“The lakefront,” a state senator once told me, “is Chicago."
It’s true. Chicago owes its existence to Lake Michigan. And Daniel Burnham, the city’s master planner, vowed that the lakefront would be “forever free and clear” for the citizens of Chicago.
But Mayor Daley is striking the word “free” from Burnham’s quote, now that he’s allowing the Park District to install pay boxes at every beach parking lot, from Loyola in the north to South Shore in the south. The $1-an-hour fees are expected to bring in $1.5 million a year for the Park District, money that will allow it to keep the lake open, or at least avoid selling it to a private company that will charge for swimming.
And if a family can’t afford $8 to spend a day at the lake, well, guess what? Working-class folks haven’t been welcome on the lakefront for years. Believe it or not, kids, there was a time, in another Chicago, when it wasn’t cooler to live by the lake. Lincoln Park and Lake View were considered sketchy neighborhoods, inhabited by blue-collar workers, hippies and drunks. As the middle class began rediscovering the city, those now-fashionable addresses became unaffordable for their old inhabitants.
You’ll still see a few old men or Mexicans fishing for food in Montrose Harbor, sometimes with a line wrapped around a Coca-Cola can. If they’re too poor to afford a pole, can they afford to keep parking near the lake?
Park district spokesman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner has suggested people take public transportation if they don’t want to pop for the fees. But a round-trip bus ride for a family of four is even more expensive.
Last year, 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore had to strike a deal with the Park District to allow residents to continue their practice of parking overnight in Loyola Park. Like most lakefront neighborhoods, Rogers Park is extremely congested, and the 123 spots were coveted by people whose apartments don’t come with parking spaces. Moore had to pay the Park District $89,000 a year out of his aldermanic menu money just to keep the spaces open.
One of the best things about being a Chicagoan is that we don’t have to rent a cottage to spend a summer at the beach. We already live at the beach. In a time when fewer and fewer and people can afford summer vacations, we should at least be able to vacation in our hometown.
Mr. Mayor, Daniel Burnham would like to have a few words with you.