Community members voice concerns over Jackson Park improvement plans

Plan is meant to enhance the landscape and vehicle and pedestrian movement through park.

By Ben Andrew

A group of Hyde Park locals gathered at the Washington Park refectory on Monday night to voice concerns about a draft of a city plan to improve Jackson Park.

Patricia O’Donnell, the preservation landscape architect leading the planning process, said that the plan seeks to improve pedestrian and vehicle movement through the park, as well as enhance the landscape visually and ecologically.

One of the most contentious aspects of the plan was the proposal to open the Clarence Darrow Bridge to vehicle traffic. The bridge is located immediately south of the Museum of Science and Industry.

O’Donnell, who presided over the meeting, said that not opening the bridge to vehicles would be politically infeasible and that opening the bridge would improve the access of emergency vehicles to the park. Another meeting attendee also pointed out that the bridge had been open in the past.

“One of the beautiful things about Jackson Park was the peace and quiet, except on Labor Day weekends, and I would hate to have vehicle traffic there [on the Clarence Darrow Bridge] disturb that peace and quiet,” one meeting attendee said. This was followed by an outburst of cheering and clapping from the audience.

Another point of contention was a proposal to build a pavilion and concert space in the park. Many meeting attendees thought it seemed inconsistent with the vision of the park designer, famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead. Others questioned who would be managing this area and worried that it would lead to, as one of them put it, “the corporatization of our park.”

Despite the criticism of the plan, O’Donnell thought the meeting was productive.

“This was a good meeting, we had lots of good input. We really want people to have opinions, and we want to hear them,” she said. She said that the plan will be revised and presented to the public again sometime in the future.

There are also plans in the works to redesign parts of Washington Park. These plans will also be subject to public review.

Jackson Park and Washington Park are the two potential sites for the Obama Presidential Library and Museum. The Obama Foundation says that it plans to make its final selection this spring.