THREATENED: Midway Plaisance Greenspace to be Counted as “Replacement” Greenspace (Chicago 7 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 & 2021)

“The Obama Foundation announced Wednesday a $4 million donation to the Chicago Park District, earmarked for construction of an inclusive, adaptable playground at the east end of Midway Plaisance, directly across from the Obama Presidential Center currently under construction in adjacent Jackson Park.

“The playground — a first of its kind for the district — will include specialized features such as a slide with a transfer platform for wheelchair users, as well as sensory nooks and ADA-compliant swings. Coinciding with the foundation’s announcement, the Park District Board of Commissioners approved the selection of AGAE Contractors to construct the playground.

“Though lauded as ‘groundbreaking’ by the Park District, the playground has met with significant opposition from neighbors, who have faulted the choice of the Plaisance’s east end as too dangerous for a play space, while continuing to express frustration with the city’s handling of the fallout from its decision to cede public parkland to the Obama Center.

“The 20 acres of Jackson Park leased to the foundation — a 99-year term for $10 — included former recreational areas that will now have a non-recreational use. The Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery (UPARR) Act of 1978 requires the replacement of that recreational use elsewhere, hence the playground.

“Over the course of more than a half-dozen community meetings — including, most recently, a virtual town hall held March 6 — objections have continually been raised over Midway Plaisance as the replacement site.

“The slice of the east end slated for the playground is bounded on three sides by highly trafficked roads — traffic that will only increase once the Obama Center opens, neighbors noted — and Metra tracks on the fourth. A better option for the replacement site, they’ve argued, would be in an underserved community.

“And then there is the issue of replacing lost park land by converting green space to a playground. Neighbors said it still amounts to a net loss.

“In a statement to WTTW News, the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council said of Wednesday’s announcement: ‘The disregard and disdain for community input, park equity and environmental justice governed today’s vote by the Board of Commissioners to convert the Midway Plaisance East End to implement an ill-conceived plan that places a playground in an unsafe, high traffic area, while causing irreversible damage to the park’s ecosystem, including destruction of its wetland, without any assessment of environmental impact.’

“The statement continued: ‘The Park District has disavowed its responsibility to ensure safe, accessible public parks, making a mockery of public meetings held to create the appearance of transparency when the ink had already dried on a deal to have a private entity’s funding accelerate a plan that community members have decried.'” (Wetli, WTTW Chicago, 3/13/24)

Read the full story at WTTW

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