Exposing the made up myths about Jackson Park

To the Editor:

Please permit me to respond to the letter to the editor that appeared in your publication titled “Addressing Golf Course Facts with Myths.”

My family and I have been residents of South Shore for 14 years. We live in the 7100 block of South Crandon Avenue, which is about two blocks from the entrance of the South Shore Cultural Center. I have been a regular user of the Cultural Center area since we moved here. My daughter for several summers participated in the Junior Lifeguards program at South Shore beach. I run for exercise regularly, and my most commonly used route takes me through the Cultural Center area, along the beach, and through Jackson Park.

I can’t imagine many residents use Jackson Park more than I do. Besides running through the park, I walk our dogs at the park regularly. For about seven years I have played basketball at the courts along the east end of Hayes Drive. My daughter played AYSO soccer at Jackson Park for several years. We play tennis occasionally at the courses next to Jackson Bark (they are tennis courts, not handball courts, as the letter writer incorrectly calls them).

Those are the relations I have to the areas in question. Let me address the myth / facts enumerated in the letter.

#1 I have not heard the “myth” that a brick wall is to be built. This appears to be a straw man argument.

#2 The nature area at the Cultural Center is to be removed according to the golf course plans that have been publicly presented. The first round of plans that were publicized left it intact, but an updated version showed the area replaced by the golf course.

The paragraph-long description of the natural area (which, frankly, seems to be an argument for closing it) badly distorts the nature of this space and either is written from a position of ignorance or bad faith. Addressing them point by point:

— There is not “severe erosion of the border areas” any more so than in any south lakefront area that has not seen seawall replacement. Historically high lake-water levels have altered the shoreline, but there is no crisis of erosion. The revetments are not unstable. The area has never flooded. These assertions simply are not true.

—There are coyotes around at times. I see their scat, but I rarely see them. They are not large animals and they run away when one encounters them. News flash – coyotes at this point live anywhere in the city that green space exists.

—The flora is tall enough to be obscuring about three months of the year. Is a beautiful place worth destroying because it is remote, and because some people might not feel comfortable going there alone? Many people also don’t feel comfortable walking alone at night down a lit Chicago street!

—I have never, ever, ever seen anyone selling drugs (or looking like they might want to sell drugs) in this area. I’d guess that successful drug sellers inhabit areas where there are, you know, potential customers around?

—“Benches unseen in the tall grasses” – that is pure propaganda. The only seating is around the drum circles / fire pits, which are in cleared areas. I guess it should come as no surprise that someone advocating the creation of a PGA golf course in the community would harbor such a dismissive and unfortunate perspective on homeless members of the community. The thing about being homeless is you don’t have a home – one sleeps where one can. We share the community with all sorts of people whether we want to acknowledge them or not. And the implication that homeless people are inherently threatening is pretty sad. Begrudging someone making a fire (in a fire pit!) to stay warm in cold weather strikes me as inhumane. It also is something you’d have, perhaps, a one in a million chance of seeing in this space. That’s because I have seen during this decade-and-a-half maybe three “mentally ill appearing homeless people” in the area. I have never seen anyone setting up long-term encampments there. Another red herring.

#3 I have no dog in this fight, though it is surprising that someone so intimately familiar with Jackson Park would think there were handball courts adjacent to Jackson Bark.

#4  “I wonder how many people are still playing tennis, basketball, soccer, baseball, or football on fields that are 100 years old. Still playing on the same surfaces, with the same equipment in 2017 that were installed in 1910.”

Question: Why would one so intimately familiar with Jackson Park have to wonder about such a thing? Let me try to help.

—The basketball courts at Hayes are heavily, heavily used. This is a community gathering point that brings a lot of young men together in a relatively safe and healthy environment.

—The vast field north of Hayes, east of the Wooded Island parking lot, and west of the parking lot next to the basketball courts is heavily used by soccer players. Anyone who has so much as driven past the area on a weekend spring, summer, or autumn knows that.

—Hyde Park Academy’s home baseball field north of Hayes, east of Stony Island, and west of Cornell. Their football team also practices there. The areas is heavily used for picnics / family reunions etc during summer. The Mt. Carmel football team practices on the field west of the golf clubhouse and east of Cornell. There’s also some soccer there.

—The tennis courts would surely be used more if the Park District had maintained them. In this same vein, the person writing this letter is not advocating the upgrade of these areas. She wants them torn down to create an essentially private space for affluent golfers!

—To the extent it’s even needed (exaggerated in this letter) I am all for restoring and revitalizing the South Shore and Jackson Park golf courses! By all means, these are lovely, affordable courses that fit organically within a residential community. But the person writing this letter doesn’t want to restore and revitalize! She is advocating the REPLACEMENT of these beautiful courses with a completely different type of course that will not fit organically into the surrounding space and that will be an impediment to local small-scale play by golfing residents. I have made a point to speak to golfers at the practice center at the Cultural Center (this would be removed if the PGA course comes) and not a single person has told me they want a PGA style course.

#5 This is not a myth. This is an opinion. The “fact” attached to it is a non-sequitur.

#6 If the letter-writer has an actual pricing structure to which the proposed PGA course operators have committed I’m sure the community would love to see it. I have heard many promises to keep the new course affordable but no actual fee scale provided.

#8 The South Shore beach is NOT washing away, nor is the SSCC golf course. They are not going to be gone. These are positions taken in bad faith and for the purpose of propagandizing.

The historically high water levels in Lake Michigan have made the beach smaller, of course. This is happening at ALL the beaches in Chicago and has nothing to do with the question at hand. There is plenty, plenty, plenty, and still more plenty of beautiful South Shore beach left. Moreover, since lake water-levels are currently historically high, what reasonable person would take the position that the water-level trends of the last several years are going to continue unabated and indefinitely?

Say the lake does keep rising on a similar curve. Isn’t that a good reason not to make a massive investment in a new lakeside golf course?

The only part of the current golf course in immediate danger from erosion is the southeast corner. The lakefront along the north side, at 67th, has been altered by high water, but it does not immediately endanger the course. It is just a guess, but there might be potential fix for this issue that doesn’t require replacing this lovely nine-hole course that is perfect for seniors, kids, beginners, and local residents who want to pop in for a quick round, with a PGA course.

Want to know the real, imminent threat to the SSCC golf course and beach, spaces we should treasure, rehabilitate, and preserve? The proposed PGA-style golf course

-Marcus Hersh