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Frederick Douglass dedication in Jackson Park

A commemorative marker honoring Frederick Douglass is being dedicated Friday at noon in Jackson Park at the site of the Haitian Pavilian, where Douglass served as special commissioner during the 1893 Columbian Exposition.  (It’s off the Science Drive exit, 5800 south, on Lake Short Drive).

The story of Douglass’ involvement in the Columbian Exposition goes beyond the Haitian Pavillion.  He also backed Ida B. Wells’ protest against the exclusion of African Americans from the fair planning bodies and activities. 

Together they produced and published the pamphlet “The Reason Why the Colored American is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition” (reissued by University of Illinois Press about ten years ago).  Wells noted that with Douglass’ appointment by the government of Haiti, the African American “received from a foreign power the place denied to him at home.” 

And when as a result of that protest, the exposition belatedly announced a “Colored People’s Day,” Douglass gave the keynote.  When rowdies in the back of the packed Festival Hall began heckling him, he discarded his prepared remarks and addressed them:

“Men talk of the Negro problem.  There is no Negro problem.  The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their own Constitution.”

Olympic parks use questioned

Chicago 2016′s plan for use of parkland is “completely inappropriate,” including “legacy projects” that are unneeded and unsustainable, said Erma Tranter of Friends of the Parks. Hosting the Olympics in Chicago “only makes sense if they change the venues,” she said.

“In all cases where they have a legacy project, we find it troubling and inappropriate, not needed in the neighborhood, and unsustainable by the park district,” she said.

Tranter will join Randy Neufeld of the Active Transportation Alliance and Arnold Randall and Robert Accarino of Chicago 2016 at the monthly Creative Living In The City lecture on Thursday, April 9 at 12:15 p.m. in the Claudia Cassidy Theater of the Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington.

Noting the Chicago Park District has been steadily cutting back on staff and programs for several years, Tranter said, “There’s a big question whether the park district will be able to maintain anything” left as “legacy.”

In Washington Park an outdoor swimming facility is planned — along with a permament 10,000-seat ampitheater in the historic South Open Green, which is now heavily used for softball, baseball, soccer and cricket. But Washington Park already has indoor and outdoor swimming facilities, and the park district has had trouble maintaining public access to the indoor pool, she said.

“There are places on the south and west side that no pools,” Tranter said. “Why not build it where it’s needed?”

At Douglas Park, a proposed velodrome will be turned into a community center. But it’s right next to a spacious historic field house which houses a cultural and community center — where the park district has cut staff and programming.

At Northerly Island a “legacy” white water rafting facility would undercut ten years of planning the create a nature area there, Tranter said.

Other concerns include a tennis facility near the bird sanctuary in Lincoln Park and a hockey field in Jackson Park.

Plans to close Monroe Harbor for four years of construction prior to the Olympics will cost the park district $20 million in docking fees, Tranter said. “How can they operate the park district?” she asked. “Where’s the money supposed to come from?”

Venue planning was “all done behind closed doors,” she said — and existing park space was used because it doesn’t involve acquisition costs. “They’re not taking unused land and leaving new facilities,” she said. “They’re cutting into the limited park space we have.”

FOTP was not consulted by Chicago 2016 until after plans were announced, Tranter said. Then they were told that community meetings will be held after the Olympic evaluation committee visit — and that it will still be possible to relocate venue sites.

Neufeld will present ATA’s vision of what the Olympics could mean for biking and transit, said Margo O’Hara. ATA is working on a comparison of transportation benefits of previous Olympics with Chicago 2016′s proposal.

The group was completely surprised to learn that a large portion of the lakefront bike path would be closed, she said.

More on lakefront school

CPS officials told Natalie Moore of WBEZ that Powell School (see last week’s Newstip) “is an old school that’s outlived its use.”  The school was built in 1975, and other schools in the neighborhood are from 50 to 80 years older.  And CPS has told neighbors there are no plans to tear down the school.  John Paul Jones of Friends of the Parks speculates it will be renovated and used for one of four Renaissance 2010 schools that CPS has approved for South Shore.

Park district officials said the proposed site “isn’t used for recreation.”  So the seniors who live across 75th Street and value the quiet, wooded, grassy expanse will now be able to amble a few blocks down to the baseball fields and basketball courts.

Jones reports the City Council Zoning Committee’s hearing on the CPS proposal to build on the lakefront has been moved up to March 17.

Lakefront school site questioned

Plans to build a new school on Rainbow Beach Park needlessly take away valuable green space — and violate the Lakefront Protection Ordinance — according to South Shore residents, backed by Friends of the Parks.

Organized by the South Shore Community Organization, residents will rally in the park at 75th and South Shore on Saturday, March 7 from noon to 2 p.m., to inform residents of what’s going on and what they can do about it.

Though the project’s been in the works for several years, Lucille Young says she and her neighbors learned of it only in November, when they were notified of a Public Building Commission meeting. The PBC is legally required to notify residents within 250 yards of a proposed project when a hearing is scheduled.

Powell Elementary School, 7530 S. South Shore Drive, was among the schools listed to receive a new building when Mayor Daley unveiled his Modern Schools program in 2006.

What neighbors learned in November was that the city and CPS were planning to put the new building across the street, on a huge swath of land that comprises the northern entrance to Rainbow Beach Park.

Read the rest of this entry »

Another park controversy

Four West Ridge community organizations — backed by Friends of  the Parks and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources — say they will “take all action necessary” to block construction of a senior center in part of Warren Park.  They’re holding a press conference today at 11 a.m. at the Warren Park Field House, 6601 N. Western.

Formerly a state park, Warren Park is governed by an agreement between the Chicago Park District, IDNR and the federal government restricting use of the park for open space and recreation only, according to the groups.  They report that IDNR has agreed to support the coalition’s efforts to save Warren Park.

Last year West Ridge residents were surprised to learn of an agreement between Ald. Bernard Stone (50th Ward) and the city’s Department of Aging to use a portion of the park to construct a senior center.

“This is yet another version of the attempted land grabs going on in Grant Park and Lincoln Park,” said Ann Glapa of the West Rogers Park Community Organization.

When one bouquet is not enough

Thinking of giving flowers – again – for Mother’s Day?  Neighborspace asks: Why not give Mom a whole garden?

“NeighborSpace, Chicago’s land trust for community gardens, will send the mother in your life a beautiful laser-cut bouquet-card showcasing its gardens for a donation of $25 or more. In addition, your mother will receive a special invitation to join a Fall tour of NeighborSpace gardens.

“Your donation will directly support NeighborSpace’s mission, funding the preservation and stewardship of a growing network of gardens cared for and loved by communities across the city.”

 The deadline is May 5.

Garfield Conservatory centennial

The Garfield Park Conservatory celebrated its centennial Sunday — and the commemoration continues with a neighborhood history project and exhibit which runs through May.  The Conserve-A-Story” exhibit in the Conservatory’s community room opened last week and features tape recordings and photos and autobriographical objects from West Side residents.  There’s an audio recording “story booth” onsite, and a series of associated activities.  The Conservatory is also holding its annual urban gardening festival on Saturday, April 26.

 Meanwhile an exhibit of photos inspired by the new book on Garfield Conservatory and the West Side, “Inspired By Nature,” runs through June 6 at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 S. Michigan.  The two authors of the book will be featured at CAF luncheon lectures next month — Park District historian Julia Bachrach on May 7, and landscape historian Jo Ann Nathan on May 21.

Guidelines for park voluteers

In a meeting with park advisory council leaders last Friday, the Chicago Park District backed off its controversial effort to implement stiff new guidelines for park volunteers and promised more consultation with the councils, reports John Paul Jones of Friends of the Parks.  

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