Thursday, November 13, 2008


To: Erma Tranter
President, Friends of the Parks
Re: Completing the Lakefront Park System

November 7th, 2008


Over the years I personally have appreciated the outstanding efforts of "Friends Of the Parks" in challenging the City and the Park District and being the voice of citizens who want better parks, better programs and more open green space. In that stewardship role FOTP has stood as a beacon, shining a light on the legacy of Olmsted, Ward and Burnham. In particular, I have seen the role you have played in making Friends of the Parks into the credible organization that it is today and I and many others, I'm sure, recognize that effort as well.

The accomplishments of FOTP over the years in making this a better city are numerous and the opportunities to do so much more in the future are staggering. One major opportunity is the influence that FOTP can bring to bear upon the future plans for our lakefront. As we approach the centennial of the Plan of Chicago next year, a great deal of attention is being focused on what many feel is yet undone - completing the lakefront park system. So allow me to chime in on what I believe is a gross distortion and misinterpretation of what is now known as the Burnham Plan. I have a well-worn and read copy of the Plan, so I'll refer to it as I go on here.

First, let's put the entire Plan into perspective. In Chapter 1 on page 2, only 4 paragraphs into this remarkable document, Burnham had the good sense to understand that most of what was being proposed would take generations to accomplish and much would be reconsidered over those generations: "It should be understood, however, that such radical changes as are proposed herein cannot possibly be realized immediately. Indeed, the aim has been to anticipate the needs of the future as well as to provide for the necessities of the present: in short, to direct the development of the city towards an end that must seem ideal, but is practical. Therefore it is quite possible that when particular portions of the plan shall be taken up for execution, wider knowledge, longer experience, or a change in local conditions may suggest a better solution; but, on the other hand, before any departure shall be determined upon, it should be made clear that such a change is justified."

Well, departures we certainly have seen, particularly along the lakefront. Of course the greatest, and I might suggest the most tragic, departure has been from Burnham's unequivocal recommendation that Chicago vastly increase the amount of park space: "At least half the population of Chicago to-day live more than one mile from any large park, and in the congested sections of the city there are nearly five thousand people to each acre of park space. The average for the entire city is 590 persons to each acre of park. For health and good order there should be one acre of park area for each hundred people" (page 44). Burnham based his recommendation on the 1904 Report of the Special Park Commission. We are as far today from implementing that recommendation as we were then.

If Burnham were alive now, he wouldn't be as concerned about the last 4 miles of "unfinished" lakefront as much as he would be devastated that after 100 years this city has the worst record of open lands of the 15 major metropolitan areas in this country AND we're about to trash a considerable amount of park acreage by building a stadium in the middle of one of Frederick Law Olmsted's incredible legacies to this city - Washington Park. FOTP's staunch opposition to this hair-brained idea is certainly well appreciated and is in the tradition of what your organization has done in the past in standing up to the short-sighted self-interests that populate the Park District as well as City Hall.

Getting back to the lakefront, however, the departures there too have been numerous. If the lakefront looked like Burnham had planned, we'd have lagoons sprinkled along the entire lakeshore to Wilmette. We'd have man-made islands along the lakeshore from Jackson Park to Wilmette. The Midway in Hyde Park would be a canal, like those of Venice of which Burnham was looking to mimic. Lake Shore Drive would not be a major highway extending from south to north but rather a tranquil boulevard providing a scenic view of the lake with walkways alongside the road (see picture on page 92). Of course none of this happened because "longer experience or a change in local conditions suggested a better solution", not unlike the solution that many citizens in Edgewater and Rogers Park have been steadfastly recommending for the 2 miles of lakefront from Hollywood to the Evanston border - the uninterrupted wilderness beachfront that exists today.
On FOTP's site under "The Last 4 Miles" is a quote from Burnham: "“The Lakefront by right belongs to the people – not a foot of its shores should be appropriated to the exclusion of the people…” This quote is on page 50, so let me bracket it within it's broader context in the next paragraph where Burnham then says: "Wherever possible, the outer shore should be a beach on which the waves may break; and the slopes leading down to the water should be quiet stretches of green, unvexed by the small irregular piers and the various kinds of projections which to-day give it an untidy appearance."

He goes on about his lagoons again, but the point is that today, in Rogers Park we ALREADY HAVE "a beach on which the waves may break and the slopes leading down to the water of quiet stretches of green". So please, refrain from including Rogers Park within the context of "completing Chicago's lakefront parks". We believe that this City and our community have what Burnham envisioned and we look forward to FOTP's support in protecting the continued existence of that natural beauty.

Don Gordon
bcc: Rogers Park neighborhood residents

Two referendums in Rogers Park in the past 4 years have made the overwhelming point that landfills, marinas and Lake Shore Drive extensions should not be considered. Our Evanston neighbors as well have expressed their disdain for any lakefront "transformation" in their Lakefront Parks Plan. The residents of Rogers Park and the 49th Ward have spoken twice, so allow me to reference both of these referendums. A fellow resident, Dan Murray, provided us the following:

The question was on the 2004 ballot for the 49th Ward, but Lakefront precincts only. I believe the question was worded in the obverse, i.e. Should Lakefront expansion be permitted, and the vote was 88% NO and 12% Yes. See URL, below.

Then, in 2006, the question was posed in all precincts of the 49th Ward, and restated as: Should Lakefront expansion be prohibited? The tally was 74% YES and 26% No. See URL, below.

This election just concluded saw the question (same as 2006, above) posed in the 48th Ward, with 60% YES and 40% No. See URL, below.

1 comment:

mcl said...

Response from Erma Tranter, FOTP

"Thanks, Michael,

We are sending in a response to the local paper.