Potential Improvements and Protection of the East Midway Plaisance discussed at MPAC & JPAC Meetings
Updated: Oct 15, 2018
Another component of the ongoing federal review process associated with the siting of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park got underway as representatives of the City's Department of Planning and Development (DPD) met in separate meetings with members of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Committee (MPAC) and Jackson Park Advisory Committee (JPAC) on October 2 and October 10, respectively. These meetings were intended as discovery sessions relating to relocation of recreational space now in Jackson Park, and funded under the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Act (UPARR), that is being displaced by the OPC siting. DPD is working with the National Park Service (NPS), the lead Federal agency for this review, to oversee selection and approval of a replacement site for equivalent recreational use and UPARR protections.
UPARR was a federal grant program developed in the 1970’s to rehabilitate recreational facilities in urban economically distressed neighborhoods. The program ceased to operate in 2002, but its provisions remain binding on sites that received grants. In this case, the conversion of land to non-recreational use as part of the OPC campus requires relocating recreational use and the UPARR designation to another site. That site needs to be of similar quality and in proximity to the current UPARR site but does not need to replicate the specific recreational purpose it replaces. UPARR also adds an additional level of legal protections to the preservation of public parklands.
In early stages of discovery, NPS and DPD identified the area of the Midway Plaisance east of the Metra Tracks and bordered by Stony Island Avenue as a potential site. The meetings with park advisory group representatives were held to introduce that idea, discuss what UPARR designation of a site means, and discuss options for how the site could be improved for recreational use. These are but the first of many meetings the DPD plans to have, including with the general public including students from local schools that will be direct beneficiaries of any park improvements at this site. DPD representatives Eleanor Gorski and Abby Monroe discussed the UPARR status, noting that this would provide additional legal protections to the site regardless of whether the community decides to repurpose or leave as passive parkland. Following a handout that is posted below (with permission from DPD), they presented four initial potential options : 1) Passive Parkland (essentially what the site is now but with improved drainage), 2) A Nature Play area with natural components like logs and boulders could be arranged for play and exercise, 3) Inclusive Play much like the playgrounds already existing in many areas of our communites or 4) Active Play areas, for sports like pickleball, basketball, tennis, etc. A combination of these options could also be used and it was also noted that these options were just to start discussion and that alternative ideas from the community were encouraged to be discussed in future meetings. Both advisory groups focused on the less developed end of the spectrum favoring more passive uses including the concept of a nature play area for children.
The discussions were not without controversy at the MPAC session. MPAC recently passed a resolution opposing any repurposing that might change the present character of the Midway despite the 2000 Midway Framework Plan which proposed ambitious improvements for the entire Midway; in this plan the area considered for UPARR designation would have a landscaped garden, large public fountain and sledding slopes for children (see images below, specifically item 17 and 20). A few members of the MPAC meeting questioned why this site was being discussed (despite the potential for this process improving both the site and its future legal protections as parkland), and suggested the UPARR requirements be fulfilled elsewhere. The DPD staff made it clear that no decisions have been made, and these listening sessions were being held to collect information, assess interest, and brainstorm ideas.
DPD will continue to consult with NPS about compliance with UPARR. The next step will be to develop a process for the general public to join the conversation. NPS is committed to supporting whatever outcome is favored by the community, who will ultimately benefit from the recreational use site.