Chicago Plan Commission Approves Construction of Recreational Area on Midway Plaisance

The Chicago Park District plans to construct a new playground and recreational area at the eastern end of the Midway


Golden light hits the trees lining the Midway Plaisance.

By Ashton Oh

The Chicago Plan Commission approved the Chicago Park District’s application to build a new playground and recreational area at the east end of the Midway Plaisance on April 20. The 3.3-acre outdoor space will feature a playground, lawn gardens, and a restored Cheney Goode Memorial, a monument named after political activist Flora Sylvester Cheney and one of the earliest memorials dedicated to influential women in Chicago’s history. The site lies between the Metra tracks and South Stony Island Avenue, a major two-way street that runs through the Hyde Park and Woodlawn communities.

As per the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Act of 1978, the ongoing construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park mandates the replacement of any parkland lost to non-recreational use. The proposed playground at the east end of the Midway would create the recreational area needed to compensate for the OPC’s construction. The Chicago Park District says that the east end of the Midway Plaisance was selected for development in 2021 following extensive discussions with South Side residents.

The Chicago Park District has held multiple community meetings since March 2022 regarding the site’s development with landscape architectural firm Site Design Group, which was selected to head the park’s transformation in October 2021. According to the Chicago Park District, the project will feature a “universally-accessible play area” and the installation of a new stormwater infiltration system. Along with the Cheney Goode Memorial, deteriorating paths within the park will be repaired during development.

Other accessibility improvements include the of existing mixed-use trails and the construction of a new connecting path across the Midway Plaisance. Site Design’s “Ribbons” design concept would establish a network of interwoven paths within the new playground, each with varying levels of accessibility. Despite efforts to showcase the park’s potential benefits, South Side residents are concerned about the loss of natural space.

OPC’s construction has raised environmental concerns regarding eroding South Side public parkland and historic sites. The construction of the playground has exacerbated these concerns of South Side organizations like the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council (MPAC). Since the playground’s construction was announced in 2021, the Council has challenged plans to develop the Midway site, alleging that the playground would be constructed on top of an ephemeral wetland that not only serves as a habitat for migrating birds and local wildlife but also relieves stress placed on sewer systems during storm events. The Chicago Department of Transportation states that this section of the Midway Plaisance’s lawn is in “poor condition because of poor drainage” and proposes to “regrade and add drainage to provide usable lawn.” While draining the site would increase usable recreational space, MPAC members say that the wetland’s current ecological benefits outweigh the cost of implementing an engineered drainage system.

Despite concerns regarding the ecological consequences of the park’s construction, the Chicago Park District’s application maintains that the “project is in no way harmful to the general welfare of the people and will conserve our natural resources by preserving the current character of the space.”