Lynn Becker's September 14 article on the debate over Grant Park as a site for the relocated Chicago Children's Museum ["Forever Open, Clear, and Free"] is a compelling exposition of why the museum's proposal to relocate into the northeast corner of the park is flawed and inappropriate.
His argument, however, misses a crucial dimension of why Grant Park is so vulnerable to ill-considered development proposals such as the Children's Museum. Grant Park's vulnerability is largely an unforeseen result of its formal, French-inspired design. While the original French gardens were divided by long straight gravel paths, Grant Park is divided by several very wide roads, including Lake Shore Drive, Columbus Drive, Congress Avenue, and Monroe, Jackson, and Balbo, all of which are at least six lanes wide.
The net result of this surfeit of wide roadways, visible to even the most casual visitor to Grant Park, is the effective division of the park into several smaller pieces, includ-ing Millennium Park, the Art Insti-tute site, Daley Bicentennial Plaza, the Petrillo Band Shell site, etc. The wide roadways make much of the park inaccessible, and it is little surprise that underused parts of the park are seen as potential development sites by institutions like the Children's Museum or Art Institute.
Many other parks in large American cities, such as Central Park in New York or Forest Park in St. Louis, have reduced or even removed roadways in favor of pedestrian and bicycle use. Unfortunately, the roadways dividing up Grant Park have proved immune to any form of redesign or even removal. Instead, city government seems committed to enhancing the use of these roadways as traffic arteries rather than enhancing the use of the park as a green, pedestrian-oriented space. Even Millennium Park, whatever its other virtues, exacerbated thepark's division by bridging Colum-bus rather than narrowing it.
Grant Park's sadly divided state was addressed by the 2002 Grant Park Framework plan, which advocated narrowing or even closing roadways like Columbus Drive. It is not too late to revisit this plan and create a green, open, pedestrian Grant Park rather than one filled with institutions, parking lots, and roadways. Rejecting the Children's Museum proposal would be a good place to start.
Brent D. Ryan
Assistant Professor of Urban Planning
See chicagoreader.com for more discussion of the issue, both in Letters and in the comments following the story.
A Cynic's Take on Grant Park
Thanks to Lynn Becker for his illuminating look at the Grant Park Conservancy's puzzling advocacy for a new Chicago Children's Museum in Grant Park ["Forever Open, Clear, and Free," September 14]. The same group is now circulating a request for proposals to design a "Tavern on the Green" type restaurant in the south end of the park. Groups you might expect to protect Grant Park from intrusions eagerly wear the mantle of Montgomery Ward, "protector of the lakefront," while repudiating the actual principles he fought for.
A cynic might wonder whether putting the museum in Grant Park provides the new lessee of the East Monroe Garage a convenient way to fill its unused spaces, while giving donors like Allstate a late opportunity to be part of Millennium Park's row of tasteful billboards. Sorry, "naming opportunities."
Imagine how an "anchor" attraction like the Children's Museum could help revive Motor Row, the old post office, or upper floors of a former department store such as Carson's or a Goldblatt's at, say, 47th and Ashland. Or the role it might play in bridging and covering the Metra Electric tracks south of Roosevelt Road.
As Becker points out, Grant Park's history is that of two competing visions: the "public-private partnership" that despoiled the lakefront with the Illinois Central Railroad, and Ward's quixotic struggle for the park to be a place of natural beauty and respite from the city. How do [Bob] O'Neill [president of the Grant Park Advisory Council] and his allies think history will remember their unseemly search for loopholes in Ward's principled stand? Just how difficult is it to comprehend the 1839 plat notation "for ever to remain vacant of buildings"?
Don't Drag the Children Into It
Kudos to Lynn Becker on his straightforward, comprehensive article about the proposed Children's Museum in Grant Park ["Forever Open, Clear, and Free," September 14]. While the museum is a treasure and worthy of our support, it has many options for expanding their facility besides this site in Grant Park. This is not about children, as one of your [online] readers commented. It is an issue about precedent setting and the continued eroding of open, public land, which is becoming a scarce commodity in our city.
Betty G. Eaton
E. Chicago Ave.
The Museum Study Is Flawed
Thank you for your insightful, accurate, and informative article regarding the Grant Park land grab in the guise of a children's activity center ["Forever Open, Clear, and Free" by Lynn Becker, September 14]. If you look further you will find the traffic study offered is based on CCM [Chicago Children's Museum] projections and their commissioned marketing study that bends the facts to meet their desires. The traffic study is fine, but it relies on flaws such as no more than four school buses per day, the absence of meandering pedestrians, the choke point to traffic that will be built into the upper Randolph median, and optimistic assumptions on human behavior.
This is about money and power. Our alderman wants two new schools. Penny Pritzker wants to impose her will via her checkbook, Daley wants to meet payments on Millennium Park bonds by filling Grant Park North Garage. The deal is two schools for one very intrusive nonmuseum. . . . CCM does not have a collection. One of the board members from CCM told me Monday that they wanted the CCM on the Museum Campus and stated that campus extends to the curb at Randolph Street. It would seem geography and integrity are not taught at the CCM.
ParkShore Condo Association
We Don't Want a Museum
Lynn Becker's article ["Forever Open, Clear, and Free," September 14] is excellent. The proposal to relocate CCM [Chicago Children's Museum] to Grant Park is fundamentally flawed, and was twice rejected by Alderman Nataurus in favor of open space. Chicago Tribune writers and editors also recognize the proposal lacks merit and a different site outside Grant Park should be selected. Yet CCM supporters continue with an overaggressive, some might say arrogant campaign attacking anyone and any group daring to disagree. In meetings with Alderman Reilly over 90 percent of local residents have voiced opposition. Last time CCM said it would not go where it is not wanted. Enough already!
James A. Spizzo
Vedder Price Kaufman & Kammholz. P.C.
A Fair Report
As a resident of the near east side, all I can say is "Thank you, thank you, thank you" for Lynn Becker's September 14 article on the Chicago Children's Museum ["Forever Open, Clear, and Free"]! I have been very discouraged thus far by the biased, inaccurate, and downright incitant coverage the issue has been receiving from other media. Finally, someone articulately and honestly portrays what is going on.
N. Harbor Drive
I just read Lynn Becker's excellent article on the Children's Museum ["Forever Open, Clear, and Free," September 14]. I agree that Grant Park should not be the place. But who decides whether or not it gets built in Grant Park? As a Chicagoan (Lakeview), I am curious to whom one makes meaningful contact.