With City Hall gripped by privatization fever, the city's chief parks advocacy group is expected to announce today a campaign to go the other way and free the 13 percent of the city's vaunted shoreline unavailable to the public.
Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin calls the plan by the Friends of the Parks "visionary," though quite possibly prohibitively expensive.
"Chicagoans love to brag about their open, people-friendly lakefront," Kamin writes. "In reality, 4 of the city’s 30 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline are unavailable to the public - cordoned off by an intimidating combination of high-rises, 'Private Property' signs and fences topped by razor wire. That’s more than 13 percent of the waterfront, an outrageous violation of Daniel Burnham’s ringing epigram that the lakefront 'by right belongs to the people'."
Opposition, though, will be fierce.
"The estimated tab for the Friends of the Park plan runs anywhere from $350 million to $450 million, and the non-profit has precious little of that money in hand," Kamin notes. "Nor does it have official backing from Mayor Richard Daley’s Chicago Park District, even though the mayor, an avid cyclist, has publicly expressed frustration at gaps in the lakefront bike trail. Moreover, the plan is sure to face tenacious opposition from shoreline property owners in the Edgewater, Rogers Park and South Shore neighborhoods."
Friends of the Parks says those neighborhoods are "park poor" and would benefit from more than 500 acres of new parkland, under their plan.
Residents in Edgewater and Rogers Park who live on the lake have long balked at proposals to extend Lake Shore Drive; Friends of the Parks says it is not calling for that as part of its plan.
"Friends of the Parks is committed to completing the last four miles of lakefront parks with no Lake Shore Drive extension, no marinas, and no commercial development," its says in its FAQ.
On the South Side, the group wants to fill the gap between the South Shore Cultural Center at 71st and Rainbow Beach at 75th.
On Thursday, the Friends of the Parks will host a lecture called "The Last 4 Miles: Completing Chicago's Lakefront" at the Chicago Cultural Center's Claudia Cassidy Theater, at 12:15 p.m.
Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.