JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE, October 31, 2022

Greetings, All:

TRICK OR TREAT?

Today is the fourth anniversary of the approval by the Chicago City Council of the ordinance   siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park. The Council members approved Mayor Emanuel’s request unanimously with no debate, giving the Obama Foundation effective control of 19.3 acres in the midst of a renowned public park for 99 years. 

The ordinance committed the City to direct some $200 million of public funding for road changes and other infrastructure work to facilitate the project.  It also required the Obama Foundation to pay the City $10.00 (total) for the use of the park space and to certify that the Foundation had raised full funding for construction of the Center and for an endowment to support its maintenance and operations over the next century.  

We assume the $10 lease fee has been paid, but the City (by then headed by Mayor Lightfoot) waived the other financial requirements and allowed the Obama Foundation to begin construction in August 2021 without certifying that it had sufficient funds in hand to build and operate the center.  There is still no evidence that those “required” benchmarks have been met, even as trees have been leveled and deep holes dug. 

LESSONS FROM OLMSTED 

In recognition of 2022 as the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted, the Chicago Architecture Center last week sponsored an on-line discussion entitled “Past, Present and Future of Olmsted Landscapes in Chicago.”  Presenters were local historian and preservationist Julia Bachrach (author of The City in a Garden: A History of Chicago’s Parks), photographer Duane Savage (long-time resident of Washington Park and a leader of the Washington Park Camera Club), and Patricia O’Donnell (head of Heritage Landscapes and a specialist in Olmsted landscapes who was an advisor for the recent Army Corps’ GLFER project to revitalize Jackson Park lagoons and plantings).  The session concluded by asking for their thoughts on the Olmsted legacy in Chicago and on the benefits and drawbacks of the OPC. community.  

Some of their observations: 

  • Locals Duane Savage and Julia Bachrach were direct in lamenting the community’s loss of park space to the OPC. Said Savage, “[With] all the open spaces on the South Side of Chicago, they did not need to build anything inside of a park. . . This idea of placing things right in the park has to stop. What is the use of having these grand spaces if they are going to be chewed away by motorists getting to a tourist location?”  Bachrach wished for an opportunity to give President Obama a tour of Jackson Park: “I would tell him I’m a North Sider and I would want to have Jackson Park a thousand times more than Lincoln Park. . . In Washington Park and Jackson Park there is a sense of discovery; you lose yourself in nature. . .This idea that a good park has to have all these bells and whistles like Maggie Daley Park I think misses the point.  It’s sad to add this major thing to an existing park and not understand the asset that you have.”
  • Patricia O’Donnell was more circumspect, given that she is now advising the Park District on the efforts to mitigate OPC-related damages to the GLFER project.  She focused on what we can learn from Olmsted: “I think Olmsted’s legacy is enduring because it is correct.  [The goal is] offering nature in the city and welcoming everyone.”  Channeling Olmsted’s vision, she stressed that good parks are flexible and have multiple uses; they should not be fenced off for single uses.  In Jackson Park, for instance, she noted the continuing problem of the fenced golf driving range blocking the stretch between the Music Court and Hayes Drive.  Washington Park has its great meadow; Jackson Park does not. 
  • Supporting the Olmsted view of parks as inclusive and diverse, Bachrach registered her disappointment that the Park District is still talking about combining the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses. She sees that as a move in the wrong direction that will serve only a very selective, small group. 
  • Finally, all joined O’Donnell in stressing the need for caretaking and maintenance of parks.  Politicians are too dazzled by promises of big money and fancy designs, and we need first to value and maintain the assets we already have.  There must be active and persistent advocacy on behalf of parks, generally and individually.

* * * *

Jackson Park and Midway Plaisance both exemplify the sad lesson that “benign neglect” can suddenly turn into “destroy to improve.”   With that lesson before us, we encourage park lovers to continue to let the powers-that-be know what’s on your mind about Jackson Park and its park neighbors.

SPEAK UP ABOUT THE MIDWAY   

It has now been more than three weeks since the Park District held the fourth community meeting on its proposal to “improve” the eastern tip of the Midway Plaisance in order to “replace” recreational space lost in Jackson Park to the Obama Presidential Center.  In spite of promises that the slide presentation and the video/audio recording of the October 6 meeting would be posted on the CPD website for the project within two weeks, the record is still not available and CPD has not responded to questions about the delay.  

We’ll wait no longer to recap the meeting, particularly since it was sparsely attended due to heavy rain and strong winds that evening that amplified the now regular construction traffic jams, the media coverage was also spare and incomplete, and the Park District is still accepting public comments on the proposal. 

The Block Club Chicago article on the meeting provides a general overview but glides over details.  The meeting was purportedly to report on and respond to the public comments on the design plan that had been presented at the end of June.  However, the prepared presentation did little to substantively engage the many criticisms and questions submitted during July and August.  A Q&A session allowed for some direct questions, but there were few direct responses. The designs for the site generally and for the accessible play space were basically the same as before, though there were some problematic and confusing additions.  

  • To criticisms that the decision to use the Midway as the UPARR replacement site was a top-down edict promulgated without proper community input and without concern for equitable distribution of parks, Heather Gleason, Director of CPD’s Division of Planning and Construction, did acknowledge the widespread public dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency in the site selection process.  She then asserted that neither the City nor the Park District had legal authority to renegotiate the terms of the Section 106 Memorandum of Agreement that codified the selection.  

This position has been challenged by the Midway Park Advisory Council in print and again at the meeting and seems contrary to the language of Section VIII of the MOA. In the face of the Park District’s no-can-do response, an individual community member requested that the Park District’s counsel be present at the next meeting specifically to address the question of amending the MOA, given the widespread support for such action. Preservation Chicago and Friends of the Parks also spoke out at the meeting in support of amending the MOA and relocating the UPARR replacement site, and Openlands and Landmarks Chicago advocated for such a move in their written comments submitted before the meeting.  

It is important to note that this particular spot at the border between Hyde Park and Woodlawn is already park rich, and, as Park District officials acknowledged in response to a direct question, there has been no systematic demographic survey of the nearby area to support the site selection.   Rather, the immediate beneficiaries of siting the UPARR replacement space on the Midway will be the OPC, just a block south, and the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools Early Childhood Center, just a block north. Meanwhile, surrounding South Side neighborhoods, especially West Woodlawn, are chronically park poor and will remain under-served.

  • To the many expressions of concern about the safety of the site for any play area and particularly for one aiming to serve children and others with various disabilities, the Park District responded that it had been in discussion with CDOT (which was not represented at the meeting) and showed marks on the map for two proposed crosswalks and drop-off areas on the Midway east and west roadways near the train embankment. There was also reference to plans to coordinate traffic signal patterns and to use the public parking lot at 60th and Stony (controlled by the University).  It was, at best, a gesture to recognize a problem, but without evidence of careful analysis or a finalized workable solution.
  • To concern about the lack of nearby, accessible public restrooms – a chronic problem throughout Chicago’s parks but again one deemed particularly important given the target audience for the play area – the Park District announced a proposal to install an accessible porta-potty on each side of the central play area and expressed hope that a permanent facility could be built later when funds were available.  We believe these unattractive twin towers will be appropriately embarrassing emblems of the inadequate planning for this worthy but woefully mis-located project.
  • To the widespread objection to the plan to eradicate a 0.4-acre natural wetland adjacent to Stony Island Avenue, the Park District revealed but did not fully explain a modified plan that would expand and develop the “lowland area” but also would install a stormwater filtration and drainage system (a feature not needed for a natural wetland). Park District officials refused to use the term “wetland” even though the area had been so identified in the Environmental Assessment report (Appendix f) issued by the National Park Service in 2020 and even though Park District staff did volunteer that the City has already paid the mitigation fee to secure replacement wetland in Will County.  This additional instance of the Park District’s continuing lack of transparency and Orwellian use of language only fuels more distrust and bears more investigation.
  • To the concern that the proposed plan ignored the community’s past usage of the Midway site as a sledding slope, the Park District staff shrugged.  

Perhaps the presentation and recording of the Oct. 6 meeting will be posted by the time this reaches your email box.  Please check the CPD capital projects website just in case.  If they are still missing, look again at the July 8, 2022 Draft Plan for Review in light of this summary and consider submitting new or additional comments on the Midway Plaisance East End Improvements Feedback Form

SPEAK UP ABOUT TREES

Next week residents in seven precincts adjacent to Jackson Park will be able to vote on an advisory referendum, sponsored by Save Jackson Park, asking that the City and Park District stop cutting more trees in Jackson Park and South Shore Cultural Center.  Some 380 trees have already been clear cut in the initial OPC construction work; roadwork could take another 470 and the proposed golf course over 2000 more.  That’s quite a loss of oxygen-producing, heat-reducing live trees that would take four decades to replace. The numbers speak for themselves.

*****

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via PayPal here.  (If you encounter difficulties with PayPal, please let us know.)
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 67 E. Madison St., Suite 1817, Chicago IL 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 Jack Spicer
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE, October 1, 2022

Greetings, All:

As autumn arrives, here are some actions you can take and information you can use to support Jackson Park and its companion parks.

Mark your calendar – Thursday, Oct. 6, 5 pm – to support the Midway Plaisance 

The Park District has announced a “community meeting” for Thursday, October 6, 5:00 pm, at the South Shore Cultural Center to present the results of the 45-day comment period on its proposed redesign of the eastern tip of the Midway Plaisance and to discuss the next steps for that project.  

The CPD website for the project includes both the draft design presented as of June 8  and a compendium of the comments about the design that were submitted through August 22.  The comments make for interesting reading if you can download and magnify the document.  The great majority of the comments (88 of 106) oppose the use of the Midway as UPARR replacement land and oppose the proposed design in all or part, objecting particularly to the removal of the small wetland. 

Also available at the Thursday session will be information on the upcoming Burnham Building Restoration, the Jackson Park Plan for Interpretive Materials project, and the upcoming Washington Park Framework Plan.

Comment on a proposed new Park District ordinance before Oct. 31

The Board of Commissioners of the Chicago Park District is showing a new and refreshing responsiveness to park-user complaints.  The immediate prompt for optimism is its recent response to the many complaints about large private events taking over park space and making a park inaccessible to regular users for extended periods (e.g., Riot Fest in Douglass Park, Lollapalooza and the newly authorized NASCAR race in Grant Park).  

The Board has proposed amendments to Chapter VII, Section C of the Chicago Park District Code that would be codified by ordinance.  The amendments would require that any permit application to use park space for an event or activity with 10,000 or more attendees per day must receive approval from the Board of Commissioners (Section C.3.c.), and would make the Board’s decision to approve or deny a permit final and not reviewable by the General Superintendent (Section C.6.a.).  

The proposed amendments have been posted for a required 45-day public comment period, which will conclude on October 31, at which point the change would become effective upon approval by a majority of the Board of Commissioners.

JPW believes this is a positive step toward accountable management for the Park District and a step back from monetizing public park space as its first priority. We believe parks should be respites for people, available at all times, and not rental space for profit-making corporations. We encourage support of the amendments.  However, we will suggest two additions to strengthen and clarify the proposed text:

  1. The text should specify that Board approval is required for an event/activity with 10,000 or more attendees per day that is proposed for any park property, regardless of the classification of that particular site within the CPD classification system. No loophole exceptions.
  2. In addition to the number of daily attendees, a second key criteria for assessing any large event permit request should be the length of time for which the event would make the park space inaccessible by regular park users.  For instance, the time for setup before and then repairing the damage after Lollapalooza make areas of Grant Park unusable for six or more weeks during the prime season for park use.  Similarly, the PGA golf tournaments envisioned for the proposed Tiger Woods golf course in Jackson Park and South Shore Park would close the course for regular public players for at least three weeks, again in the middle of an already short season.  Such infringements on the use of public parks should not be acceptable.

We urge you to review these materials and to submit your own comments before Oct. 31.   See the CPD notice page on its website for the text of the amendments and information about uploading your comments there or submitting them by phone, USPS mail or email.

Keep up to date on Promontory Point News

The Promontory Point Conservancy continues to push for restoration of the Point’s revetement as part of the City’s efforts to secure the lakefront shoreline.  Restoration is the optimal approach from a cost perspective and also because of the Point’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places.   

Cost Estimates: The City and Park District’s “Locally Preferred Plan” is to demolish the limestone revetment and replace it with a new concrete and steel structure (as already lines much of the lakefront).  Their current estimate for this is $75M.  In sharp contrast, to follow the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Preservation for a preservation design that requires repair, restoration and rehabilitation rather than demolition would cost an estimated $25M maximum.  

Advisory Council on Historic Preservation: The controversy over the preservation of the historic limestone revetment at the Point has now been advanced by the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office (ILSHPO) to the ACHP.  This is a significant step.  The ACHP is an independent federal agency that promotes the preservation, enhancement, and productive use of our nation’s historic resources, and advises the President and Congress on national historic preservation policy.  The ACHP has the authority to insist that any project follow the Secretary of Interior Standards and that design decisions are carefully considered under a Section 106 Review, and it can adjudicate between the current “Locally Preferred Plan” and the federally funded preservation study, sponsored by Representative Robin Kelly, to be done in 2023.    

Keep up to date on the status of the Protect Our Parks suits against the OPC

The often-quoted maxim “Justice delayed is justice denied” would seem to be the perfect label for the suits filed by Protect Our Parks since 2018 to challenge the construction of the Obama Presidential Center.  Richard Epstein, a member of the legal team for Protect Our Parks, recently summarized the case, outlining the multifaceted arguments and the frustrating delays it continues to face.  

Meanwhile . . .

Brace for more congestion and traffic jams in Jackson Park.

*****

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via PayPal here.  (If you encounter difficulties with PayPal, please let us know.)
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 67 E. Madison St., Suite 1817, Chicago IL 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 Jack Spicer
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE, August 4, 2022

Greetings, All:

Supposedly we are in the lazy dog days of summer, but there is a lot going on in and around Jackson Park.  

Amid the noise we would like to focus your attention for the moment on just one controversy – the designation of the eastern tip of the Midway Plaisance to “replace” some of the acreage in Jackson Park that has been commandeered for the Obama Presidential Center.

Prior Updates (January through May) have covered  the convoluted logic and slippery process behind the City and Park District plan to “improve” the Midway east of the railway embankment in order to meet requirements attached to prior funding (UPARR grants) for Jackson Park from the National Park Service. 

Here is where we are now:

On July 8, the Park District posted its draft plan for review during  the required 45-day consulting party and public comment period, and invited all interested individuals to submit comments on the proposal by August 22, using a particular portal on the CPD website.   

More detailed versions of the draft plan were presented at a virtual community meeting on June 21 and are available on the Park District website – both the PowerPoint slides and  a video/audio record of the slide presentation and discussion.   

The Hyde Park Herald provided a summary of the meeting and noted that the questions and comments by community members were largely critical of the project.  There were objections to the process for selecting the site, to the proposed design for a  play space that would dominate the site, and to the eradication of the existing  half-acre wetland.  None of these objections are addressed in the subsequent draft plan now posted for review.

What you can do before August 22:

We encourage you to review the latest plan for changes to the Midway tip and to submit your own comments and suggestions.  Even if you have already provided feedback at earlier stages in this discussion, it would be worthwhile to repeat those comments or offer additional remarks directed specifically to the draft plan.   We note that the Park District does not provide a public record of the full comments and suggestions it receives and, we assume, does not carryover comments and suggestions that have been previously ignored.  So, repetition is necessary, and the more comments submitted, the better.  

In addition to submitting a statement on the Park District comment portal, we suggest that you consider sending a copy of your comments to several other parties, including the signatory agencies to the Section 106 Memorandum of Agreement that authorized this misguided proposal for the Midway:    

Federal Highway Administration, Arlene.Kocher@dot.gov
Illinois State Historic Preservation Office,  Anthony.Rubano@illinois.gov   
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, rnelson@achp.gov
City of Chicago, Department of Transportation, gia.biagi@cityofchicago.org
Illinois Department of Transportation, Anthony.Quigley@Illinois.gov
Chicago Park District,  rosa.escareno@chicagoparkdistrict.com
National Park Service, Herbert_Frost@nps.gov
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Chicago District, chicagodistrict.pao@usace.army.mil (with subject line:  Attn Col. Paul Culberson)
Alderman Leslie Hairston, l.hairston@cityofchicago.org; ward05@cityofchicago.org
Hyde Park Herald, h.faris@hpherald.com
Jackson Park Watch, jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

Food for thought:

As you make your own assessment of the draft plan, we recommend you read this statement by the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council, which has opposed the use of the Midway tip as UPARR replacement land since that was first proposed in 2018.  MPAC is advocating now for a revision of the Section 106 Memorandum of Agreement so that the UPARR designation could be redirected to open space(s) elsewhere in the neighborhood, which would allow for an actual expansion of public parkland.   

We also offer here for review JPW’s statement to the Park District. 

*****

Jackson Park Watch has previously stated our opposition to the proposed use of the Midway tip to satisfy the UPARR requirements and we summarize our reasons here:

  • The process of selecting the Midway as the UPARR replacement site made a mockery of the City’s promises for community engagement in the decision and indeed completely ignored the expressed objections of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council.  
  • The City’s interpretation of the UPARR requirements was blinkered, seemingly designed to serve primarily the Obama Foundation by combining a solution to the UPARR impediment with a plan to spruce up the Midway’s eastern tip in anticipation of visitors to the OPC from outside the neighborhood.  But the City failed miserably to take advantage of a special  opportunity to provide new, additional park space to underserved neighborhoods such as West Woodlawn.  
  • The  designated “replacement” site is not a vacant lot in need of development, but rather it is already a public good that, like much of Jackson Park and many other South Side parks, has long been neglected when it should have been maintained and nurtured. The decades of inadequate park maintenance across the area are evident in crumbling pathways and bridges, untended plantings, flooded underpasses, and unplayable tennis courts and athletic fields, features that have been used by the Obama Foundation, media outlets, and even elected officials to claim that the parks are underused  and in need of “transformation” when all that is needed is regular care of what is there already.      
  • The site is inappropriate for the proposed design of which the central feature is a universally accessible play area.  The site is difficult and unsafe to access;  surrounded by heavy traffic and noisy train tracks, exposing users to air and sensory pollution;  lacking in restroom facilities that could be particularly important for the targeted audience (defined as young children and disabled individuals of all ages). 

Here we comment on the specific design plan presented by the Park District at a public meeting on June 21 and presented in summary  (without any changes to reflect community input at that meeting) for the required 45-day Public Comment period that began on July 8.

  • The long-neglected restoration of the Cheney-Goode Memorial is the primary achievement of this plan and to be applauded.  It should be the central feature of the site.
  • The universally accessible nature play area that is the central feature of the draft plan seems to be a comprehensive assemblage of activities that could serve a wide range of disabled children and adults as well as able children under about age 10.  The assemblage of 25 separate stations has the feeling of boxes being checked to meet every need.  But it also has the feel of being tightly jammed into a space too small for its worthy ambitions.  The maximum capacity was projected by design team staff as 125, but the area would be unusable if anywhere near that many individuals of different ages and needs (plus caregivers) showed up at the same time.  The play area as designed requires more space, on a different site, to realize its potential and to be the showcase model that the Park District hopes it will be.  
  • Beyond its crowded appearance, the expansive play area and the vertical mix of its individual elements clash with Olmsted’s open space design.  Also jarring is the introduction of  a pastel-roofed outlook amid a maze of wooden structures and planting.  A different plan would be needed to be compatible, spatially and aesthetically, with the historic site.
  • We are told that the current plan is defined to be responsive to the requirements demands of the National Park Service for active recreation space, but current community use of the space for such activity is ignored.  The wide stretch of the playground (north to south) along with the ornamental plantings at each end will create a barrier that effectively eliminates one of the current recreational activities frequently mentioned by community residents – sledding down the railroad embankment to the center of the Midway.  This is in spite of design team response to comments at community meetings that “we hear you.”  Removing the playground and rethinking the plantings could preserve this pleasant (and active) pastime and also allow for the open space required by NPS without the need to eliminate the wetland.
  • The July 8 plan continues to include the CPD’s plan to eradicate the half-acre of wetland at the eastern end of the site by regrading and the installation of new drainage. Many members of the community have spoken in opposition to this eradication on environmental grounds as well as because of the cost and futility of the proposed changes. We support the recommendation that the wetland be retained and featured as an important and natural element of the Midway.  We believe that there would still be adequate space for an athletics area as mandated by NPS (though we also believe that it would be an unnecessary feature for the site given the better athletic fields just to the west).    
  • Many of the features that community members cited as essential if the proposed play area were to be built are either not yet included or not fully illustrated in the draft plan presented on July 8 for review. Chief among these are a safety fence around the play area, a safe drop-off or accessible parking area, and a restroom.    
    • The outline for a fence is shown on Proposed Design diagram #3, but the fence is not shown in either of the “View” illustrations in which the play area appears entirely open and unprotected.  Appearances and details are important.  It seems likely that an illustration of the play area surrounded by a fence would further emphasize the intrusiveness of the design for the site.  No decision about the design should be made until there is full information about the fencing to be installed. 
    • The July 8 materials do not include any reference to the repeated community  concerns about safe access to the site.  There was mention by staff at the June 21 community meeting of discussions with CDOT regarding better crosswalks and a drop-off on the south side of the site and of looking to the parking lot at 60th and Stony (which is owned by the University) for possible accessible parking.  We believe that those discussions should be concluded and the results incorporated into the plan presented for public review before any final decision is made about the site or the design. Such features are necessary, not optional, regardless of the final design for the site.
    • There is no reference in the July 8 materials to community concerns about access to a restroom for users of the site and particularly for users of the universally accessible play area. Community members suggested that restroom facilities could be developed in collaboration with the to-be-renovated Metra station.  Cross-agency collaboration is difficult but not impossible and is especially important in an age of budget tightening, and it should be pursued.  No decision about the current design should be made until that important need is resolved.

Given the misguided use of the Midway tip as a UPARR replacement space, given the misfit of the current draft plan for the chosen site, given the many community concerns about the current design, and  given the reported lack of final funding, we suggest elements for an alternative plan that would be more appropriate, more effective and, most likely, less costly:

  • Transfer the UPARR designation to another space (or spaces) in Woodlawn that would constitute additional parkland and that would be more accommodating, appropriate and accessible for a universally accessible play area.
  • Restore the Cheney-Goode Memorial and make it the central feature of the site with an accessible connector path to it across the Midway.
  • Maintain and develop the wetland area as a public resource and educational opportunity.
  • Develop a design that would be more compatible with long-standing recreational usage of the site (e.g., sledding hill) and would also maintain an open lawn between the wetland area and the Cheney-Goode Memorial for optional recreation.
  • Establish permanent safe access routes, drop-off areas and accessible parking.   
  • Establish an endowed fund to support regular maintenance of the Midway site to avoid continuation of the pattern of neglected maintenance that has been the rule for at least fifty years.

*****

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via PayPal here.  (If you encounter difficulties with PayPal, please let us know.)
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 67 E. Madison St., Suite 1817, Chicago  IL 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 Jack Spicer
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE, May 15, 2022

Greetings, All:

Midway Plaisance East End “Improvement” 

On May 3 the Park District hosted the second community meeting about its plan to use the eastern tip of the Midway Plaisance as replacement for recreational space in Jackson Park that is being obliterated by the Obama Presidential Center.  Park District staff also attended the May 11 meeting of the Midway Park Advisory Council.  In both meetings, the full  CPD plan was briefly outlined, but feedback was requested for only one feature –  the universally inclusive play space – that is proposed for the center of the site just east of the Cheney-Goode bench.

It was noted at the MPAC meeting that when the community was first  informed of the possible designation of the Midway as “replacement” park land  — in Spring 2017 – community members  responded with concern and questions.  The City stated then and repeated again and again that any final decision would have to be approved by the community after extensive public discussion and meetings. Those promises of public engagement were not kept and the community now is being shown a plan codified in the agreements that concluded the federal reviews of the plans for the OPC in Jackson Park.  The City and Park District claim that their hands are tied and that they have no choice but to execute the terms that they helped define without full public discussion or review. 

Yet, concerns and questions that were posed in 2017 and  in 2018 and in 2019, have had to be asked yet again in 2022 and still await answers:

  • Will the iconic space envisioned by Olmsted as the link to Jackson Park be respected? In that spirit, the 2000 Midway Framework Plan proposed a large fountain. The current plan will restore historic plantings, tree alleys and walkways.  However, the ambitious play facility at its center is at odds with Olmsted’s design in tone, palette and scale, as would surely have been determined if the design have been available for inclusion in the Section 106 review process.   
  • How will the half-acre wetland be handled?  The Herald quoted DPD Associate Director Eleanor Gorski on a visit to MPAC in 2018: “because an  underground stream flows down the Midway, it has been prone to chronic flooding issues that two engineering projects in recent memory have failed to fix.”   Now the City, perhaps looking for a  cheaper option, seems to have forgotten that history.  The only recent response to the “how” question has been “regrading,” which seems inadequate and would also represent another variation from Olmsted’s horizontal vision.   
  • How will the space be made more safely accessible amid the increased traffic congestion brought on by the OPC?  Visitors to the space have to cross at least two busy roadways, with little or no parking adjacent or close by.  The Park District has said it will have CDOT input at its next meeting.
  • How can an active recreational facility be safe and enjoyable for young children and for people with various impairments?   The site is surrounded on three sides by fast-moving, exhaust-spewing cars and on the fourth side by loud freight and passenger trains, and seems to require protective features.

The design images presented at the meetings and an audio recording of the May 3 session (including Q&As) are available on the Featured Capital Projects page of the Park District website [select “Midway Plaisance East End Improvement,” scroll down to “Meetings” and select “Video” for May 3].

Comments on the proposals for the play space and the other proposed changes to the Midway site should be submitted by May 20 via the Park District’s  Capital Project Feedback Form in order for them to be addressed at the subsequent public meeting on June 21.   That third community meeting will be another virtual session via Zoom.  Including your email address on the Feedback Form will ensure that you receive notices about that and subsequent meetings.

Remembering what is lost

Also included in the Park District’s May 3 meeting was a brief introduction to another mitigation initiative prescribed by the Section 106 Memorandum of Agreement – the Jackson Park Plan for Interpretive Materials.   It is listed as a separate Featured Capital Project, but to view the slide presentation and remarks made on May 3 look at the video listed above for the Midway Plaisance project.

This project too is on a tight schedule.  There is the promise of meeting and feedback opportunities throughout the summer, but no specifics yet.  The plan is to be finalized in October 2022 and implemented by February 2023.  So, if you have comments or suggestions about themes or specific people or events to be celebrated or about the mode(s) of presentation, don’t delay.  Be sure to use the Feedback Form associated with this specific project. 

Long, hot summers ahead? 

With the beginning of road work in Jackson Park in mid-April to accommodate the construction of the OPC, South Side residents (and those far beyond) have been subjected to tortuous delays, not only during rush hours. Signage to redirect southbound drivers approaching 57th Drive through or around the maze has been more confusing than helpful.  Accidents have occurred and  on occasion back-ups have extended to Oakwood Blvd.  This past Friday a multivehicle crash at  the 57th Drive intersection during peak rush hour reportedly brought southbound cars and city buses to a standstill for some 90 minutes. Now an additional, life-threatening concern has been exposed by the tragic shooting around the Golden Lady on Tuesday night. Ambulances dispatched to the scene – where six were critically wounded – reported difficulties navigating the jumble of parked cars and street/lane closures.   That’s an ominous start to a summer of hot nights and crowded parks and likely for years ahead.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via PayPal here.  (If you encounter difficulties with PayPal, please let us know.)
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 67 E. Madison St., Suite 1817, Chicago  IL 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 Jack Spicer
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE, April 30, 2022

Greetings, All:

While we are still waiting for spring, Jackson Park remains a hub of park activities and concerns.

Midway Plaisance East End Improvement Community Meeting #2

The Park District will host its second community meeting about proposed changes to the eastern tip of the Midway on Tuesday, May 3, 5:30 pm, at South Shore Cultural Center.  

This will be an in-person meeting.  A presentation by CPD staff and consultants is to include an overview of community feedback since the initial meeting on March 29,  a report on the historically significant  landscape elements to be restored, and preliminary design ideas for a “universally accessible play space.”  The CPD presentation will be available on-line after the meeting, posted on the “Featured Capital Projects” page of the Park District website.  

As explained in prior Updates and in a recent letter to the Hyde Park Herald, we have been  unimpressed by CPD’s “community engagement” charade and continue to regard its plans for the Midway tip as inappropriate, unsafe, costly, and unlikely to succeed. We submitted our comments and questions to the Park District via its Capital Project Feedback Form, and encourage you to do the same.  We hope that these issues will be addressed in the May 3 meeting, either directly or through questions.

There is to be a Q&A session on the Midway project though it is not clear how much time will be allowed as this same meeting is to include also a second presentation, though that is not mentioned on the meeting flyer.

The second topic – “Project Introduction” for the “Jackson Park Plan for Interpretive Materials” – is described on the CPD website. The federal review of plans for the Obama Presidential Center and other changes to Jackson Park that yielded the plan to provide replacement parkland on the Midway tip also provided for mitigation of adverse effects to Jackson Park through the development of a plan for interpretive materials within the park. (Remember that those “adverse effects” are the destruction of the comprehensive Olmsted design for Jackson Park and the loss of approximately 20 acres of public parkland.)   Accordingly, the Park District has engaged a consultant team led by Skidmore Owings Merrill (SOM) to help develop materials and programs “to commemorate the cultural and natural historical contributions of Jackson Park and its use by South Side residents.”  Presumably the meeting will provide more details.

Park advocates should pay attention to both of these initiatives and try to attend the Tuesday meeting if possible.

Fake news vs. real news  

On March 29,  U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey dismissed portions of the lawsuit initially filed in April 2021 by Protect Our Parks and six joint plaintiffs in opposition to the construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.  The ruling was widely mis-reported as a complete dismissal of the POP complaint in its entirety.   

The Hyde Park Herald got it right, however.  The dismissal applied only to state law claims relating to public trust and public land issues.  Still pending on the dockets of both the U.S. District Court and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeal are POP’s federal law claims relating to the evaluations of the OPC project by federal agencies with respect to its environmental and historical preservation impacts.

Judge Blakey’s recent ruling allowed the discovery process on POP’s federal claims to resume, although all parties believe it would be helpful to learn first what the Seventh Circuit has to say in regards to the current appeal there.  As to the dismissal of the state law claims, the Plaintiffs have asked the District Court to allow the rulings to be appealed, and written arguments on that motion now being submitted for consideration.   

Stay tuned.

A day to celebrate or mourn?

April 26 was Frederick Law Olmsted’s 200th birthday, an occasion celebrated by the New York Times with a special insert “Olmsted’s Enduring Legacy.”  Olmsted deserves high honor as  America’s pioneering and still premier landscape architect, but little attention was given to the date or to Chicago’s historic Olmsted parks by local media nor was there any mention of Chicago in the special insert.  Such omissions are tacit recognition of the drastic changes now underway to Olmsted’s design for Jackson Park and Midway Plaisance. Olmsted’s legacy does not endure in Chicago and we wrote the Tribune to lament that loss.  

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via PayPal here.  (If you encounter difficulties with PayPal, please let us know.)
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 67 E. Madison St., Suite 1817, Chicago  IL 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 Jack Spicer
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE, March 24, 2022

Greetings, All:

Jackson Park and the surrounding circle of public parks are a hotbed of activity.  Historic Jackson Park is being disrupted (which is to say, destructed and totally remade by the imprint of the Obama Presidential Center and attending road work), but there are challenges all around that also require attention and engagement.

Jackson Park

  • The Obama Foundation and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) are busy levelling trees, digging deep holes, and preparing to slice off wide swaths of Jackson Park to expand DuSable Lake Shore Drive and Stony Island Avenue.  Their presentations to the 5th Ward’s monthly meeting in February and March placed great emphasis on the worthy but short-term positive effect on local employment during the construction phase and ignored the long-term consequences for park users of removing playing fields and denuding the landscape of mature trees for the coming decades.
  • The lawsuit and related motions filed by Protect Our Parks and its co-plaintiffs to challenge the federal review process that allowed the work to begin in Jackson Park remain in limbo at both the district and appellate levels, even though the suit was filed before the City had handed over Jackson Park to the Obama Foundation. 
  • Speaking up for the trees is SaveJacksonPark.org, which is sponsoring a petition for an advisory referendum on the June primary ballot to stop tree removal in Jackson Park and South Shore Cultural Center Park with particular focus on the damage to be done by the proposed Tiger Woods golf course.  
  • Meanwhile, at its March meeting, Jackson Park Advisory Council leaders avoided consideration of issues confronting current park users by proposing to limit discussion of  “Old Business” and “New Business” to 3 minutes each and then summarily adjourning the meeting before even reaching that point on the agenda.  Henry Martyn Robert must be spinning in his grave.

Park District to present planned changes to Midway Plaisance at Community Meeting

The Park District has scheduled a “Community Meeting” for Tuesday, March 29, 5:30-7:00 pm, to present its plan for “Midway Plaisance East End Improvements.”  The plan results from the decision by the City to designate the eastern tip of the Midway (between the Metra tracks and Stony Island) to “replace” some of the parkland in Jackson Park that is being lost to the Obama Presidential Center.

The posting on the Park District website for the Midway Plaisance implies that the meeting will be at the Midway field house, but it will actually be an on-line webinar via Zoom, and advance registration is required to receive the log-in instructions  and other information. There will be an initial slide-show presentation followed by a Q&A session.  We are told that the Q&A will be managed primarily through the chat function, but there will be an opportunity for direct oral questions or comments by participants unable to use the chat function. Comments on the project can also be submitted directly to the Park District on the Capital Project Feedback Form for Midway Plaisance East End Improvements

The CPD plan was already presented at Alderman Hairston’s 5th Ward meetings in February and again in March, and that presentation is available for viewing. The segment on the Midway project is found at minutes 43:30-55:00.

In the previous Update we addressed the nonsensical and controversial plan and its development in opposition to the expressed wishes of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council.  To those concerns and criticism we should add the issue of a timetable that  does not take into account either the pending renovation of the adjacent 59-60th St. Metra Station or the adjacent roadwork being undertaken by CDOT to accommodate the OPC.  Comprehensive planning and coordination are needed, not blinkered project management with a slice and dice approach. 

We urge you to participate in the Community Meeting to voice your own concerns, questions, and suggestions.  After the meeting,  you may want to submit additional and more complete comments on the Capital Project Feedback Form.

Limestone Rocks   

Preservation Chicago recently selected  Promontory Point as one of the Chicago’s most endangered historic sites for 2022  because of the continued threat to the Point’s historic limestone revetment and landscape, which was designed by Alfred Caldwell, one of the greatest of Prairie School landscape designers.  The City and Park District–ignoring the Point’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places–aim to replace (rather than repair) the still solid, still usable and still cost-effective limestone rocks with the uninviting and less-durable textured concrete steps that now line much of the lakefront.   At the 5th Ward meeting on March 22, Alderman Leslie Hairston criticized the City’s failure to listen to the people in the community and restated her strong support for preservation of the limestone revetment.  U.S. Representative Robin Kelly and State Senator Robert Peters have also expressed their support for preservation.  More on the threat to this popular destination can be found on the Promontory Point Conservancy website.

A Respite for All

Supporters of the South Shore Nature Sanctuary,  soon to celebrate its 20th anniversary at the South Shore Cultural Center, have established a useful website to share information about its history, flora and fauna, events, and volunteer stewardship opportunities.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via PayPal here.  (If you encounter difficulties with PayPal, please let us know.)
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 67 E. Madison St., Suite 1817, Chicago  IL 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 Jack Spicer
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE, January 29, 2022

Greetings, All:

The new year is off to a busy start with issues relating to Jackson Park and adjacent parks. Here is a brief report.

JPAC —  Exclusive Club or Community Forum?

There has been considerable attention given to the internal workings of the Jackson Park Advisory Council in recent months, prompted partially by the installation of wrought iron gates on the bridges leading to Wooded Island.  Although the gates are not being locked at this time, to many they represent an ominous image of exclusion and inequity, while to the current JPAC leadership they represent a necessary protection against vandalism.

These conflicting views are now playing out in an effort by the JPAC officers/board to  revise the by-laws of the organization to institute additional attendance and volunteer requirements for voting members.   Presently, individuals who have attended the monthly meetings of JPAC twice in the previous year may vote on issues and in elections.  The proposed change would require attendance at four monthly meetings and also participation in three volunteer activities (unspecified and undefined) before being eligible to vote.  The disagreement and challenges to the proposal have been covered in the Herald and BlockClubChicago and most recently WTTW.

It is instructive to recall a similar brouhaha over voting requirements that occurred in 2016.  At that time individuals could vote after attending just one prior meeting during a 12-month period.  Without any prelude, the JPAC board proposed amending the by-laws to increase the requirement for prior attendance from one to  three meetings.  Strong objections resulted in a compromise – the two-meeting requirement that exists today.  

What had prompted that board initiative in May 2016? It would seem to have been the widespread public concern about and pushback against the proposal by Project 120 to erect a music pavilion/visitor center on a site adjacent to Wooded Island, a project that JPAC (or at least its board) supported and promoted, though had never discussed or probed in depth during its monthly public meetings.  The defensive response was to establish new obstacles to the participation of other voices in park matters.  

It was frustration with JPAC’s failure to function as a true forum for public discussion of the big changes being proposed for Jackson Park that sparked the organization of Jackson Park Watch and informed the definition of its goals of promoting transparency in decision-making and meaningful community input on major changes to the Park. The problems observed in 2016 are still prevalent today; JPAC is still more monologue than dialogue.  The current controversy over by-laws is an opportunity for change in the direction of transparency and inclusivity. 

Proposed changes to Midway Plaisance require community input

The 5th Ward monthly meeting on January 25 included a presentation by representatives of the City and Park District on the state of plans to reconfigure the eastern tip of the Midway Plaisance (between Stony Island and the Metra tracks) to serve as “replacement active parkland” to compensate for space in Jackson Park commandeered for the OPC.  The plan developed by the City is prompted by the  terms of long-ago federal funding for enhancements in Jackson Park under the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Act (UPARR) of 1978 and codified in the Memorandum of Agreement signed with federal agencies in December 2020.  

Stressing that “we are just at the beginning of this process,” Park District staff laid out a 30-month schedule that began last fall, touting the selection and hiring of Site Design Group –  a local, MBE/WBE-certified firm with a distinguished record —  develop a design plan. 

The schedule going forward now:

2022: January-March — Site Design Group will prepare an early design for presentation to the community for feedback at one or more public meetings in March (exact meeting arrangements a little hazy). 

April-June – A refined but still preliminary design plan will be shared with the 90+ consulting parties that participated in the federal review process and feedback accepted during a 45-day comment period. [The presentation left unclear if participation in this step is limited to those who signed or concurred with the MOA, excluding groups such as JPW that refused to endorse the outcome of the improperly conducted federal review process.] The community will be updated on the results of the comment period.

July-September – A final plan with construction documentation will be prepared and shared with the community, and submitted to the Illinois State Historical Preservation Office for its approval.

October-December — Permitting and bidding processes completed.

2023:  Construction to start in Quarter 1 and be completed by the end of the year.

It should be noted that the Midway Park Advisory Council has, since 2018, expressed its concerns about specific aspects of the City plan and its opposition to the use of the eastern portion of the Midway as “replacement” parkland, but its repeated requests for a public and transparent process to address the issue have been ignored and without response.  It remains to be seen whether the  schedule outlined above will allow the much-needed community input that has been absent to date.

The proposal outlined by the City and Park District includes two elements in particular that should be fully addressed during the promised community meetings and reviews:   the removal of the existing half-acre of wetland on the eastern edge of the site and the installation of a new play area in its center. 

Overall, the plan is nonsensical and controversial.  

  • Nonsensical because it proposes to resolve drainage issues that have long characterized that spot and have resisted all previous attempts at control due to a natural underground water channel.  The City representatives  did not attach a price to the engineering effort to permanently drain the .43 acre , but one can predict it will be a substantial expenditure with a high probability of failure. A better option would be to enhance the wetland as a valuable natural resource in mitigating climate change.
  • Nonsensical also because it plops a children’s playground in a spot surrounded on three sides by fast-moving, high-volume traffic and on the fourth side by railroad tracks serving both commuter trains and freight trains.  It will not be an inviting space for uninhibited play and relaxation, but rather a place for parents to worry about air pollution from speeding cars, noise pollution from the Metra station announcements and rumbling trains, and fraught access across major thoroughfares.  The proximity of other playgrounds, including one to be built on the OPC site across the street, adds to the confounding lack of rational thought underlying the plan.
  • Controversial because the City has insisted on converting the tip of the Midway to a UPARR replacement site rather than developing new and additional parkland in western Woodlawn where such space is scarce and residents of all ages are in need of more green space and opportunities for active recreation.  The City points to the need and value of maintaining proximity to Olmsted’s park, but that is not  required by the federal agreement and, it should be emphasized, deference for Olmsted is hypocritical at this point as his iconic design and distinctive vision for the park will be no more.  

We urge continued attention to this initiative and active participation in  the community meetings and comment periods to try to achieve a more rational and appropriate design for such an important space.  The first opportunity may be the  next 5th Ward meeting on February 22 as  Alderman Hairston has asked the City and Park District representatives to return for a more extensive presentation and Q&A then.

Glacial pace on the legal front 

There has been little public action over the last month on either of the suits filed in 2021 by Protect Our Parks and six individual plaintiffs against the City, Park District and the Obama Foundation challenging the siting of the OPC in Jackson Park. 

On last report, the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to rule on the District Court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction to halt construction work in Jackson Park.  And it seems that the District Court is waiting on that appellate decision before it proceeds with the hearing of the primary suit, filed in April.  That complaint challenges the conduct of the federal reviews required to assess the impact on the environmental and historical resources of Jackson Park of the federally-funded infrastructure work needed for the Obama Presidential Center.

The only activity this month involved the POP team’s request to amend that original complaint to include the failure of the City to hold the Obama Foundation accountable to the terms of the Master Agreement.  The agreement, signed in 2019, specified that before the Foundation took control of the site it was to have in hand funds to cover the full construction cost of the OPC and establish an endowment to sustain the OPC for the coming century.  Neither of those conditions was met.  Judge Blakey accepted the Defendants’ assertion that the Plaintiffs did not have standing to file such a complaint, even though all are residents of the City of Chicago.  Such a ruling is inaccurate and senseless on its face and may be subject to appeal. 

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via PayPal here.  (If you encounter difficulties with PayPal, please let us know.)
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 67 E. Madison St., Suite 1817, Chicago  IL 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 Jack Spicer
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE, December 15, 2021

Greetings, all, 

Park District plans for “improvements” 

As recently reported in the Hyde Park Herald,  the Chicago Park District and Alderman Leslie Hairston hosted a virtual meeting on November 29 to present plans for three construction projects to begin in Jackson Park in Spring 2022:  renovation of the Iowa Building, a new Dog- Friendly Area (DFA), and a senior-sized baseball field.

We applaud the renovation of  the Iowa Building — finally! – after decades of negligence and years of prodding by the Jackson Park Advisory Council, and we appreciate the work of Senator Robert Peters in securing state funding last year for this much-needed work.  However, the other two projects raise continuing concerns and questions prompted by the loss of parkland to the Obama Presidential Center and the Park District’s plan to expand the already-large OPC footprint for the dubious public benefit of building a PGA-level golf course in Jackson Park.

The plan to construct a new DFA on a barren and exposed stretch south of Hayes Drive and adjacent to DuSable Lake Shore Drive is meant to replace the well-established and well-loved Jackson Bark to the north.  Unlike the long-overdue Iowa Building project, it is not clear why this is essential or an improvement.  The new DFA project did not arise from community requests and, as was made clear in the Herald coverage, does not reflect support from patrons of Jackson Bark.  Rather, the new DFA is a key element in the controversial plan for a new Tiger Woods-designed golf course,  a plan that – like the related one for the OPC – was prebaked into the South Lakefront Framework Plan before community discussions began.  The eradication of Jackson Bark is “necessary” because that space can then be used to extend the golf driving range northward.  That trade-off should be considered in assessing the DFA plan.  Would it not be a better use of public funds (and likely at less cost) to renovate rather than erase Jackson Bark?  Would it not be better to move the driving range into closer proximity with the actual golf course as is standard placement in PGA-level courses?

Meanwhile, the new baseball field to be added north of Hayes Drive is the result of the relocation of one of the playing fields already displaced by the construction of the Obama Presidential Center along the west side of the park.   The Park District is choosing to build a replacement field in an already congested recreational site, rather than develop new public parkland elsewhere in the Woodlawn area to replace the 19.6 acres lost to the OPC – a mitigation promised by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the 2015 ordinance approving use of Jackson Park for the OPC.  The plan to squeeze three ball fields and two multi-sports fields into a tight “pinwheel” configuration may be a marvel of spatial design, but it will require careful scheduling for safe use and may offer a less than optimal experience for the local athletes who need and deserve more rather than less athletic space.  

Further, if these plans are realized, both dog-walkers and ball-players will be challenged by expected traffic problems relating to the transformation of Hayes Drive into the default pass-through speedway for north-south traffic (replacing Cornell Drive) and the removal of all of the parking spaces now available along Hayes. Citizens from all parts of the South Side use these public Jackson Park facilities because they are accessible and safe.  Is crowding average people out of the parks the real price of the OPC?  

The virtual meeting on Nov. 29 had only a few participants.  We urge regular users of Jackson Park to take a careful look at what is being proposed by the Park District and to submit your comments to the Park District.  

Legal process inches along while bulldozers move swiftly

In August, just before the Obama Foundation took control of 19+ acres of Jackson Park, Protect Our Parks and its six co-plaintiffs asked the US Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit to review its request for an injunction to halt all work on the OPC until POP’s suit challenging the federal review process of the OPC project is concluded.  The request for such an injunction had been denied at the district court level by Judge Robert Blakey, who is presiding over the federal review case 

On November 30, POP’s appeal was finally heard by a three-member panel of judges. Richard Epstein, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, argued that the City, the Obama Foundation and the federal agencies charged with reviewing the project used an improperly narrow definition of the project that divided it in a fashion which improperly precluded consideration of environmental, historical and other relevant impacts and avoided evaluation of alternative locations that would not have impacted parkland at all, even though such considerations are statutorily mandated. Until those issues are resolved, Epstein argued, further disruption and destruction of Jackson Park should be paused.  The judges pressed Epstein on those issues, but did not make a determination and did not indicate when they would issue a ruling.    

Still pending also is the  initial complaint filed by the Plaintiffs in the US District Court in April (months before the City turned over the site in Jackson Park to the Foundation). That suit focuses on specific lapses in the conduct of the federal reviews of the proposed changes to Jackson Park and in particular the failure to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement as would usually be standard for a project of this scale.  Recently the plaintiffs have also requested that they be allowed to file an amended complaint that would add two causes of action associated with an alleged failure to comply with the Master Agreement between the Obama Foundation and the City.  That Agreement requires that certain financial thresholds be met by the Foundation in regards to the cost of the OPC construction (a cost that continues to be revised upward, now $700 million) and to the funding of an endowment for long-term maintenance and operation of the OPC.  The district court has set a briefing schedule on that request which stretches into January 2022.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

 You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via PayPal here.  (If you encounter difficulties with PayPal, please let us know.)
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 67 E. Madison St., Suite 1817, Chicago  IL 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 Jack Spicer
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE, October 26, 2021

Greetings, all, 

Jackson Park and Chicago’s parks generally have been much in the news over the last month.  Here is our attempt to summarize and prioritize.

Mixed reactions to saws and shovels

The ceremonial groundbreaking for the OPC  on September 28 – on a bare site newly clear-cut and leveled – was mainly a virtual event, closed to all but a few invited dignitaries due to COVID-19 restrictions  and perhaps also to concerns about possible demonstrations by those opposed to the siting of the OPC in the park.  The event was buzzed by a plane pulling a banner sponsored by Save Jackson Park: Stop cutting our trees.  Move OPC.”

In the days before and since there have  been many public ruminations reflecting the ambivalence that so many feel about the OPC – the tension between honoring Barack Obama and destroying Jackson Park. 

  • In the Sun-Times Lynn Sweet recounted the many lingering controversies relating to the development of the plans for the OPC.   
  • Local photographer Eric Allix Rogers documented the destruction of the landscape with before and after pictures of the site designated for the OPC.
  • The  editor of The South Side Weekly prepared a photo essay to remember the Jackson Park trees, noting that until the trees were cut many residents of the community did not comprehend the scope or implications of the transformation of the park from a protected space under public oversight to a space controlled by private hands. Now, with community input having been blocked and no comprehensive community benefits agreement, they fear that all will be lost.
  • Ron Grossman of the Tribune  weighed the value of the OPC against the loss of precious urban green space and with some ambivalent logic accepted that clout and hubris and personal feelings had tipped the scales against consideration of the broad public good
  • Across the spectrum there was concern about the OPC’s impact on a critical public issue for Chicago:  affordable housing.   The head of the Better Government Association criticized the Obama Foundation’s refusal to sign a community benefits agreement and called for the Foundation to finally do right by the South Side now in order to clear its reputation for the future.  The issue of displacement also mobilized African American critics of the OPC from the progressive left to the Nation of Islam.

Even if they had doubts about the wisdom or justness of the outcome, many commentators assumed that it is a foregone conclusion that the OPC will be built as now planned and Jackson Park will be remade in its shadow.  But given the continuing legal challenges, that dire scenario is not inevitable. The OPC could still be moved to another non-park site or, at the least, its footprint in Jackson Park could be modified to avoid further destruction.  

Legal challenges to OPC continue

Protect Our Parks and its six co-plaintiffs have active cases at various levels of the federal court system and other under consideration:

  • U.S. District Court for Northern District of Illinois —

In April POP filed a complaint to challenge the improper conduct and legitimacy of the federal reviews of the OPC plan required of the Federal Highway Administration, National Park Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That complaint is still pending, with no schedule set yet to hear the merits in that suit.  Some of the defendants  (City, Park District, Obama Foundation) filed a motion to dismiss the portion of the suit dealing with the City’s public trust obligations, and that motion may be considered this month, but the core of the case challenging the federal review process would not be affected.   

  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit  —
    Also still pending is POP’s appeal, filed in August,  for the reversal of an earlier decision denying a preliminary injunction to halt work on the OPC until the POP case challenging the federal review process is completed.   

    Jackson Park Watch joined with Preservation Chicago in September to file an amicus brief in support of the POP appeal for an injunction.  The brief stressed the widespread interest by local residents in the preservation of  Jackson Park and the widespread concern that any and all legally required reviews be conducted accurately and fairly in recognition of the potential of the OPC project to set a precedent  for future historic and environmental preservation cases.  The joint brief also argued that further delay in construction work would not harm or reduce the  projected long-term benefits of the OPC but would avert potentially unnecessary damage to historic and environmental resources.   

    Two other amicus briefs were also submitted in support of the POP appeal:  The National Association of Olmsted Parks in its brief stressed the importance of parks as public open spaces to be protected from privatization.  The NAOP brief is described in a special statement entitled “Requiem for Jackson Park”.   Teresa Horton, an Associate Professor of Research at Northwestern University whose work has examined the impact of urban greenspace on the psychological and physiological health of humans, submitted a brief highlighting the positive effects that access to mature trees and complex landscapes has on both individual health measures and societal ills such as domestic and community violence. With aerial  photos she demonstrated the dramatic  contrast between densely canopied Hyde Park and sparsely covered Woodlawn, and expressed great concern about the negative impact of the 50-year gap before there would again be mature trees on the OPC site.  

    The Court denied, without explanation, each of these motions to file a brief.   While the texts of the briefs are recorded in the official record, it is disappointing that they will not be considered by the judges as part of the testimony supporting the request for a preliminary injunction. One would think that the Court would want to gather as much information and consider as many viewpoints as possible in a case where the public interest is itself the central issue under review. 
  • U.S. Supreme Court —
    POP’s special emergency request to the Supreme Court for an injunction to stop OPC construction work was recently denied without comment.  The denial was not unexpected given the huge number of appeals received by SCOTUS. This ruling has no effect on either the appeal to the 7th Circuit noted above or on the original case before in the District Court as there was no consideration of the legal merits of either case. 

Jackson Park beyond the OPC

In addition to the continuing saga of the OPC, there are questions and controversies bubbling throughout Jackson Park and its adjoining parks that deserve and require close attention and action.  The vision of making Jackson Park into a Millennium Park South, as President Obama said when unveiling the OPC plans in 2017 and as was reiterated at the recent groundbreaking, would transform the park and the mid-south lakefront into a playground for passing tourists and upscale golfers and boaters while diminishing its importance as a community asset available to the public at large and depriving local residents of ready access to favorite activities and nature’s respites.  It is important then to keep the entire park area in mind, even as the OPC continues to hog the spotlight.  

Hug a photo?

The federal reviews of the plans for the OPC that are the subject of the lawsuit filed by POP concluded with a Section 106 Memorandum of Agreement outlining the steps to be taken to “mitigate” the admittedly severe adverse effects of the OPC on the historic resources of Jackson Park.  The City just submitted its first annual report on those steps to the Federal Highway Administration.  Most actions are marked as pending.  The one completed action was the documentation through photographs and drawings of the areas of the park to be altered to accommodate the OPC – good for archivists perhaps, but a meaningless action for active park users.

A redesign for Midway Plaisance?

The only other action step reported to the FHWA was the Park District’s initiative to hire a suitable landscape firm to redesign the eastern tip of the Midway Plaisance.  Because Jackson Park is “protected” by a recreational preservation agreement with the National Park Service (due to funding provided in the1980s), the transfer of a portion of Jackson Park to the Obama Foundation required the designation of a new recreational space for NPS protection.  Rather than develop new parkland to serve the community and compensate for the loss of acreage in Jackson Park, the Park District and City designated the Midway’s eastern tip as the replacement site.  When the plan was first broached in 2018, the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council stated its opposition, judging the site inappropriate for active recreation uses, especially for children.  MPAC has recently reaffirmed its opposition to the CPD plan. Even so, as reported in the Hyde Park Herald, on October 13, the Park District Board approved  a contract with Site Design Group for this project (1-year @ $329,360 with extensions possible). A schedule for the work has not been issued, although community meetings are promised.  It is noteworthy that Site Design is part of the landscape architecture team for the OPC, and thus the Midway redesign project might well be seen as an extension of those plans.   

A gated community? 

Public discussion continues about the installation of large gates on the two bridges leading to Wooded Island.  Are they necessary?  Who do they exclude?  What message do they convey about park usage?  The ominous gates are not currently being closed and locked nightly, thanks to public outcry, but there remains confusion and concern about access to the island between dusk and dawn.  The controversy has sparked lively exchanges at chaotic meetings of the Jackson Park Advisory Council.  Critics of the installation have organized as South Side Parks to address multiple concerns about park leadership and management; anyone who wants to learn more should send an email to jacksonparkgates@gmail.com.

Clubs at the ready?

The proposed merger of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses to create a single PGA-level course has taken a lot of hits lately, particularly from the Sun-Times (see link below), but the ball is still lurking behind the bushes.  We agree with media critiques that it is a bad plan in every way – for local golfers, for frequenters of the SS Nature Sanctuary, for ball players, for equestrians, for dog lovers, for community users of the South Shore Cultural Center, for taxpayers. The youth programs often touted to justify the “Tiger Woods” plan can be (and already have been) effective without any radical redesign.  But we are all too aware of the clout and backroom agreements that have brought the OPC shovels to Jackson Park, and recognize that continued vigilance is needed. 

Limestone or concrete?

Promontory Point has become another public park requiring renewed community attention.  Storms last year that threatened Lake Shore Drive at Morgan Shoal (at 43rd-53rd Sts.) made the reinforcement of the lakeshore an urgent necessity.  Current presentations by the Army Corps of Engineers, CDOT, and the Park District have indicated a preference for extending generic steel and concrete steps all along the south lakefront, including around the Point.  This plan ignores the fact that there is no danger to LSD from storm waves at the Point and also completely disregards prior designs and signed agreements for restoring the historic limestone revetement at the Point. Those prior designs were the result of extensive community discussions and negotiations with city and federal agencies brokered by the Promontory Point Conservancy.  The current governmental preference for concrete would also threaten the Point’s recent listing on the National Register of Historic Places, a milestone that was supported by a large segment of the community and guided by Alderman Hairston.   In the face of this new threat, the PPC is organizing again to promote community awareness of and support for preservation and restoration of the historic limestone revetment at Promontory Point.  Stay tuned.

Time to pay attention, stay involved

All of these current issues and controversies in Jackson Park and neighboring parks are related to and will be affected by the upheaval in the leadership of the Chicago Park District.  With the forced resignation of CEO Michael Kelly due to a sexual abuse scandal, there has been a torrent of additional complaints about CPD’s long record of poor judgement, bad management,  lack of transparency, and lack of attention to community needs and wishes.  It is not clear yet to what extent there will be big changes beyond the selection of a new superintendent – e.g., a new Board of Commissioners? a clean sweep of department directors? – or how long it will take to implement the changes.  But one can hope and one should participate in discussions to promote a Park District that serves the community rather than special interests. 

Friends of the Parks is taking a leading role, and deserves support. But the discussions and actions in the local park advisory councils – JPAC, MPAC, SSPAC – will also be important, as will the work of the Promontory Point Conservancy.  Let your voice be heard.

Jackson Park Advisory Council –
https://www.jacksonparkadvisorycouncil.org/
next meeting November 8, 7:00 pm,   JP field house
(Note:  Contrary to the website, you do not have to donate to be a member)

Midway Plaisance Advisory Council
http://midwaypac.org/
next meeting October 27, 6:30 pm, Midway field house  (special date)

South Shore Cultural Center Advisory Council – https://www.facebook.com/SouthShoreCulturalCenterAdvisoryCouncil/
next meeting November 13, 10:30 am, SSCC Oak Room

Promontory Park Conservancy
https://www.promontorypoint.org/

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

You can contribute in three ways:

·         You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 

·         You can contribute via PayPal here.  (If you encounter difficulties with PayPal, please let us know.)

·         You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 67 E. Madison St., Suite 1817, Chicago  IL 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 Jack Spicer
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE, September 22, 2021

Greetings, all, 

The Obama Foundation pushed the City to let it begin  work on the Obama Presidential Center site in August in the hope that it would inspire big-ticket donors to fill the huge gap in funding needed to complete  the project.  While the impact on potential donors is unknown, it is clear that the cutting of most of the trees on the 19.3 acre site and the complete obliteration of the Women’s Garden have shocked and mobilized critics of the current OPC plan.  There are new voices speaking out and new groups forming to address not only the imposition of the OPC on Jackson Park, but also other park changes.  

Here’s a “brief” survey of the past month. Intertwined in all of these activities are the core issues of environmental degradation and equity, preservation of historical resources, public costs, and public goods. We expect more action on many fronts.  Stay tuned.

Trees and Natural Spaces

The clear-cutting of the OPC site has brought new attention to the broad environmental consequences of the loss of so many mature trees.   As covered in  Environmental Health News,  replacing mature trees with young saplings is not an equal exchange – “one tree does not equal one tree” – and it will take decades to recover, a trajectory complicated by climate change.

That same theme was sounded by Openlands, an organization renowned for promoting tree planting and tree care in the region.  It issued a statement lamenting the loss of tree canopy and calling for extensive new plantings and financial payments by the Obama Foundation as a minimal compensation to  help mitigate the environmental damage.  Given the Foundation’s financial straits that response seems unlikely.

The environmental degradation of Jackson Park is being extensively and thoughtfully documented on a  new website and accompanying Facebook page by Save Jackson Park, which calls for moving the OPC to a site adjacent to Washington Park.  

The sense of loss and of frustration felt by many South Siders and others as the OPC site was bulldozed was eloquently captured by Woodlawn resident Lyletta Robinson in an opinion article in the Sun-Times She pointed to the flawed decision-making process that allowed such destruction – top-down, premised on park space as something to be developed for economic purposes rather than preserved for the public good, with disregard for community concerns about the use of Jackson Park for this project and about basic issues such as traffic congestion. And she sounded the alarm about the threat to other treasured features such as the Nature Area at the South Shore Cultural Center.

Golf – ifs and buts

The OPC work in Jackson Park has reignited talk of the proposed merger of the golf courses in Jackson Park and SSCC into one PGA-level course.  Coverage in Crain’s (Sept. 2 and 6) and the Tribune  has been ambivalent, noting that there are many issues still to be resolved  (private funding, fees for local golfers, community support), but representing primarily the perspective of a subset of gung-ho golfers.  The many other users of the park who would be deprived of recreational spaces if the project moved forward are generally not represented in such coverage except by the Sun-Times.  Lyletta Robinson’s comments about the South Shore Nature Sanctuary reflect those concerns, and the Sun-Times editors have explicitly lumped the project into the overflowing bucket of bad decisions by the Park District.

Trying to focus on the costs and benefits of the golf project,  JPW submitted the following comment to Crain’s, where it  was published on 9/9.  (In our haste, we neglected to mention a most important cost of the proposed design for the golf courses merger:  the destruction of  some two thousand additional trees, exacerbating the environmental degradation already inflicted by the Obama Foundation.)

Regarding the proposal to merge the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses into one PGA-level facility, we pose some questions in terms that are most familiar to Crain’s readers:

Who benefits?  It is important to remember that this proposal originated not with community residents or regular park users or even golfers, but with the University of Chicago as part of its 2014 private proposal to the Obama Foundation to locate in Jackson Park. . . .  Though touted as separate projects, they emerged from the same womb.  The University stands to be the main beneficiary of both projects by elevating Hyde Park and its adjacent lakefront neigborhoods as attractive destinations for affluent residents. 

Who loses? Regular users of the park.  For local golfers who can now play an affordable round whenever they want, there has been no satisfactory guarantee that such easy access will continue.    For non-golfers  (and also the many golfers who use the parks in other ways) there will be a loss of access to well-used, treasured recreational spaces – the Nature Sanctuary and the riding rink at the South Shore Cultural Center, the ball fields and picnic areas squeezed out first by the OPC and then the golf course expansion, the popular dog park displaced by an enlarged golf driving range.

Who pays? As with the OPC, the golf project has been represented as a gift to the City, with private donations of $25 million to pay for construction as well as for youth programming.  In fact, however, the plan calls for the Park District to contribute $5 million and, rarely mentioned, requires the construction of two expensive underpasses and extensive shoreline stabilization work estimated in 2018 to cost around $58 million.   So, taxpayers will be on the hook to pay some $63 million for this freebie.

Beyond the upfront costs to taxpayers, there are also potential liabilities down the line. The long-term sustainability of the golf project has never been determined.  In spite of repeated requests beginning in 2017, there has been no business plan that explains how all the elements and interests will fit together in one financially sustainable package.  Golf is after all a declining industry (in spite of an uptick in the pandemic as a safe recreation). The risk is that, in a couple of years, after the glossy newness wears off, the expensively restructured golf course will be recognized as still flat, still squeezed in, with a still inconveniently located driving range, and attendance will decline.  That might be good for local golfers, but not for the  bottom line or for taxpayers.

There are alternatives to Jackson Park 

JPW and other critics have emphasized that the destruction of Jackson Park is unnecessary because  there are alternative South Side sites that meet the Obama Foundation’s goals while yielding greater economic impact and without the destruction of any park land.  

One of the most discussed alternative sites is adjacent to Washington Park, at the intersection of Garfield Boulevard and King Drive.   An imaginative and fully developed proposal  for that site has been prepared by architect and urban planner Grahm Balkany.  The comprehensive plan is attentive not just to the focused needs of the OPC, but to the opportunities it would present for the surrounding community, the greater South Side and Chicago generally. Such an inclusive, outward-looking approach has not been so evident in the plan for the OPC in Jackson Park.   Balkany’s proposal has just been recognized by the Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects with its 2021 Honor Award for Excellence in Master Planning.   It deserves careful consideration by you, by the City, and by the Obama Foundation.

Legal remedies remain in play

The failure to consider alternatives to the current OPC plan and the failure to consider the complete context of the project,  to view it as a single whole, are central to the still pending lawsuit that challenges the conduct of the federal reviews of the proposed changes for Jackson Park. The legal issues and the oddity of the Obama Foundation deciding to break ground before the suit is settled are well covered by The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

The outcome of the lawsuit will determine what’s next, and it is important to remember that many of the environmental and historic resources of Jackson Park remain as yet undisturbed.  Yes, the bulldozers have destroyed the Women’s Garden and removed all of the vegetation  on the OPC site.  But the east and west sides of Jackson Park have not yet been sliced off (with additional tree loss) to widen DuSable Lake Shore Drive or Stony Island Avenue.   Olmsted’s classic circulation pattern for the park yet remains and Cornell Drive remains as a major thoroughfare from the South Side to downtown.  The eastern tip of the Midway Plaisance has not yet been converted into an active children’s play area to “replace” park spaces lost to the OPC, and  in fact, the Midway Park Advisory Council just reaffirmed its opposition to the Park District plans at its September meeting.  

The legal team for the seven plaintiffs challenging the conduct of the federal reviews is now juggling three interrelated court cases, even as it considers other issues to be addressed: 

  • The initial suit filed in April is still pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  No schedule has been set yet to hear the arguments in that suit.  Some defendants in the case (City of Chicago, Chicago Park District, Obama Foundation) have filed a motion to dismiss a portion of the suit that charges the City breached its public trust obligations by delegating decision-making authority  to the Obama Foundation and failing to conduct adequate due diligence. That motion will likely be considered in October, but regardless of the ruling, the core of the case challenging the federal review process would not be affected. 
  • Also being pursued is a challenge to the Supreme Court ruling dismissing a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop all construction work in Jackson Park while the initial suit to the federal review process was being reviewed.  Lower court rulings against the motion had been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Justice Amy Coney Barrett, serving as the justice overseeing this Midwest region, dismissed  the motion without comment in August.  Arguing that Barrett should have recused herself because her prior  involvement in an earlier suit involving Protect Our Parks, one of the current plaintiffs,  lawyers  Michael Rachlis and Richard Epstein refiled the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  That has been accepted for review by Chief Justice John Roberts, but no schedule has been set.  
  • While the issue of Barrett’s recusal is being considered, the plaintiffs have also filed, on an expedited schedule,  an appeal of the  District Court’s denial of the motion for a preliminary injunction.  Initial briefs were filed this week, and a court hearing is scheduled for November 30.   

Affordable Housing 

Looking beyond park boundaries, affordable housing remains a major issue in the communities adjacent to Jackson Park.  The Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition is continuing its work to preserve and expand affordable housing in the neighborhoods affected by the construction of the OPC.  While the City claims to have resolved this issue by passing the Woodlawn Housing Ordinance in 2019, the implementation of that ordinance is a work in progress, with its geographic reach limited, and, as always, the devil is in the details.

The CBA Coalition has three major initiatives now:

  • Asking the City to set aside all of the city-owned lots on 63rd Street east of Cottage Grove for affordable housing.   The ordinance specifies that 52 of the 208 lots it controls in the area will be so designated;  
  • Organizing to secure a comparable ordinance for residents of South Shore to address displacement and gentrification there;
  • Developing a CBA for the University of Chicago that would bring its investment in affordable housing.

New point of contention in Jackson Park

Many of you may already be aware of the controversy prompted by the Park District’s installation of tall, ominous gates at the north and south ends of Wooded Island with the intent (not yet implemented) to prevent access between dusk and dawn.  The installation, coinciding with the beginning of site preparation for the OPC, has alarmed and mobilized many park users.  The gates are regarded as just one more symptom of the overall mismanagement and misuse of public land and natural resources by the Park District and the City.

The Sun-Times cited the action as yet another example of poor judgment by the CPD and called for an alternative solution that would uphold the ideal of open public spaces.

Local park users have organized as Jackson Park Gates and, among other efforts, have launched a petition  and are encouraging communication with officials to express concern about the gates and other park issues   Anyone who wants to join the conversation should send an email to jacksonparkgates@gmail.com.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

You can contribute in three ways:

·         You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 

·         You can contribute via PayPal here.  (If you encounter difficulties with PayPal, please let us know.)

·         You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 67 E. Madison St., Suite 1817, Chicago  IL 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 Jack Spicer
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com