Some transparent questions about transparency

To the Editor:

There have been calls in these pages for more transparency about Jackson Park plans, and for more transparency about transparency. Let me be transparent. Since I moved to Hyde Park in 2002, I have come to love Jackson Park for its animals, from dragonflies to birds to coyotes. Before I moved here, I didn’t know that most of the species I’ve been able to see here even existed, and the idea that I could find them on the South Side of Chicago would never have occurred to me. I discovered them mostly through the regular Saturday morning bird walks, which have been held almost continuously since the 1970’s when Doug Anderson started leading them. The bird walks are unique in the country: they’re free, year-round, and welcoming to all.

So when Ms. Vandervoort asserts in a Letter to the Editor that “No one would want Jackson Park to revert to the original … swamps and swales of more than 150 years ago….”, I am not so sure that is true. I suspect the birdwatching (and fishing) in the area were better then. But that’s a false choice. The park exists in its current state, the Darrow Bridge still needs fixing, and the Presidential Center will be built here.

As we move forward, though, real questions remain. First, where should Jackson Park be placed on a spectrum that runs from untouched wetlands to paved amusement park? I favor the more natural side. The Army’s Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration project has mostly pulled in that direction. The accommodation of Olmstedian vistas in the Army’s restoration, the plans for a music venue in the park, the placement of a large steel sculpture on Wooded Island, the siting of the Presidential Center, and now, perhaps, the upgrading of the golf course, are pulling in the other.

And who decides? I’ve only lived in Chicago for twenty years, so I’m still learning how such decisions are made. From my naive viewpoint, though, I am not clear how Yoko Ono and Tiger Woods ended up at the forefront of the planning. In the interests of transparency, can the powers-that-be tell us if there are any additional celebrities lined up to design more of the park?

I do have some simpler questions. How much will the golf course upgrade cost Chicago taxpayers? I have read that the project will cost $30M, not including two major underpasses, with 80 percent of that $30M coming from private sources. So can we assume the city’s tab will be $6M plus the cost of the two underpasses? How much will each of those cost? Can Tiger Woods tell us how many of the mature trees lining the current golf courses will need to be chopped down? Can he tell us whether or not the upgrade will result in more or less herbicides and pesticides being applied on the course, right next to our beaches and water supply?

I would have naively hoped I wouldn’t have had to write this letter asking these questions. My expectations for transparency are that someone in authority would demonstrate that he or she is simultaneously thinking about a comprehensive, affordable plan that will, among other items, accommodate the traffic of a PGA tournament, get the Darrow Bridge repaired, make intelligent use of both the 63rd Street Beach House and the South Shore Cultural Center, preserve soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts, relocate the running track and football fields, upgrade the Jackson Park fieldhouse, appeal to dog owners and fishermen, move tourists between the MSI and the Presidential Center, and not compromise either the Army’s ecological restoration project, other natural areas, or the environment generally, all without horrifically disrupting the surrounding schools, churches, businesses and residents.

But I have not seen such a plan yet, so, in the interests of transparency, I have to ask.

Eric Ginsburg