Parks Promoters Warn Chicago’s Greenspace Being Nibbled to Death

North Grant Park July 2012 002

July, 2012 plan for what was then being called “North Grant Park.” Note the space at the bottom center set aside for a restaurant marked The Green at Grant Park

 

A restaurant here, a museum there, and the next thing you know — there’s no more parks.  That’s the warning coming from the Friends of the Parks organization over the latest round of plans to repurpose Chicago’s parkland.

FotP is well-known for its battle against the proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which the city wants to plop onto a surface parking lot near Soldier Field.  It’s also fighting against the bulldozing of a portion of an as-yet-undetermined south side park if President Barack Obama decides he wants to put his library and museum in Chicago.

Now the greenspace group is ringing the alarm bell about two projects: The planned “Maggie’s at the Park” restaurant at the south end of Maggie Daley Park, and the impending sale of Pritzker Park at 344 South State Street to whomever wants to build a new skyscraper.

I asked Cassandra Francis, president of Friends of the Parks, isn’t the restaurant simply replacing the previous mini-golf facility, resulting in no real loss of parkland?  Her response:

The proposed 10,000 [square-foot] restaurant is much larger than the previous concession stand and as a building will no longer be open space.  The outdoor seating area outside of the building will also take a significant amount of additional space that will not be open to the public.  This is a private use on public land.  Furthermore the lakefront protection ordinance prohibits any new above-ground structures in Grant Park which this clearly is.  Grant Park was to be open to the lake and natural in character.

I also asked Ms. Francis why raise the issue now, since the restaurant has been part of the redevelopment plan for Maggie Daley Park since the beginning?

It was originally envisioned and confirmed by the [Chicago Park District] to us that the restaurant would be no larger than the exising concession stand which is a small existing concrete bustle to the existing parking garage.  There was to be no building outside of that footprint. 

You can read the Friends of the Parks’ complete statement about the state of the parks below:

Chicago’s citizens are witnessing an aggressive assault on their public parks, led by the current Administration’s desire to govern by press release and to exploit the city’s greatest natural open space assets for development.  First was the City and the Chicago Park District’s proposed gift of 17 acres of invaluable, protected, public lakefront open space to billionaire George Lucas for the building of his private museum, which is currently entangled in litigation.  Second was the University of Chicago’s proposal to appropriate a 20+ acre parcel of historic, Olmsted-designed public parkland in either Jackson or Washington Parks for the Obama Presidential Library plus a large amount of office space for the Obama Foundation.  The Chicago Park District and City Council quickly backed this proposal making a historically unprecedented move transferring public historic parkland from state-protected, park district ownership to less-restrictive city ownership.

 

Lesser known are two more recent parkland incursions: the proposed 10,000 square foot restaurant at the south end of Maggie Daley Park and the City’s recent proposal to develop a high-rise building on Pritzker Park (on State Street directly north of the Harold Washington Public Library), the only dedicated park in Chicago’s central business district.  The restaurant in Maggie Daley Park, designed as a massive above-ground glass structure on Monroe Street, directly contradicts the Lakefront Protection Ordinance and its guiding principle to ”Maintain and improve the formal character and open water vista of Grant Park with no new above-ground structures permitted.”  The result would be the elimination of the little remaining passive park space in the now-intensely-active Maggie Daley Park and the creation of an obstruction in what could otherwise be a natural sloped transition to the remainder of Grant Park to the south.

 

The proposal to occupy Pritzker Park with a high-rise threatens to erode the only open respite in an otherwise dense downtown area that is built lot-line-to-lot-line, curb-to-alley.  According to the Chicago Loop Alliance, the Loop has a daily population of approximately 63,000 college students (attending 21 colleges and universities on vertical “campuses”), 300,000 employees, and a residential population of almost 16,000 (representing a downtown population growth rate of 123% between 2000-2010).  The elimination of Pritzker Park would leave this community unserved by proximate public open space.  Furthermore, Pritzker Park fits the textbook urban model of a central public square next to the city’s public library, providing a space for public programming and activities similar to New York City’s celebrated Bryant Park.

 

While Friends of the Parks is very supportive of new economic development opportunities coming to Chicago, including both the Lucas Museum and the Obama Presidential Library, we oppose their siting on Chicago’s protected lakefront and public parkland.  As we have repeatedly stressed, there are nearby attractive alternative sites for both of these uses which have been largely and effectively ignored by the current Administration despite significant community opposition to building in public parkland.  The former Michael Reese Hospital site (which, according to the current Administration, is being reserved for undisclosed development opportunities rumored to include a controversial casino), as well as the University of Chicago/City-owned 11-acre site across from the University of Chicago’s proposed Obama Library site, are both very well-located, non-park development sites, well suited for large institutional and entertainment uses. Persuading Lucas and Obama to target these alternative non-park sites for their institutions would have allowed the Administration to gain consensus and bridge communities as opposed to spinning the false narrative that Lucas and Obama would dismiss Chicago if not for the availability of our irreplaceable public parkland for their buildings.

 

”The increasing voracity and frequency of proposed park confiscation in Chicago demonstrates the need for city leadership to undertake more proactive urban planning and land assembly to accommodate these type of attractive uses without eroding public parkland”, says Cassandra Francis, President of Friends of the Parks. Chicago ranks very low at only 14 out of the top 18 high-density U.S. cities when measuring acres of open space per capita as measured by the Trust for Public Land in 2014.  Francis continues, “In an era where most other North American cities are improving and expanding their urban downtown public open spaces to enhance livability, this Administration looks at parks as construction sites.”

 

“Giving away or selling our parks today sets a bad precedent for tomorrow,” says Lauren Moltz, Chairman of the Board of Friends of the Parks.  “As our city grows and becomes more dense,” she explains, “it is essential that we protect our open space for the quality of life it provides today’s residents and visitors as well as future generations.”  Friends of the Parks thanks the past and present citizens of Chicago for their vigilance in upholding the legacy of our parks and open spaces.  We hope our city’s and our nation’s leadership similarly values and preserves Chicago’s natural assets for now and centuries to come.

 

Friends of the Parks is a forty year old nonprofit parks advocacy group whose mission is to preserve, protect, improve, and promote the use of Chicago’s parks and open spaces.  We advance our programmatic, educational, and advocacy work with the support of our members, donors and volunteers, and (through) our governmental, community, and environmental partnerships.

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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