Friday, April 27, 2012

Tourism Trumps Community? North Grant Park Renovation Project

At a recent community meeting, Chicago Park District and the Grant Park Advisory Council unveiled renovation plans to the Northeast corner of Grant Park and Daley Bicentennial Plaza.  I missed the meeting.  In fact, I didn't even know about it.  A notice posted at Daley Bi was about as much outreach as these two organizations did to get feedback from the community.  From the scuttlebutt on the playground, feedback was not exactly what they were looking for - it was more like, "the garage is leaking, we've got to tear out the park the fix it, and this is what we're putting in its place, lucky you!"

New Plans

Being two steps behind, I spent the morning looking through articles about the renovations.  The plans don't look all that bad.  In fact, it looks pretty sexy with all the curvy paths, voluptuous hills, winding ice rink, plenty of play and picnic areas and a CLIMBING WALL.  Wow!!  My kids are gonna love that.  It seems as though the design team is pitching this as an extension to Millennium Park providing a more cohesive access to the lakefront.  It is pretty.  It is cohesive.

We do love Millennium Park

What's missing?  Well, no tennis courts.  And that winding ice rink?  No ice hockey.  On the surface that doesn't seem like a big deal, but to the folks in this neighborhood it is a big deal.  Our park district community center is small.  It is too small to house a big gymnastics facility, pool and basketball courts, like say, beautiful and abundant Harrison Park in Pilsen.  But we do have an awesome, shaded playground, tennis courts and ice hockey.  Will the spectacular climbing wall be enough to replace all that?  What does that mean - big fees?  Long waiting lines?  Is this meant to be an "attraction"?

It's the little things, like moving a fallen branch, that binds these kids together.

 The Daley Bi Park District programs are a Big Deal to this community.  In fact, I would argue, those programs are one of the essential community building elements in this neighborhood.  In an area of towering highrises and front doors hidden behind perfectly appointed (and sterile) lobbies and doormen, the playground park at Daley Bi is where the facade breaks down and people get a chance to enjoy a little small town familiarity in this otherwise big, anonymous city.  If you've got kids and you haven't enrolled them in at least one park district program, it is hard to be known.

So many blissful afternoons spent playing with this boy in the shade of the park.

One could argue that with the relatively new Lakeshore East Park and playground, there is ample space for the local community to enjoy.  That is indeed a beautiful park; however, a kid outgrows that tot lot within 2-3 years.  There are beautiful lawns, but no sports facilities.  Speaking of facilities, there are no public bathroom facilities.  Not such a big deal when your door opens onto the park, but that privilege is held only by a minority of the buildings in the area.  When your toddler's gotta go, even the closest homes aren't close enough.

End of school year picnic - the teacher gets payback!

The proposed changes to Daley Bi seem to have greater focus on drawing tourism through this area of the park as they remove some much loved community elements.  Since the introduction of moving the Children Museum to Grant Park, there has been a tension between ideas of community versus tourism.  My sense of community is largely defined by stepping outside and to know and be known by others.  At the same time, I am not totally averse to having strangers in my backyard - I mean, heck, that's part of the vibrancy of living in an urban area.  It is a pleasure to meet people coming in from the suburbs for the day, or from another city, other countries.  It gives me great joy to see my kids pick up new friends for the day easier than they pick up their toys.  Yet, I also enjoy seeing the same faces.  Knowing a few good families that I hope my kids to grow up with is essential to parenting kids in the city - probably just as essential in the country and suburbs, too.  I just don't want to have to get in my car and drive away to a different neighborhood every time my kids wants to try a new sport and to participate in a community experience.

Are these among the trees that have to go??  So sad.

From the little I've learned, the restoration to the leaky garage roof is inevitable.  I mourn those big mature trees that are otherwise so scarce in Chicago.  Apparently a couple thousand parking spaces are valuable enough to the city to justify a $30 million dollar restoration project and to kill a few good trees.  I can forgive Chicago's hunger for parking and to strengthen it's premier destination status if, IF, this plan can be reinforced to keep or strengthen the elements that make this community so great.

Just my two cents.  Chicagoans, what's yours?


  1. I don't think we should be spending $30 mil on a new park when we can't even keep the libraries open.