The community wants a say in changes for Jackson Park (Hyde Park Herald – February 10, 2016)

To the Editor:

I share the concerns raised by Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid in their January 20 letter to the Herald. I live in the 5th Ward, where I have lived for 33 years. During the fall, I wrote both Alderman Hairston and the Project 120 team to raise similar issues, but neither the alderman nor Project 120 has replied to my letters.

  1. The changing nature of the plans for the park and the secretive manner of their deciding. We were told at the outset that the effort was to restore Wooded Island to native plants, but it now appears that we are excluded from the park while
    we wait for Japanese cherry trees to mature.
  2. We would like to see all environmental impact statements for noise pollution, loss of protected species, and effect on water quality. Before Wooded Island was closed, we watched in horror as thousands of fish died after poison was put in the water. What effect has that poison, and the death of the fish, had on the turtles and birds that also use the island?
  3. What park usage surveys were done before construction began? The southeast part of Jackson Park, near the bowling green, is where many South Siders come in the summer for picnics and family reunions. There are few parks on the South Side where low-income families can easily park or come by public transportation. How will removing all that parking and picnicking space affect them?
  4. Noise pollution from a music pavilion is a serious concern for those of us within a half-mile radius of the proposed pavilion. On the three or four times a year that private parties use amplifiers in the parks, the noise is a major irritant. We were told at the January 17 community meeting that the Burnham plan included a music pavilion, but in Daniel Burnham’s day, there were no giant amplifiers. Music could be heard by the people who came to hear it, not by everyone within ten or twelve blocks of the pavilion.
  5. Many of the Project 120 members do not live in the area. I understand that some are in Wilmette. Perhaps if they began imagining closing off Gillson Park and building an amphitheater there whose sound would affect people on Michigan Avenue in Wilmette, they could understand why there is resistance in Hyde Park to the Phoenix Pavilion.
  6. The Clarence Darrow Bridge has been fenced off for at least four if not five years. It is disingenuous to claim that it is not used and therefore not worth repairing when, in fact, it has not been possible to use it for that length of time.
  7. People come from all over the world to view the migratory birds in Bobolink Meadow and Wooded Island. Indeed, they’ve been written up in various airline magazines, including an article I myself wrote for British Airways three years ago. Shutting off these parks and destroying the habitats has an adverse effect on our local economy. In my own nearly daily walks around the locked up Wooded Island I have encountered numerous foreigners, puzzled that this tourist attraction is shut to them.

It is frustrating to have no voice in these matters, and to have my letters to my own alderman, and to the Project 120 staff, completely ignored. I am grateful to Ms. Nelms and Ms. Schmid for finding a platform to elevate these issues in front of the whole community.

Sara N. Paretsky

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JPW Update – February 9, 2016

Thanks to all who turned out for last night’s South Parks Public Workshop at the Washington Park Refectory. Here is a “brief” report for those who could not attend.

Attendance and structure: There were perhaps 75 attendees, representing both Washington and Jackson Parks constituencies. Project 120 President Robert Karr gave an overview of the initiative. Landscape architect Patricia O’Donnell then talked about Olmsted’s principles and outlined the major points of the current Washington Park and Jackson Park Framework Plans, with a Q&A session for each plan. (The development of a separate framework plan for the Midway Plaisance is underway.)

Timelines, fundraising: In response to questions, Karr and O’Donnell were much more specific than in prior presentations about timelines, next steps, the status of fundraising. Among the major points:

  • Project 120 has to date raised $1.6M, which has been directed to engage O’Donnell and to help the Chicago Park District (CPD) meet the required match for the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) project of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The first phase of GLFER (2015-16) has focused on the lagoons that surround Wooded Island – stabilizing the water’s edges, removing invasive species (a requirement of the federal program), and extensive planting of a variety of native plants.
  • Project 120 is now trying to raise an additional $1M by September 2016 in order to support a second phase of GLFER (2017-18?) that would focus on the boat harbors on either side of Lake Shore Drive, south of Hayes Drive.
  • GLFER is the only project currently approved by the CPD for implementation, under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding that Project 120 signed with CPD in June 2014.
  • Subsequent parts of Project 120’s Jackson Park Framework Plan (and of the other framework plans) will be subject to extensive discussion and a public review process before being green-lighted (though the exact approval process remains undefined) and all are dependent first on successful fundraising.
  • Karr stated that Project 120 is committed to engaging the community and wants to be a model for such initiatives. He recognized that there needs to be much more public input and communication. O’Donnell stressed that the current framework plans are only the first of many versions that will evolve over the coming years in response to funding availability, events (such as the Obama Library), and community input.

Discussion of the Jackson Park Framework Plan (beyond the GLFER work already completed or in progress):

  • Who are you? Who are your donors? (relevant for both Washington and Jackson Park discussions)
    • Karr talked of his own personal interests and long connections with the Japanese garden and of the origins of Project 120 from the Garden of the Phoenix Foundation and the convergence of its interests in enhancing the Japanese garden with the GLFER project.
    • The major donor identified was local Hyde Park benefactor Bernard DelGiorno, who has committed $1M.
  • Visitors center/music pavilion
    • O’Donnell posited the need for a “home” in the park – some place that would be active and inhabited all the time – as necessary to improve safety (or perceptions of safety) and make the park more inviting. She stressed that the pavilion’s music performance capacity was meant to be low-level – for groups of perhaps 250, not for large-scale events.
    • As you might expect, many attendees were not persuaded by her points and there was a chorus of concerns: noise bothering birds and near-by residents; danger of glass panels to birds; loss of trees and parking spaces; planning for visitors rather than residents; primacy of Wooded Island as a nature preserve; availability of other venues for exhibits, meetings, performances, restrooms; lack of a business plan for the facility detailing operating, staffing and maintenance needs and costs.
  • Great Lawn
    • The Framework Plan relocates the golf driving to the south of Hayes Drive and creates a large open expanse east of Bobolink Meadow.
    • Concerns expressed include removal of trees, with preference for trees versus huge open space; removal of tennis courts and dog park.
  • Darrow Bridge
    • Note: This is not a Project 120 initiative; rather it is an initiative of CPD with the Department of Transportation. But the renovation of the bridge is the basis for part of the framework plan, including an active driveway leading from Lake Shore Drive across the bridge to Cornell Drive. The current plan shows this as a one-way-west drive, with parking along the sides.
    • Concerns expressed include problems with noise affecting Wooded Island, safety, congestion, pass-through traffic.
  • Cornell Drive
    • Framework Plan proposes narrowing or reconfiguration (median with trees, bike lanes) to slow traffic
    • Concerns expressed include congestion and other problems for commuters who rely on the link to Stony Island and beyond
  • Project 120’s next steps for Jackson Park
    • Fundraising for GLFER project phase 2
    • Spring/Summer 2016: stage public walks in park to solicit community input; add overlook benches around Wooded Island lagoons; plant trees; conduct traffic assessments
    • More public meetings (no schedule set)

It is encouraging to know that Project 120 understands the need for much more community input and that all plans will have public review before approval by CPD. But it will be a long process, and it will be important to stay tuned and to participate actively in the discussions for each part of the design.

If you have questions and comments, please respond to this message, and we will share and try to address those as a group.

If those who attended have other comments or observations to emphasize and share, please respond to this email; we will collect and redistribute those notes in a second communication.

JPW Update – February 5, 2016

REMINDER: Project 120 is having a public workshop this coming Monday, Feb. 8, from 5 to 7:30 at the Refectory in Washington Park. This is a terrific chance for us to be visible with our questions and concerns. PLEASE NOTE THAT PROJECT 120 HAS CHANGED THE ORDER OF THE AGENDA: discussion of Jackson Park is now scheduled from 6:30 to 7:20, after the discussion of Washington Park.

Jackson Park Watch coordinators Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid met with Hyde Park Herald editor Daschell Phillips and reporter Sam Rappaport this past Wednesday morning and had a broad-ranging discussion of JPW concerns. Daschell indicated that they are receiving letters supporting Brenda’s and Margaret’s recent letter to the editor. In fact, one is in this week’s edition of the Herald, so keep those letters coming. Sam will be at the Feb. 8 workshop and wants to talk about JPW issues, so look for him there.

Brenda and Margaret also met on Wednesday with Alderman Leslie Hairston’s chief of staff Kim Webb and aide Lanita Ross (who attends particularly to park issues). They had a dialogue focused on the lack of community input, the ever-changing nature of Project 120 “concepts,” and the absence of an open process for making decisions on the proposals. Kim indicated that the Alderman is committed to transparency and that no “done deal” has been made. Lanita will also be at the Feb. 8 meeting and available for discussion.

Other news:
JACKSON PARK ADVISORY COUNCIL: Those of you on the JPAC e-mail list have received the newsletter including the minutes of the Jan. 11 meeting. If you were in attendance, you will have noted that they do not accurately reflect the discussion or the motion that was adopted. (If you’d like an e-copy, let us know.) Brenda and Margaret are thinking about how best to advocate for community involvement and a sensible decision-making process at the next JPAC meeting, March 14 at 7 p.m. at the Jackson Park Fieldhouse. Please plan to be there! We will do some advance planning, and will welcome your involvement. (Remember that you do not need to pay dues to be a JPAC member. Rather, according to Park District rules, which JPAC loosely follow, completing a membership application – which we’ll have at the meeting or can send in advance as an email attachment – and attendance at two meetings over a 12-month period qualifies you as a member.)

SPRING AWAKENING: You may have heard that the Spring Awakening 2016 Festival will take place in Jackson Park, June 10-12 because Soldiers Field has been preempted for another event. Similar to Riotfest or Lollapalooza and touted as the largest dance party in the Midwest ( ), the event organizers expect some 40,000 attendees over three days. In addition to 6 stages for music, there will be fireworks, carnival rides, and a Ferris wheel. ( ). Having this event in Jackson Park seems to us to be completely ill-advised: there is no proper stadium-like facility, parking and restrooms are inadequate, and there would be horrendous problems with noise, traffic, and with the impact on birds, the on-going park restoration project, and on the parkland itself. Although tickets are already on sale, we have shared our concerns. If you agree, you can contact the Herald (, the Park District (, the Alderman ( and/ or JPAC (Louise McCurry, and Gary Ossewaarde,

More questions about Jackson Park’s “Project 120” (Hyde Park Herald – February 3, 2016)

To the Editor:

I wish to add my support to the Jan. 20, 2016 letter from Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid, raising serious questions regarding “Project 120,” which I now understand from the JPAC meeting I attended on Jan. 11, 2016, is only in its “concept” stage.

I have been privileged to enjoy the peace and aesthetic beauty of the Osaka gardens, the Paul H. Douglas Nature Sanctuary and Bob-o-Link Meadows for the past fifty years, along with fellow dog-walkers and bird watchers. I am hopeful that when the “concept” becomes more manifest, it will reflect the legitimate concerns of the Jackson Park community, protecting and preserving this precious sanctuary for the next fifty years.

I urge other concerned citizens to attend the next JPAC meeting, currently scheduled for March 14, 2016, at 7 p.m. at the field house. Hopefully, an update on “Project 120” will be part of the formal agenda for the meeting, giving the community an opportunity to participate in a responsible and constructive way to the decision making process.

-Ray Kuby

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JPW Update – January 29, 2016

Good news: the Jackson Park Watch e-list is rapidly growing, as news spreads about our collective effort to raise community concerns and bring accountability and transparency to Project 120 ideas about the future of our park. Next steps:

  • A good turnout to ask questions and raise concerns at the Feb. 8 workshop on Project 120 ideas (see more below);
  • Continuing to spread the word among friends and neighbors to build our e-list and expand our network;
  • Letters to the editor of the Hyde Park Herald ( to raise the visibility of our questions and concerns.

Along with this e-message, we are attaching the announcement of the Feb. 8 workshop on Project 120 ideas. It will take place from 5 to 7 in the Refectory in Washington Park. (As you drive through the park going west, it is the building with pillars to the south. There is ample parking.) This is a good chance to make our concerns more visible, so we hope for a good turnout. Look for Brenda (with white hair and glasses and wearing red fleece) to touch base and coordinate. (Margaret will be out of state.)

We hope you will have time to scrutinize the Project 120 announcement and come prepared to raise concerns. Here are some questions that occur to the two of us:

* Just who and what is Project 120? How will it be held accountable? Where is the transparency in the process? Exactly what role is the Chicago Park District playing in all this? What is the CPD approval process for any proposed change to Jackson Park (or any park)?

* How do the Frederick Law Olmsted plans developed in the late 1800s relate to conditions today? Does it make sense to use his plans as a template for 2016? Likewise, how does the label “South Parks” relate to today’s realities? What exactly does Project 120 have in mind in advancing that old concept?

* What is the basis for proposing a large multi-purpose building with a music performance venue (“the Phoenix Pavilion”) in the “Music Court”? A look at history shows that there was a never a permanent bandstand in that location, let alone a large building. We already have a music venue on the Midway, along with the Chosen Few House Party and many impromptu amplified performances in the park throughout the summer; do we need or want more?

* What would be the impact of re-imposing the 1931 “Great Lawn” on existing parkland? How many trees would be cut down? What recreations facilities would be lost? Does the Park District intend to create a large new open lawn space just when it has ceased eradicating dandelions in the parks to save money and minimize the adverse environmental impacts of herbicides?

*Finally, why keep moving forward with this Project 120 process when the announcement of the siting of the Obama Library is expected so soon? Doesn’t it make more sense to put Project 120 planning on hold until we know where the Obama Library will be located?

Again, we urge you to come to the Feb. 8 event to raise questions and concerns. We urge you as well to put them in writing in a letter to the Hyde Park Herald ( to help spread the word.

Hyde Park Herald – January 20, 2016

This letter is prompted by the Dec. 16 article “Project 120 Update” as well as by your comments about Jackson Park in your end-of-year coverage.

We and many others in the community have many concerns about Project 120, as was made very clear by the large number of participants raising questions at the Nov. 9 public workshop on the current proposals for Jackson and Washington Parks and the Midway Plaisance. These concerns include:

  • What exactly is Project 120 proposing? The plans appear to change on an on-going basis.
  • What are the specifics concerning the concert pavilion proposed to replace the existing parking lot east of Darrow Bridge close to the Museum of Science and Industry? Who would control, operate, staff, and maintain it? Would this be another privatization of public park space? What about noise and parking? If part of the goal is to provide a visitors’ center with displays and restrooms why not improve the existing Park District restroom facilities in the area and work with MSI to develop a display about the history of the Wooded Island and its environment there?
  • When and how will the public have the opportunity for decisive input beyond these sporadic workshops?

We hope that we are not wrong in trusting that significant public debate will be required to make any of the major changes to our beloved local parks that Project 120 appears to have in mind.

Brenda Nelms Margaret Schmid
We can be contacted at

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