The greater good for the public, not the elites, should be most important reason for change
June 4, 2017

Gazette Chicago’s news coverage this issue shows that the City is contemplating several changes in our communities. We hope that City officials go slow, and keep quality of life and the greater good for all uppermost in mind before making their decisions.

Take the planters on Madison Street between Halsted Street and Ogden Avenue, installed to beautify the area prior to the 1996 Democratic National Convention. Alderman Walter Burnett of the 27th Ward is proposing removing them because over 20 years later they are showing their age and there is more traffic in the area. But is simply removing the planters really the right solution?

Although we do not have official statistics, it’s most likely accurate to say that there is four times more traffic going down Madison than there was two decades ago, as the area is home to many more residences and businesses than it was back then. There also is a proportionate increase in the number of pedestrians trying to navigate Madison along this stretch.

So we’d like to see a more nuanced solution than merely taking out the planters.

What is the best street configuration to protect pedestrians? It’s hard enough for them to cross the street now. Would taking out the planters help, or put pedestrians in more danger? Would keeping some of the planters in place serve as a buffer to keep traffic at a speed that is safe for pedestrians to cross and vehicles and trucks to navigate turns? Are CTA buses moving through the area in the most effective and safest way possible?

There should be no rush to judgement here. Before the planters are removed, we would like to see a study performed by the Chicago Department of Transportation in conjunction with the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Urban Transportation Center and the CTA to take all of these factors into consideration. The best solutions would result in making Madison Street a fluid, safe, and attractive thoroughfare for vehicles, commuters, and pedestrians alike.

Take also the plan to consolidate the two public golf courses on the South Side. Jackson Park Golf Course opened in 1899 and the South Shore Golf Course debuted in 1907. There’s a lot of history here and generations of families benefiting from these publicly run courses. Let’s consider future access and put those green fees out on the table before we turn them into a Tiger Woods-designed course for holding national tournaments.

Now, these Chicago Park District courses provide a venue for the public that is affordable for adults and free for youngsters under 16 to golf. Will a professional quality course remain affordable? We doubt it. If South Siders are priced off of this course, will they go to the City’s other major public course, the Marovitz (Waveland) Golf Course at 3600 North? We know they won’t.

Not only will the City raise golfing fees on the new course, but to build it the City is proposing closing Marquette Drive between Cornell and Lake Shore Drive. As in the case of the Madison Street planters, a CDOT/UIC Transportation Center study on what the effects of closing the drive would actually mean for the community is necessary before the bulldozers rip it up. Anyone remember what happened when a former Mayor ripped up the runways at Meigs Field in the middle of the night with no community input? Bye-bye airport, forever.

Does everything the City considers in these challenging budgetary times have to cater to the rich and the powerful? Does one of the few public amenities in that part of the South Side have to be taken from the public and given to the top 1%? Professional golf tournaments are nice—when they come around once a decade or so—but who really benefits from them? Being able to follow the best golfers in the world for a day is pretty cool and buying the BMW’s that usher the golfing elite around for a week for a discounted rate is a nice perk if you have the cash at hand.

But again, we have to ask, how many will really benefit from this newly designed golf course? We also would like the City to make sure that the development of a 7.86-acre site in Pilsen will truly be socially responsible, as the developer, Property Markets Group, has promised. So far, the responsibility to make PMG keep community needs in mind has fallen to groups like Pilsen Alliance, the Pilsen Land Use Committee, and the Resurrection Project, although 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis has said he is not going to let anything on the site that does not have the support of the people of Pilsen. Some City-run community meetings and studies would be nice here, too.

Gazette Chicago is certainly not against change if it benefits the public. One such change would be a new fieldhouse for Skinner Park in the West Loop. Skinner Park users have access only to a one-room fieldhouse built more than half a century ago, and this vibrant area needs something better.

The Skinner Park Advisory Council is working with Aldermen Burnett, Solis, and Jason Ervin (28th Ward), who are considering on design and funding options and not rushing into a decision. We commend them. But this also raises an interesting question. Do three Aldermen have to weigh in on such a pretty simple issue? Gerrymandered ward maps are frustrating to say the least.

Becoming engaged in local issues is the best way to protect our communities from hasty and elitist decisions by the City. It’s also a great way to step into the political process. Again, we urge you to get involved and resist where you find it necessary.