Plaisance Council retains officers, argues to keep green space

Staff Writer

The Midway Plaisance Advisory Council (MPAC) retained its incumbent officers by acclamation at a meeting last night. President Bronwyn Nichols Lodato, Vice President Donald McGruder and Secretary–Treasurer Radiah Smith-Donald will serve another year’s term.

Nichols Lodato, a Hyde Parker, got involved with MPAC because her family uses the Plaisance so often. President since 2015, she is proud that membership has grown through her tenure, of the council’s open meetings and the decision to not place an OPC parking lot beneath the Midway’s eastern end, against which MPAC lobbied.

She looks forward to more beautification efforts — MPAC volunteers planted 4,000 tulip, daffodil and crocus bulbs on either side of the Canadian National and Metra railroad embankment in October — and further advocacy for the implementation of the park’s 2000 framework plan.

“We’re here for the community. We see this park as belonging to all of us, not just the people who can come out to the meetings. I know for me in my leadership role, I’m thinking about the people who can’t make it to the meetings,” Nichols Lodato said.

MPAC continued to discuss the potential designation of the eastern end of the Midway, beyond the embankment, as the location for Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery (UPARR) Act-required improvements, planned because of the anticipated displacement of ballfields in Jackson Park to make room for the Obama Presidential Center.

Actions by government officials appear to suggest that the eastern end will be the UPARR site. Representatives of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development have briefed both the Midway Plaisance and Jackson Park advisory councils about the designation. Improvement options are active or passive parkland or nature-oriented or accessible playspace.

In a letter dated Oct. 30 to National Park Service project manager Morgan Elmer, Nichols Lodato reiterated MPAC’s August resolution opposing the loss of open green space or trees on the Midway and urged preservation of the park’s eastern end as “an open meadow with flexible use” and community involvement with the decision-making process.

The letter expresses concern about the pace of the decision-making process and lack of community involvement, asking for a cessation of the city’s stakeholder feedback meetings regarding the eastern Midway as the UPARR site until the issue “is settled through a carefully planned, transparent community process.”

MPAC member Mary Anton voiced dissatisfaction about the process through which the council drafted the letter.

MPAC Framework Plan Committee chair Michael McNamee presented a study he did using Google Maps figuring the lost acreage in Jackson Park should all components of the yet-unfunded South Lakefront Framework Plan come from aspirations to fruition. He found that 13.4 acres, or around 10 football fields’ worth, of open space will be lost.

McNamee argued that this impresses the importance of preserving the Midway’s eastern end as open space, even if it is designated for UPARR improvements.

“In our daily lives, we need to maintain our connection to nature and to natural processes and to keep ahold of our perspective on place in the world,” he said. “Especially in a city of three million people and a county of eight million people, there’s not very much of it. And all of the open space we have is precious. It’s important for us to preserve and protect it.”