“In the past month we’ve witnessed the flooding in Germany, China and New York City. A recent New York Times article illustrates that our beautiful lakefront puts Chicago at risk of climate-related disasters. We must face this reality directly and with a plan that is carried out for the entire public lakefront.
“I spend my work life as the director of the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice at Roosevelt University overlooking Lake Michigan. As a year-round lakefront runner, I have logged thousands of miles, seen hundreds of sunrises and dodged my share of goose poop. I have lived as far north as Foster Avenue and as south as Hyde Park. Nearly my entire life happens within several blocks of the lakefront. Differences along the Lakefront Trail between the North and South Side are stark.
“According to the Chicago Park District, the 18-mile Lakefront Trail runs from Ardmore Street (5800 North) to 71st Street (7100 South). The park district’s interactive trail map marks Ardmore as the ‘start of the trail.’ For the park district, City Hall, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and their partners, the interactive map reflects the direction of their plans and spending priorities.
“In 1996 the Water Resources Development Act was passed, providing federal support for Chicago’s shoreline. Across decades, Chicago planners, working with the Army Corps wisely put forth the Chicago Shoreline Protection Project plan. This long-range and multidepartment plan, budgeted at ‘more than $500 million,’ was funded by the USACE, the city of Chicago, Chicago Park District and the state of Illinois Department of Natural Resources to address the high-risk, critical areas along the lakefront. The plan implementation began ‘at the start of the trail,’ the north end.
“The mayor’s office proudly announced in 2014 that when Fullerton Avenue was completed (a $37 million project that included a restaurant, bar and theater space), just two areas in the Shoreline Project would remain.
“What was not announced was that the two remaining areas were on the South Side: Morgan Shoal and Promontory Point. The Army Corps website stated: ‘Due to funding shortfalls, no schedule for completion is available at this time.’ The 2015 award-winning Morgan Shoal Framework Plan is still just a plan.
“Following a damaging January 2020 storm, a chain-link fence was erected from 51st to 49th streets, forcing lakefront trail users onto a single path that dangerously abutted the Drive. Not until May 2021, after the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District came up with $1.5 million for a temporary fix, was the path reopened. Large black bags filled with sand and stone remain an eyesore and blockage to lakefront access along Morgan Shoal.
“In the latest federal budget, the Army Corps of Engineers has received $500,000 for another shoreline study. Will a new Chicago Shoreline Plan follow that takes us back to the ‘start of the trail’ with resources focused north again?
“As the realities of climate change are felt around the world, Chicago has an opportunity to protect our lakefront while creating the ‘unified city’ Daniel Burnham envisioned more than a century ago. (Dalmage, Crain’s Chicago Business Op-ed, 7/28/21)
Heather Dalmage is a professor of sociology and director of the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice at Roosevelt University.
Crain’s Chicago Op-ed: The South Side lakefront is worth restoring too, Chicago; The city’s planning for future climate disasters must include action along the entire lakefront, not just the North Side, Heather Dalmage, Crain’s Chicago Business Op-ed, 7/28/21