When you reduce 11599 S. Stony Island to its individual components, it’s simple enough: wood, mulch, concrete, clods of dirt. But the Bike Park at Big Marsh, like any good bike park, is more than the sum of its parts. Since its opening last November, the park’s stairs, ramps, curves, and jumps have become a two-wheeled proving ground—and the only space of its kind on Chicago’s South Side.
Last week, I asked the founders of Jackson Park Watch (JPW) to take me on a guided tour of Jackson Park. Headed by two women, Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid, JPW has been an undeniable community force for just over a year in demanding more transparency and public input regarding the changes coming to the park, including the Obama Presidential Center, the proposed golf course redesign, and a revamped Wooded Island.
Parks are for people,” Frances Vandervoort told me. A board member and Committee Chairman of the Hyde Park Historical Society, she holds a similar position on the Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC), a watchdog organization for the South Side park of the same name. That’s what I’ve come to talk with Vandervoort about: the changes that will soon come to Jackson Park. The first signs of these changes are visible even today—a nonprofit called Project 120 Chicago, in partnership with the Chicago Park District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), has partially underwritten a series of revitalization projects taking place in the park since 2013. These are forerunners of more significant changes to come: the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) is slotted to open in Jackson Park in 2021, and the Tiger Woods–designed revitalization of the Jackson Park and South Shore Golf Courses—which will combine them into one PGA-grade course, and will be financed through a public-private partnership—is expected to be completed by 2020. Both projects have been sources of controversy.
Alison Anastasio and Jennifer Raber, Rainbow Beach Dunes Stewards
On Tuesday, April 11, a chemical spill was discovered at the U.S. Steel plant in Portage, Indiana, twenty miles down the coast of Lake Michigan from Chicago. A pipe failure caused the chemical to spill into the Burns Waterway, which feeds into Lake Michigan, at a distance of one hundred yards from the shore. Several beaches along the Indiana shore were closed, and officials warned South Side residents to avoid the lakeshore before tests could occur. While testing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Chicago Department of Water Management later revealed that chemical levels in Lake Michigan’s waters were well below federal safety standards, the spill elicited a strong reaction from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who criticized U.S. Steel for its “careless conduct.”
As part of an artistic initiative to bring more aesthetic life into the Burnham Wildlife Corridor, a series of “Gathering Spaces” were recently introduced into the long stretch of park. These five spaces— “Sankofa for the Earth,” “Sounding Bronzeville,” “Caracol,” “La Ronda Paraketa,” and “Set in Stone”—offer refuge for those who find themselves tired along their travels. An attractive getaway from the already serene landscape that envelops them, each Gathering Space has its own important backstory that connects to its creation, material, and neighborhood. Spread out between the three neighborhoods of Bronzeville, Chinatown, and Pilsen, the five Gathering Spaces were created by organizations located in their respective communities.
Traveling north on the Lakeshore Trail, you may have noticed that at around 33rd Street the manicured lawn of the surrounding grass shifts to prairie grasses and shrubs. This marks one of the borders of the Burnham Wildlife Corridor, one of the Chicago Park District’s designated natural areas.
Here’s another reason to use a pooper scooper—when fecal matter from dogs, birds, and other animals flows toward Lake Michigan, waters at the shore can become contaminated with E. coli bacteria, putting a damper on even the sunniest beach day. Seven of the ten most contaminated Chicago beaches are on the South Side, eleven years of recently released data from the Chicago Park District show. According to analysis by OpenCity software engineer Scott Beslow, some beaches in particular—63rd Street Beach, Rainbow Beach at 79th Street, and Calumet Beach—stand out, with over twenty percent of the samples taken at each beach exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) contamination standard for safe swimming water.
Wildness: Relations of People & Place is a rare bird. It’s a collection bound not by genre or intended audience, but by a singular theme: that “human and wild communities are entangled, and can work toward collective health and self-renewal.” And so, across four parts and two-dozen essays, editors Gavin Van Horn and John Hausdoerffer recast mankind as a part of nature, one of many species, hitched to everything else in the universe.