Declare the Chicago Lakefront a National Park!
Declare the Chicago Lakefront a National Park!
Chicago Lakefront's public parks and greenspaces are NOT vacant land ripe for redevelopment.
The Chicago Lakefront, with its legendary parks, greenspaces, recreational and pastoral spaces, beaches, harbors and waterfront stretching almost 26 miles is one of Chicago's greatest assets. Some of these lands have been dedicated to the public for over 150 years and most for over a century. These are sacred places that belong to us all as a place of refuge, reflection and recreation, to allow for a break from our daily grind of our lives, and to once again connect with nature — refreshing and energizing one’s spirits. These seminal Lakefront spaces and lands were designed by the best of the best in the world of architecture and landscape architecture including William LeBaron Jenney, Frederick Law Olmsted, Olmsted & Vaux, Jens Jensen, Alfred Caldwell, May McAdams and others.
While Chicago Lakefront land is precious, its also valuable. For as long as the Chicago Lakefront Parks have existed, there have been politicials seeking to "develop" these park lands, "just this one time" for one pet project or another. If not for laws to protect these public parks and the indivisuals who have been willing to speak truth to power, these would long ago have become private property like any other city in the world.
“Forever open, clear and free” was an early ideal and vision of our City’s earliest pioneers and legislators, to protect the Chicago Lakefront and to insure it remained accessible to the public. Dating to one year before the City’s incorporation in 1836, this forward-thinking vision was adopted by our City and State, and land was set aside in Chicago for parkland, greenspace and open space near the early lakeshore to be enjoyed by all.
Preservation Chicago supports a commitment to the Chicago Lakefront and its many parks, realizing that this is a very special feature of Chicago and a gift to its citizens which is to last in perpetuity. We continue to be grateful for these amazing parks and the great asset of Lake Michigan, its shoreline mostly “forever open, clear and free for all.”
The Chicago parks are themselves very special and highly celebrated with revered environments containing a variety of grand panoramic spaces, outdoor rooms and vast stretches of Lakefront lands. Some of these parks and spaces contain rigid formal gardens and arrangements with fountains and other features, while others include more naturalistic settings. These parks contain an abundance of extraordinary features including lagoons, islands and native plant species and reflect the once abundant prairies and meadows of our region. Among these artistically arranged settings are open prairies and meadows, beautiful and expansive beaches, and harbors and nature preserves. Historic built environment features of the highest quality, including beautifully crafted museum buildings, conservatories, pavilions, a historic zoo, artistic sculptures, golf courses, pastoral roadways and recreational spaces, frame our panoramic City and skyline in the distance.
Lack of funding has resulted in our parks starving for resources and in need of substantial repairs. Long-deferred maintenance and straight-up neglect of many aspects of these special features has taken their toll on some of this land. The list of needs through the park system include repairs and in some situations total reconstruction of collapsing buildings, disintegrating paths and often pockmarked trails, underpasses and bridges. Yet, even with a shortage of funds for maintenance and improvement, our City and State offers millions of dollars and incentives for what could be described as pork projects. This is disappointing, as we as a City we are not always taking into account that these greenspaces, parklands, lakefront spaces and trails, and all of the features of the parks and Lakefront have really all been developed and maintained for more than a century and half by the citizens of Chicago—the taxpayers, residents and visitors.
These parks -- regardless of their location -- are for all of Chicago, and its visitors. The Chicago Lakefront is a remarkable asset for residents and tourists alike. They are not to be squandered. If the desire is to build new structures, additional properties adjacent to these greenspaces should be considered and made to be extensions of this lakefront land. Rather than taking land from the people and these parks, we should be creating new parklands and new campuses of buildings, surrounded by greenspaces. The broad vision should be expanded, not reduced or cast aside as vacant, undeveloped sites.
We realize the challenges in managing the vast Lakefront lands, and we want to encourage partnerships realizing the costs associated with this massive endeavor. To that end, we want to encourage the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District to pursue a National Park Designation for the entire Chicago Lakefront. Chicago could partner with the National Park Services to continue the legacy of protecting this precious resource for the enjoyment of all. Such an idea could lift and share the burden of maintenance of these sacred grounds, providing much-needed repairs to many of the park buildings and structures. The idea of a national park and shared responsibilities for these vast Lakefront parklands would allow for improved maintenance, prevent privatization of recreational lands and facilities, and access to more funds for new parklands in communities across Chicago.