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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

City Pushes To Improve Midway Plaisance ‘Swamp’ Land To Replace Parkland Lost To Obama Center

The city intends to upgrade the east end of Midway Plaisance as it tries to meet a federal requirement to replace Jackson Park land lost to the Obama Center.

The crowd during the question-and-answer session of Tuesday's Midway Plaisance Advisory Council meeting. Attendees packed most of the Midway Plaisance ice rink's warming center.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — City officials gathered feedback on their plans to improve the eastern edge of the Midway Plaisance at the park’s advisory council meeting Tuesday night.

The city aims to improve the land surrounding the Cheney-Goode Memorial to meet a federal requirement to replace parkland that would be lost in nearby Jackson Park to the Obama Presidential Center. Improvements would include fixing drainage issues and adding a fenced-in play area, walkways and other recreational features.

Attendees said the current land is a “swamp” and a “glaring hole in the community.”

The National Park Service must approve changes to Jackson Park to allow the Obama Center to be built. The park got federal funds in the 1980s in exchange for the city’s commitment to public recreation in the park.

The “concept is very loose” at this stage in the federal review process, said Abby Monroe, a public participation officer of the Department of Planning and Development. Specific improvements will be hashed out with the public after the federal review.

Park Advisory Board President Bronwyn Nichols-Lodato went to great lengths in moderating feedback on the Midway plans, some of which was not from advisory council members.

Attendees included supporters of the Obama Center’s plans, including the Jackson Park Advisory Council and Southside Neighbors For Hope, as well as detractors like Jackson Park Watch.

Questions arose about the city’s decision to choose the Midway Plaisance for improvements, with a few attendees wondering what other sites could have received upgrades.

Monroe made clear the city would not waver from its proposal and that it was up to the National Park Service to decide if it was sufficient.

“Other sites were considered, but at this point I’m not sure how fruitful it would be” to divulge where they were, Monroe said.

Multiple attendees opened their questions with a variation of “I support placing the UPARR (Urban Park and Recreational Recovery) play area on the eastern edge of the Midway.” The sentence was printed on the back of a map of the city’s plans distributed before the meeting.

Supporters praised the proposal as a necessary way to curb flooding to allow children a place to play in an area currently overrun with bugs and goose poop.

Those against the proposal questioned why the city refused to budge on a plan it didn’t have final say over.

Other concerns regarding the safety of a playground close to Stony Island Avenue and the possibility of improving drainage with rising lake levels were also raised. Attendees also urged Park District officials to monitor the placement of play areas throughout Woodlawn and surrounding areas.

Although a significant portion of the meeting was spent on disagreements and reminding attendees to follow procedures, some neighbors used their comment time simply to praise everyone for coming to discuss a heated issue.

Monroe closed the meeting by describing it as a “balanced conversation.”

The meeting comes a couple weeks after a public hearing about the Obama Presidential Center’s impact on Jackson Park, during which some attendees were frustrated with a lack of transparency.

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