Snark on the Park: Last-Minute Hysterics Over The Latest Plans for the North Grant Park Renovation

As the Summer of 2012 plods on, we’re inching closer and closer to the biggest construction project in Grant Park in many years — the replacement of the entire northern portion of the park.

Nearly the entire park north of East Monroe Street will be removed for this project.  The trees will be cut down.  The flowerbeds and shrubs bulldozed, and even the dirt itself stripped away to reveal the roof of the parking garage below.

The Chicago Park District is obligated to do this so that the company that runs the garage can replace the roof, which is leaking quite badly and in need of repair.  Once those repairs are made, an entirely new park will be planted for the enjoyment of the city.

Even though this process has been going on for five years, there has been three years of public meetings in the park and around the city, and it’s been extensively covered by Chicago’s newspapers, television stations, and blogs, somehow there are always people who are surprised when they hear about this.

Many of those people showed up at the Daley Fieldhouse (337 East Randolph Street) last night.

This was Alderman Brendan Riley’s public meeting on the matter.  And in spite of the claims of some in attendance, it was one of at least six public meetings held in the very same place over the last three years.  The Chicago Park District and the Grant Park Conservancy have been very public with the plans, even showcasing them in Block37 (1 West Randolph Street) at one point.  But because this was the alderman’s event, the place was packed with the gabbing grannies and traumatized soccer moms for whom this was brand new news.  They gave the alderman an earful of the same questions that have been asked and answered dozens of times over the years.

Still, there were a few pieces of new information.  Specifically:

  1. Bowing to pressure from those clutching to the memories of their glory days in the 1970’s, six tennis courts have been added back into the plan, to be placed in the area across the street from 400 East Randolph now known as Peanut Park (perhaps to be renamed Werther’s Original Park in 2015).
  2. Alderman Riley is putting a lot of pressure on the Chicago Park District to find another location in Grant Park for a replacement hockey rink.
  3. The Chicago Park District has already put out bids for construction of this project.  It will ask the city for planning permission soon, and hopes to start construction in the Fall.  Completion is scheduled for Winter, 2014.

A few more notes:

  • In public meetings around Chicago, the response to the new North Grant Park plan has been overwhelmingly positive.  Most people have never seen a park as advanced or interesting and are looking forward to trying it.  The majority of people opposed to the plan are those who live in the New East Side.
  • The latest set of renderings of the new park are out.  They’re the most detailed to date, and can be viewed as a gallery on this web site or on NorthGrantPark.org.
  • The skating ribbon is almost a quarter of a mile long and 18 to 40-feet-wide.
  • The skating ribbon has to be located where it is because it uses some of the existing infrastructure from the old hockey rink.
  • The three climbing structures have been moved so that people can see Buckingham Fountain from East Upper Randolph Street.

Because there are so many people who can’t be bothered to keep in touch with what’s going on in their own backyards, we present this summary of last night’s question-and-answer session.

Note that the answers here are not official responses from either the alderman’s office, or the Park District, but they are informative nonetheless.

Q – Why are you destroying the park?
A – The park has to be removed to repair the parking garage underneath.  The Park District has a legal and contractual obligation to do so.

Q – Is it too late for me to say something that will change this plan entirely?
A – Probably not, but it should be.  Where have you been for the last five years?

Q – Where will my children play during construction?
A – There are several other parks in the area.  One’s across the street.  Others are actually quite far away.  But that’s what happens when you live in the downtown of a major city.  If you want endless amber waves of grain, it’s time to start thinking “Will County.”

Q – Why can’t you build a temporary park for my children to play in while the new park is being built?
A – Because that would cost a ton of money and you’re already unhappy with the amount of taxes you pay.

Q – Why has the playground been moved?  The plan shows it farther away from “the neighborhood that uses it” and closer to “outside people.”
A – The location of the playground was chosen because it’s where it fits best among the other elements of the park.  The playground is not your personal property.  It belongs to everyone in the city of Chicago.  Moving it away from the New East Side means its closer to other “outside people” (Do you mean “black people?”) who also have a right to use it.  Don’t you teach your children to share?

Q – Why is the playground so far away from the restrooms?  If I have to change my Depends a child’s diaper, I need access to a bathroom immediately.
A – The playground isn’t any farther from the restrooms at Daley Bicentennial Fieldhouse than the playgrounds at any other park in the city.  Please note that the playground isn’t the only amenity in the park, and self-wetting children aren’t the only people who use the park.  You’ll just have to make the same plans that you normally do when you travel more than 150 feet from your home.

Q – Why is the playground by Lake Shore Drive? That’s unsafe!  And I’m an expert on safety because I watch victim dramas on Lifetime Television!
A – The playground is surrounded on two sides by a hill to isolate it from traffic.  In addition, like every other new playground in every other Chicago Park, it will be surrounded by a fence.  There will only be two routes into and out of the playground.  If you’re extra concerned, you could just stop texting your Botox clinic and spend time actually watching your children like a parent would.

Q – Can’t you just move the existing playground equipment to a new place nearby?
A – Experience from other parks has shown that it’s actually cheaper to replace the old playground equipment with new equipment, but again that’s another big expense, and there’s no place for it since Peanut Park will be used for construction staging.

Q – Couldn’t you do the roof a section at a time so the entire park isn’t ripped up?
A – That could be done, but would add a lot of time and expense.  It would turn a two-year project into five to ten years of construction.

Q – I thought Mayor Rahm Emmanuel wanted families to live in the city.  Mayor Rahm Emmanuel owes us this park.  I’m going to keep saying Mayor Rahm Emmanuel over and over because I think it somehow intimidates the Chicago Park District representatives.
A – This has nothing to do with the mayor. This process has been in motion for years. And if you knew anything about how your city works, you’d know that the Park District is an independent body that doesn’t answer to the city.

Q – This is exactly the sort of thing that makes families move to the suburbs!  Mayor Rahm Emmanuel!
A – If you’re the sort of person who has a hysterical reaction to construction in an urban environment, then you should probably pack your double-wide stroller into your SUV and seek a new life amid the strip malls and McMansions that are more suited to your mindset.

Q – “You people are Mickey Mousing and Disneyficationing this park to the point of dysfunction!”  Rahm Emmanuel!
A – The new park layout makes it more functional for more people of all age groups and from all over Chicago to enjoy.  Everyone has the right to enjoy the park, not just hysterical “young moms.” You should be happy that the park is being programmed with activities for all age groups.  Or are you under the impression that your precious little snowflake is going to remain four years old forever?

Q – How dare you hold this meeting at 5:30pm! That’s not our usual time!
A – The public notice gave you plenty of time to set your Betamax to tape Matlock.

Q – Why did you have so many public meetings in other parts of the city when the park is located downtown?
A – Because legally, civically, and morally, the park belongs to every citizen of the City of Chicago, not just those who live along East Randolph Street and North Harbor Drive. Their tax dollars paid for it as much as yours did, and they have a right to use it and have an opinion about its future.

Q – Have you done the environmental impact study demanded by a very tiny but loud portion of the community?
A – We’re cutting down all the trees and ripping up the grass. Yes, this will impact the environment.

Q – What about noise and light from the new park?  I don’t like noise or light.
A – The park is specifically designed to mitigate noise and light.  This was addressed in every one of the public meetings since the very first plan was displayed.

Q – We’ve had an ice rink here for 36 years. Why replace it with a new-fangled ice ribbon?
A – For the same reason people don’t play “kick the can” anymore. Today people want something better.  And even though it pains you to mingle with the tourists, there’s another ice skating rink just a few hundred feet away.

Q – Who’s going to operate and maintain the ice ribbon?
A – The Park District, with Zambonies, just like it does with the ice rinks.

Q – Is the Park District going to operate and maintain the climbing structures, or will that be farmed out to a concessionaire?  In the past, whenever the Park District gets out of its comfort zone it’s hired a concessionaire.
A – Dunno.  The Park District is looking at which method makes the most sense, but no decision has been made yet.

Q – Who’s going to pay for the insurance for the climbing structures?  Climbing is scary, and no one has ever climbed anything ever before!
A – The Chicago Park District has other climbing structures, and the North Grant Park climbing structure falls under the District’s regular insurance.

Q – How dare you touch our tennis courts! When my bursitis isn’t acting up I can go out there and pretend like it’s 1972 and I still had my hair. And my teeth.  Grant Park is my personal property and you have no right to mess with my tennis courts!
A – Reserving six acres I park land for the use of a handful of people to use a few months a year is not the best use of space. This is the front lawn for over three million people, all of whom pay taxes, and all of whom own this park. It’s not your park.

Q – Putting six tennis courts in Peanut Park is a terrible idea.
A – The Peanut Park location was chosen with the input of the United States Tennis Association.  The USTA states that tennis courts work best in groups of six, and it believes the Peanut Park location is a very good fit.  Plus, the new North Grant Park layout is very hilly, so Peanut Park is about the only place where there’s enough flat land to fit in this massive asphalt rectangle.  If you think you know more about tennis than the USTA, then feel free to submit your engineer’s report on the matter.

Q – But I might hear tennis balls being hit!
A – Do you want the tennis courts, or not?  People who live at 340 On The Park don’t hear the tennis balls, why should the people at 400 East Randolph?  If your windows are so bad that the sound of tennis balls being hit from across the street and several floors up is a nuisance, then it’s time to call Feldco.

Editor

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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