Thursday, September 21, 2006

Olympic Washington PARKing Lot

On Wednesday (Sept 20, 2006), Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that Chicago's Washington Park would be the site for the proposed Olympic Stadium for the 2016 Olympics. YIKES !!

Washington Park is on Chicago's southside, just southwest of The University of Chicago. (Chicago Crain's photo)

Apparently, the announcement came as a total shock to the City Councilmen whose district(s) will be largely affected by the plans, in particular Ald. Arenda Troutman (20th ward). (Chicago Tribune story.)

Daley's staff contacted the aldermen only a few hours before the Wednesday afternoon press conference. What's more disappointing is that the Aldermen didn't seem to take offense at being left out of even the most preliminary of planning meetings as it relates to Olympic development and their constituency. Business as usual in Chicago.

I'll reserve my final judgment on the Stadium plans until Daley's committee presents them publicly, but I'm not hopeful nor encouraged by this announcement. To this planner, it just doesn't seem to fit. I don't think PARK space should be developed into stadium space. A park ceases being a park when it has concrete/steel/plastic or otherwise large man-made elements introduced where greenery use to exist.

The proposed 91,000+ seat Stadium is suppose to be a "temporary" structure. After the 2016 Olympics, the Stadium would be converted into a permanent 10,000 seat multi-use venue. Of course, Chicago has to first convince the Olympic Committee that the games should be held here in 2016.

However, should The Games come here, I see Washington Park turning into Washington Parking Lot. The parked cars (and buses and cabs) will be the only "PARK" in Washington Park.

- Who will be able to see any of Washington Park's landscaping after a 91,000 seat stadium, all the parking, and nearby support services are built around the stadium?

- How do you build a temporary parking lot that accommodates tens of thousands of people ?? (You close all the streets leading up to and through all nearby neighborhoods, and pave over all the grass and green space, and you don't tell the neighborhood residents nor the Alderman how you're going to do it --that's how. )

- And just how many 50-75 year old trees are going to be cut down to erect this "temporary" stadium? No such thing as temporarily cutting down 50+ year old trees.

Consider the massive concrete and paved areas required to service the existing 61,000 seat Soldier Field in nearby Downtown Chicago. Chicagoans are familiar w/ the sea of concrete paved parking lots surrounding Soldier Field. Just where are 30,000+ plus cars/visitors going to park in Washington Park? --which is bound to have substantial nearby (semi permanent) parking. Are multi-level parking structures consistent w/ a "Park" setting ?

Not to mention that fact that the arterial streets surrounding and traversing the area are woefully tight/under-sized for the traffic volumes that would be generated by such an international event like the Olympics. Just ask Hyde park / Garfield / 55th St residents..

If you think the Dan Ryan construction has fouled up the commute, Southside residents can start to look forward to the Olympic Washington PARKing lot starting in 2011.

And Southside residents should worry about eminent domain issues and PUBLIC land being grabbed for private development and private profiteering. I mean, this is a public park-- not private land that can be sold (or even leased long-term) to well-connected developers and fat cats for private gain (i.e. profit). Southsiders, be forewarned.

Let's hope that The Washington Park Advisory Council (led by President Cecelia Butler ) has substantive input during the entire process. Chicagoans and Southside residents need to speak up loudly about this one.

Parks provide a release from dense(r) urban life, man-made forms, and provide some modicum of tranquility for urban dwellers. Once the "Park" is gone, you won't get green space and the openess back. Some things should not be for sale (or lease).

[ And after the Dan Ryan project, does anyone think that this will open up opportunities for Chicago's non-majority business community ? ]

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