Jackson Park Issues: When words have meaning, or don’t

To the Editor: 

What? More transparency? Haven’t we been hearing that word a lot these days from a coterie of so-called Jackson Park supporters asking for more transparency from officials and community representatives involved in restoration of our lovely but somewhat run-down Jackson Park? This, despite numerous public meetings held over the past two years where proposals have been vetted, questions asked, and clarification provided again and again.

Hyde Park is indeed fortunate to have excellent ecologists, urban planners, and Olmsted experts involved in the future of Jackson Park, the loveliest feature of Chicago’s south side. Yet, there are those who profess to have expertise in areas of forestry, wildlife management, and park use – or non-use – – who reject the goals of professionals deeply committed to the true role of this south side jewel. Some local residents even advocate benign neglect which, as we all should recognize, resulted in many of the problems besieging the park over the past half-century and more.

Some individuals bemoan the relocation by trained wildlife experts of beavers that come visiting from points south, chewing down mature trees lining Jackson Park lagoons. Ironically, these are the same folks who object to replanting of bur oak saplings in fear that the resultant density of these sturdy trees will lead to overcrowding and disease. Never mind that these oaks are descendents of trees that have thrived since woodpeckers carried their ancestral acorns north as the last ice sheet withdrew nearly 15,000 years ago.

Other terms distorted by the naysayers are plan vs. concept. A pavilion has been conceptualized, but not yet formally planned for the Music Court, southeast of the Museum of Science and Industry. Might one ask if it would not be better to have musical performances, even if loud, tightly focused and monitored in one locale rather than emanating from huge, generator-powered speakers scattered at random throughout the park?

For these folks, transparency has become a euphemism, even a subterfuge for their inability to recognize a good thing when it is presented to them. No one would want Jackson Park to revert to the original mosquito-infested morass of swamps and swales of more than 150 years ago when the great landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted with his partner Calvert Vaux produced its original design. Today, Jackson Park is on the verge of becoming a truly great park for all people. Olmsted designed parks as elegant, natural venues where all peoples could come together to promote the spirit of democracy. This is the destiny of Jackson Park. This is the destiny for us all.

Frances S. Vandervoort
Jackson Park Advisory Council
Nature Trail Steward