Wooded Island in Jackson Park is one of Chicago’s most notable public spaces: a serene three block long island – surrounded by a lagoon – with oak trees, beautiful plants, and a stunning Japanese garden.
As part of the famous 1893 World’s Fair and the subject of an $ 8 million restoration by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2016, we can understand why the Chicago Park District is now keen to keep the grounds of this special, internationally recognized location safe and secure Hours protected.
But the installation of the park district at the end of last month with tall, dark and grim looking wrought iron gates on the north and south bridges to the island is wrong.
And we fear the move will encourage the borough – an agency recently known for choosing expediency over public utility – to simply close parking lots in response to complaints of vandalism and loitering, rather than creative avenues to keep these areas safe and open.
People have “done harm”
The park district says the gates were installed after incidents of vandalism on the island, according to the Hyde Park Herald.
Jackson Park Advisory Council President Louise McCurry told the newspaper that her organization’s volunteers pulled up the island’s plants, allegedly stole turtles and koi fish, burned garbage cans and found evidence of motorbikes driving the area.
“People were just there doing damage, and it’s a place that, once destroyed, is artifacts from history. You can’t bring it back, ”said McCurry, whose group supports the goals.
Another supporter of the gates is Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, who told Block Club Chicago about the fish thefts and other alleged damage, including graffiti.
The park district said the gates of Wooded Island will close from dusk until dawn. The barriers “will help secure the area and protect these historic and valuable assets from outside business hours”.
An alternative is needed
We are not fans of physically cordoning off public parking spaces. And maybe the gates could be a little easier if they were designed with a little beauty, grace, and care for the environment that the Parkviertel is said to want to protect.
Instead, the gates are plump, oversized and unadorned – with spiky appendages on the sides. Stepping onto the pretty little island now feels more like stepping into a camp.
Also, now that the gates are open, there’s nothing stopping the park district from restricting access to the island during daytime hours for any reason – or locking one side or the other off.
Ahmed Zaki, a senior at the University of Chicago, reads a sign on September 9 calling for the gates to be removed from Wooded Island. Zaki said the money on the fence could have been better spent improving Jackson Park. Mark Capapas / Sun-Times
We don’t want to dismiss the concerns that people might enter the island after work and damage it. (In fact, we are asking the police for more detailed information about misdeeds on Wooded Island.)
But even at the risk of sounding cavalier, running public parks includes the reality that people sneak in after work and occasionally do undesirable things.
This was the case for years at Auburn Park, a two-acre linear park north of 79th Street between Vincennes Avenue and the Rock Island Metra Dam.
The park is in the middle of the circular road called Winneconna Parkway and is surrounded by houses. But instead of closing it down, the Parkviertel physically improved it in the 1990s, leaving it undeveloped.
That should have happened on Wooded Island.
There are enough police officers and private security guards – including the agency now guarding the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park just a stone’s throw west of the island – to tackle the problem without throwing iron gates up.
We encourage the park district to rethink the gates and find a sensible way to protect the area and maintain the ideal of public space.
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