presenters that the public needed detailed, substantive proposals for review, not just schematic concepts. But neither the alderman nor any of the presenters could say what comes next.
(FYI: Reports of the meeting appeared in the Hyde Park Herald, DNAInfo, and the Sun-Times. Also of interest is the information distributed at the meeting by supporters seeking to preserve the South Shore Nature Sanctuary and by birding enthusiasts advancing an ecological vision for Jackson Park.)
What does come next? To date the City, the Park District and the Obama Foundation have failed to provide any substantive information about the remaining phases of this hastily announced “framework planning process,” other than the intention to conclude the whole process by October in order to allow the Obama Foundation to seek Chicago Plan Commission approval in November.
Instead of providing meaningful information, Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp, in her July 12 response to JPW’s open letter requesting a real framework planning process merely said: “[A]dditional community meetings will be held so that we can provide the community with an update on the process and provide detailed answers to the questions raised during this first series of meetings.” (See attachment for full letter.) Rather than the kind of extended discussion and robust community engagement that JPW has called for, this sounds like more of the same top-down process intended to fast-track approval of the plans presented so far with only minor tweaks.
We hope that last Thursday’s meeting will have convinced the City and the Park District that more, not less, discussion is needed and that the community demands an authentic framework planning process with results that are consistent with community desires. What is done in the coming five years will define Jackson and South Shore parks and their communities for the coming half century or more. The City, the Park District, and the Obama Foundation need to take the time to get it right.
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