Preservation Chicago Recommends National Park Designation for Chicago Lakeshore

Jackson Park Comfort Station at South Shore Drive and 67th Street by D.H. Burnham with evidence of deferred maintenance. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

Chicago Lakefront Trail. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

Is it time to designate Chicago’s Lakefront and adjacent parks a National Park?

Chicago’s Lakefront and parks are a precious resource and amenity valued by nearly all Chicagoans, but periodically, politicians mistake these open park spaces as empty vacant sites awaiting development. To protect these priceless green spaces in perpetuity, Preservation Chicago is advocating for a National Park designation for Chicago’s Lakefront and parks.

In 1836, Chicago founding leaders declared our park space to be ‘forever open, clear and free.” Yet precious resources are expended both publicly and privately each time a developer threatens to violate those protections.

The goals of the National Park designation are to:

  • Protect our lakefront parks and the legacy of important landscape architects like Frederick Law Olmsted, Calvert Vaux, Daniel Burnham, Edward Bennett, May McAdams, Swain Nelson and Alfred Caldwell from insensitive and heavy-handed plans that could destroy the peoples’ parklands.
  • Take the local “politics out of the parks” and redirect innovative development ideas to locations within the Chicago where the developments can be successful. This avoids squandering extensive, city staff resources administering ill-conceived plans that have failed after years of expensive time-consuming court challenges.
  • Ensure the parks on the lakefront have good stewardship, and that the National Park Service carries part of the financial and maintenance lift with City of Chicago and Chicago Park District support. Funds are desperately needed to restore the buildings, bridges, roadways and pathways which have suffered from deferred maintenance for more than half a century.
  • Protect Chicago’s lakefront parks as an urban retreat for the people of Chicago, Cook County, State of Illinois and national and international visitors.
  • Protect the natural landscapes to support the plant, wildlife and migratory birds which inhabit the area.
  • Provide protections against inappropriate developments that may adversely and negatively impact important vistas and viewsheds in our openlands and world famous parks.

Vacant land is abundant throughout Chicago, and developers – whether for-profit or non-profit – should be looking to these lands for their future development sites. From the previous attempt to build a George Lucas museum on lakefront property to the current and expensive efforts to build the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, defenders of Chicago’s lakefront parks have to mobilize in a David and Goliath-like battle against well-funded and politically connected individuals, foundations and developers.

Additional Reading
VIDEO: Preservation Chicago Proposes Turning Lakefront Into National Park, By Vince Gerasole, CBS Chicago Channel 2, 5/17/19

AUDIO: The Push To Make Chicago’s Lakefront A National Park, By Jen White, Jason Marck and Daniel Tucker, Morning Shift, WBEZ Chicago, May 22, 2019.

Preservationists want to turn Chicago’s lakefront into a National Park; Preservation Chicago hopes to remove local politics from the city’s most sacrosanct open spaces, Jay Koziarz, Curbed Chicago, 5/20/19

As Lightfoot begins to ‘break the wheel,’ one issue may foretell her efficacy, The mayor can and should ask the Obama Presidential Center organization to summon the courage to inhabit a neighborhood that it has deemed too risky, Charles Birnbaum, Cultural Landscape Foundation, Crain’s Chicago Business, 6/3/19

Make Lakefront National Park, Group Urges, Samantha Smylie, Hyde Park Herald, June 5, 2019 (print only)

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