Jackson Park Watch UPdate – February 6, 2020

Greetings, all!

In this Update:

  • A look at that AOE webinar: the bad and the good
  • Time to suggest alternatives
  • The CBA, displacement, and affordable housing; Lake levels

What the AOE webinar told us

The January 23 consulting parties’ webinar – held to discuss the “final” AOE report – was a mixed bag, with a frustrating format but also some useful clarifications. Here are some takeaways:

·         Does a webinar replace a public meeting? – While a teleconference can be useful, it does not lend itself to productive discussion among a large number of participants (some 50 on Jan. 23).   There were communication problems throughout – imperfect audio reception, confusion about who was speaking, speakers talking over one another, an auto-transcription feature that provided a garbled version of what was being said during the session. We were told that a clean, corrected transcript of the session would be prepared by the FHWA, but that has not yet been made available. 

·         Who’s actually in charge of the Section 106 review? – An official of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation interjected at several points during the webinar to clarify issues of continuing confusion.  (To refresh your memory of the role of the ACHP, see JPW Update for September 20, 2019.) In response to questions about the City’s conflicting roles as both proponent and reviewer of the plans under assessment, she stressed the need for the responsible lead federal agency, the FHWA, to play its rightful role as manager of the overall review.  She emphasized the need for the FHWA to manage the process of resolving the adverse effects that have now been identified. 

·         What’s the proper scope of the Section 106 review? – The ACHP representative also emphasized that the “undertaking” for which adverse effects have been determined and now need to be resolved encompasses all of the proposed changes for Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance, including the City’s actions regarding the OPC and the related road closures. 

·         What is the process for resolving adverse effects? – The ACHP official noted that the standard process to resolve the adverse effects would require multiple meetings and significant interaction with consulting parties to consider options for avoidance, minimization and mitigation.

As context and background for all of this, we recommend a recent piece by The Cultural Landscape Foundation  that points to the policy issues and implications underlying the text of the “final AOE.”  We and others will be addressing a variety of outstanding issues in the next round of consulting party comments due February 18.

Time to suggest alternatives to OPC, road designs

The Section 106 process continues.  Construction of the OPC is not about to begin.  It is time to begin dialogue about alternatives to address the adverse effects that all – including the FHWA and the City – have agreed the current plans would cause.

Following the webinar, a  Sun-Times editorial heralded the need to consider alternatives to the current OPC and road designs:  “Anything less could lead to a design that spoils this jewel of a park rather than enhances it.”  JPW responded with a letter  identifying three major changes that are broadly supported in the community and would smooth the way for construction of the OPC to actually begin: “right-sizing” the museum tower, improving but not closing Cornell Drive; and locating generous parkland replacements in portions of Woodlawn, badly in need of park space. 

Some days later Mayor Lightfoot herself seemed to open the door to consideration of alternatives to the current designs in a Sun-Times interview.  

Your turn:  In light of this, JPW asks community members who support having the OPC on Chicago’s South Side – and, with appropriate major modifications, in Jackson Park – to communicate their thoughts about what changes are needed for that to happen to Mayor Lightfoot and her chief lieutenants on this project, Maurice Cox, head of the Department of Planning & Development, and Gia Biagi, head of CDOT. 

Possible talking points:

  1. As a community member, you may want to express your views on whether community input on the OPC site plans and road changes was appropriately considered under the prior administration.
  2. Express support for the OPC in South Chicago but also identify whatever key changes you think would be needed for it to be appropriate in Jackson Park.  (If you think it should be out of Jackson Park, say that also, but it would be very helpful to offer opinions about changes that could be make it more acceptable on the Jackson Park site.)
  3. Thank Mayor Lightfoot for her emphasis on the importance of community input and transparency and ask her to take the lead in ensuring that there is real community input and dialogue going forward on how to resolve the adverse effects of the OPC and road changes as currently planned on Jackson Park.

Please send your comments to the Mayor at lori.lightfoot@cityofchicago.org and letterforthemayor@cityofchicago.org ;  to  Maurice Cox at Maurice.Cox@cityofchicago.org ; and to Gia Biagi at Gia.Biagi@cityofchicago.org

The CBA, affordable housing, and avoiding displacement

While the controversy over the OPC and road plans continue, the controversy over the Community Benefits Ordinance and displacements of long-time Woodlawn residents continues as well and if anything has intensified.  To the disappointment of many, Mayor Lightfoot has not supported the basic CBA ordinance presented by Aldermen Jeanette Taylor and Leslie Hairston.  Instead, the City Department of Planning and Development has come up with an alternative plan that was outlined in a report released just hours before its presentation at a January 30 Open House.  The plan is getting mixed reviews and faces direct opposition by Alderman Taylor.

JPW continues to believe that the basic CBA principles have a great deal of merit and hopes for a positive ultimate resolution.

Lake levels

In the meantime, lake levels continue to rise with expanding damage to lakefront facilities and properties.  Some are questioning whether, all other considerations aside, it makes sense to close Cornell between 59th and 63rd Streets if South Lake Shore Drive may on occasion be closed due to flooded conditions.  We will continue to track this and will keep you posted.


Thanks as always to all who have recently contributed to JPW.  As always, we welcome your support.  You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent to directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via PayPal here.
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602, ATTN Kevin Winters.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

As always, we thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch





Comments are closed.