Jackson Park projects will not benefit the public

To the Editor:  

I’d like to remind community members of the words of the late Nancy Campbell Hayes, a long-time parks activist and a dedicated protector of Chicago’s public land.

In the early 2000s, at a South East Chicago Commission awards ceremony, where she was finally recognized for her extensive contributions to the south side, 85-year old Nancy Hayes stood just a few feet away from Mayor Richard M. Daley, looked straight at him and then the rest of the audience, and said in no uncertain terms:

“Do NOT let politicians tell you that they know what’s best for the parks. They will take that land away from you. They will treat your parks as a land bank. They will do a land grab. Don’t let them do that.”

What we are seeing is a land grab of public land.

The Obama Presidential Center and its related plans—a golf course, a music pavilion, a parking lot—are dressed up as a project benefiting the public. It is NOT going to benefit the public.

It is every bit as egregious as Rahm Emanuel shoving the Lucas deal down our throats. This one has Obama’s imprimatur, but his enormous wealth and private cronies are worlds away from the people who use Jackson Park and South Shore and live and work in South Shore, Woodlawn, Englewood, and Hyde Park.

Slated for destruction by Obama are tennis courts, basketball courts, hundreds of trees, park land, restored wild land, soccer areas, public open space freely available to everyone of all classes and colors. Once we lose these, we NEVER get them back. If you believe that jobs are their consideration, that transportation to this library is a consideration, that benefiting the neighborhood is their consideration—think again.

There have been NO independent economic impact statements made relative to jobs. Few, if any, full-time jobs with benefits will be available to community people. If transportation were a consideration, the Center and its projects would be far west, much closer to 90/94, the Red Line, the Green Line, and major traffic arteries like King Drive, Michigan Avenue, or State Street. Instead, OPC plans to close a major thoroughfare that tens of thousands of people use every day to get to and from work, increase lakefront congestion, and destroy park land we use every day. Costs to use the planned golf courses will NOT be subsidized for low and moderate income people—the vast majority of current users.

This is part of the drive to develop the south lakefront—and it is continuing at the US Steel South Works site. The aim is to ensure that the lakefront becomes the provenance of those who can afford to pay to play. Emerald Living and Barcelona Housing Systems, the companies slated to buy the South Works 440 acre site, are for-profit developers. The site is between two of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago, yet there are no affordable or low-income housing provisions being made. As south side lakefront development is relentlessly pursued, the working and middle classes will be completely priced out and our parks will become inaccessible. The economic desertification of our neighborhoods and our schools will continue.

Nancy Hayes said it best: “They will treat your parks as a land bank. They will do a land grab. Don’t let them do that.”

Let’s not let them do this.

-Janet Geovanis