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Olympic Legacies: Give or Take?

Chicago’s historic parks and its rich architectural legacy are among the strongest selling points for promoters seeking to attract the 2016 Summer Olympics to this city.

In selling the games to Chicago’s residents, meanwhile, promises of park enhancements and sports programs for kids, as well as affordable housing, have been featured alongside visions of jobs and boom times.

But current plans put great burdens on parks, and they involve the imminent demolition of a major responsitory of the city’s historic architecture (see part two).

In many cases promised “legacy” facilities seem designed not to meet actual needs of current park users but to accommodate the requirements of Olympic planners. In many cases they involve taking away existing resources while promising residual benefits sometime in the future.

In some cases they involve taking away facilities that have been only recently built.

In Jackson Park, an Olympic field hockey venue is planned — on the site of a world-class track and football field next to Hyde Park Academy. It’s one of only three regulation tracks at Chicago schools.

The track and field opened just eight years ago, funded by a community-led drive which raised well over half a million dollars, including support from the National Football League.

“It’s eight years into a minimum 35-year lifespan,” said Ross Petersen, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council.

Under the current plan, the new track will be bulldozed, along with an adjacent baseball diamond, he said. Chicago 2016 has promised to rebuild it after the games, he said, although a permanent field hockey field facility has also been touted as a possible “legacy.”

The field hockey was moved to the school after the original proposal, using popular soccer fields near a lakefront nature sanctuary, led JPAC to vote against using the park for the Olympics. Petersen said the council is grateful for the site change, but when he asked at a recent meeting whether members wanted to pass a new resolution updating their stance, no one offered a motion.

In Douglas Park, recently rebuilt gymnasiums and a pool serving the Collins Highcampus — reportedly updated at a cost of $30 million — will be demolished to make way for a $37 million velodrome for bicycle racing. Afterwards a pool “may” be moved to the park from the South Side aquatics center, and Chicago 2016 promises to convert the highly specialized, elite outdoor venue into a year-round “multisport facility.”

In Lincoln Park, Chicago 2016 is touting a legacy of 20 new tennis courts after the Olympic tennis venue is taken down. They will replace 20 existing tennis courts.

Washington Park has attracted the most attention. There a $400 million temporary stadium for opening ceremonies and track events, along with a $100 million aquatic center featuring four pools, will be sited on the open meadow that dates to Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1870 design.

The thousand-acre park, listed on the National Registery of Historic Places, comprises one-seventh of the Chicago’s parkland and features 14 baseball diamonds, football and soccer fields, and cricket pitches. Under current plans, it will be closed for at least four years to accomodate the two-week 2016 extravaganza.

The Washington Park Advisory Council has endorsed the siting, although only a few of the 26 conditions it issued two years ago as requirements for its support have been addressed. But a number of community, citywide and national groups have opposed the use of the meadow for the stadium, including the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference, Friends of the Parks, Preservation Chicago and the National Association for Olmsted Parks.

NAOP objects that Chicago 2016 plans “threaten the park’s signature public open spaces and sweeping vistas, jeopardizing [the] integrity, significance and public use” of “a masterpiece of America’s preeminent landscape architect.” According to NAOP, “plans to tear down the stadium following the Olympics are unrealistic” — and even if they are carried out, the new ampitheater and aquatic center would “take a major open space and restrict its use to specific activities, and a much more limited user population.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Completing Lakefront Park Plan

The first of three community meetings of a new plan to complete the south lakefront park system will be held this Wednesday, October 25, at 7 p.m. at The Zone, 11731 S. Avenue O.

The plan will also be aired November 16 at the Rainbow Beach fieldhouse and November 21 at the South Chicago library.

The October 25 meeting is cosponsored by Friends of the Parks, the Southeast Environmental Task Force, the South East Chicago Historical Society and the Calumet Ecological Park Association. It’s part of Friends of the Parks’ “Last Four Miles” initiative, which is engaging communities to develop concept plans for the last four miles of Chicago’s thirty-mile lakefront which remains outside the park system.

“We were looking for ways to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the 1909 Burnham Plan, which called for the entire lakefront to be public parkland,” said Eleanor Roemer of FOTP. The initiative “builds of a long history of citizens working to ensure public access to the lake,” she said.

A community design charette in May considered ideas for lakefront stretches from 71st to 75th streets and the section south of 79th to 95th street which includes the former USX site and Port of Chicago facilities. Draft planning concepts, which include a variety of alternatives, are being presented at meetings with neighborhood groups as well as the three public community meetings.

Community input will be incorporated into a consensus plan which will be exhibited at the Chicago Architecture Foundation this winter and at community sites. It will also be presented to the city and the Chicago Park District.

FOTP expects the planning process can serve as a model for a subsequent effort to open two miles of northside lakefront, from Hollywood to Evanston, to public access, Roemer said.

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