Protect our trees, open space, says Plaisance Council

Trees felled earlier in the day lie on the ground behind the fence surrounding the construction site of the new track and field being built across the street from Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., Monday, Aug. 6. – Marc Monaghan

Staff Writer

Because of money received decades ago from a now-inactive federal urban parks program, any recreation space lost due to the construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park — in this case, some baseball diamonds on the site of the under-construction track and field next to the designated OPC site — must be replaced.

Earlier this month, the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council (MPAC) issued a resolution at its Aug. 8 meeting announcing opposition to the repurposing of any open or treed green space for these ends on the Midway or in Jackson Park.

The resolution also strongly urged the preservation of the eastern section of the Midway, between the Illinois Railroad (IR) embankment and Stony Island Avenue, continue to be maintained “as an open meadow with flexible use.” It has previously been suggested as a site for a replacement recreational space. MPAC also advocated for “broad community input” in the process of finding replacement recreational spaces.

MPAC President Bronwyn Nichols Lodato said discussion about placing replacement recreational spaces in the Midway park began at a March meeting requested by the a representative from the Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD).

Nichols Lodato said MPAC wanted to make clear that the existing Midway Plaisance framework plan, adopted in 2000, would be followed as development resulted from the OPC placement in Jackson Park. She emphasized that the resolution was drafted before the controversial construction of a new track and field in Jackson Park began and said MPAC has not been updated about the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery (UPARR) site selection process since the last Section 106 and NEPA federal environmental and historical review process meeting in March.

MPAC’s resolution included several findings of fact, including mention of the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Midway’s purpose in connecting Jackson and Washington parks, that the Midway’s 2000 Park District framework plan remains in place and that the OPC construction-spurred federal federal reviews are ongoing.

The DPD site on the federal review process, last updated in July, has the “public process regarding recreation use for Midway Plaisance UPARR designation” beginning in “late summer.”

Nichols Lodato said the resolution was shared with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the municipal departments of Planning and Development, Transportation and Police, Ald. Sophia King (4th), Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), “along with neighboring PACs and other groups committed to park preservation.”

Representatives from the Cornell and Washington park advisory councils declined comment. A CDOT spokesman referred to DPD, which did not comment by press time.

Bixler Playlot Park Advisory Council President Mila Jameson said, “We are strongly in favor of either keeping that portion of the Midway unmolested, or redesigning it in accordance with the 2000 Framework. Certainly a genuine community involvement is needed before any decisions are made for that space.”

Jackson Park Advisory Council President Louise McCurry, who had previously identified three corners of Jackson Park as UPARR replacement sites, said the Park District has told MPAC that no UPARR baseball diamonds would be on the Midway’s eastern end “if MPAC] do not want it.”

“It is unfortunate for our kids that MPAC wants the Midway to be open and free, but our kids will play on beautiful fields in Jackson Park and Washington Park, and the University has constructed beautiful turf fields for their Lab and University students and faculty which are in constant use,” she said. “We are grateful for the Park District for permitting youth and adult sports teams to play on the Midway for the past 30 years. Soon the Midway will be free of organized sports and open for community activities.”