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New Eastside Elitism

(Photo: A case of mistaken identity in downtown Chicago’s New Eastside.)

Although I, too, have highlighted the racism that some members of the New Eastside Association of Residents (NEAR) have used to fuel their opposition to the Chicago Children’s Museum‘s proposed move from Navy Pier to new digs at Daley Bicentennial Plaza in the northeast corner of Grant Park, that’s not really the crux of NEAR’s opposition. Nor do I believe that NEAR members pass fitful, sleepless nights, tortured by the fear that a 110-year-old Illinois Supreme Court decree barring permanent structures from Grant Park will be flouted by the Daley administration.

As surprising as it may sound, I think both arguments are red herrings for what’s really at the heart of New Eastside residential opposition to the museum’s plans: plain-old economic elitism.

It’s a time-honored Chicago tradition: developers produce condos in a heretofore sleepy corner of downtown and market those condos to suburban Cook County residents who would love to live in the city, if only the city weren’t so, well, city. Prospective urbanites buy into plans and prospectuses highlighting panoramic views, leafy streets, and a level of exclusivity–read: safety–to calm minds enough to loosen wallets.

Of course, development begets development, especially in the soaring Second City. Eventually the city swarms in. Views are lost, congestion is gained, and the newcomers find themselves smack in the middle of the city they originally had experienced from the sidelines. It happened in Dearborn Park. I blogged at length about it last year at Folio Square (see here, here, and here). And if the Chicago Children’s Museum gets its way, it will happen to the wags at NEAR.

Now, the way my mother taught me about life, the simplest, most obvious answer is usually the best one. I can easily understand high-rise residents not wanting to lose the cachet of their isolation from the world around them. I can’t, however, understand them all, en masse, suddenly getting civic religion, pulling out their Plans of Chicago and Forever Open Clear and Frees, and channeling Montgomery Ward.

Can you?

That angle is a convenient one, but if half of the folks at NEAR who have wrapped themselves in the Chicago flag of late can actually name the authors of either one of the above-mentioned tomes, I’ll start taking driving lessons tomorrow. While I never cease to be amused by the capacity of urban newcomers to be surprised when they wake up to the fact that they’re actually residing in a big city (and–surprise–a living, breathing city that never ceases to change), I don’t exactly feel sympathy for fellow Chicagoans who believe that they’re somehow better than…well, other Chicagoans (the non-Bucksbaum, non-Pritzker, nouveaux riche elements of Burling Street, anyone?).

All of which brings me to what I found during my afternoon walk on the New Eastside today: curiously erroneous signage prominently posted in the tony neighborhood’s centerpiece Lakeshore East Park. Those in the know will recall said park was designed by acclaimed landscape architect James Burnett and funded by the neighborhood’s developers, to be given over to the Chicago Park District upon completion. That transfer happened on July 16, 2005. Trouble is, the park still doesn’t show up in the CPD’s online database of facilities (not even under the numeric name by which it appears on the Chicago Interactive Zoning Map, Park #546). The above link is to Lakeshore East developer Magellan’s marketing page.

What I find curiouser, if not outright ominous, is the prominent placement of signage labeling the park as “Private Property” smack in the middle of all three public access routes into the New Eastside from the north, south, and east. Fresh, new, unweathered signage.

S private sign 1.jpg

(“Private-property” sign at south roadway entrance to New Eastside.)

N private sign 1.jpg

(“Private-property” sign at north roadway entrance to New Eastside.)

E private sign 2.jpg

(“Private-property” sign at east pedestrian stair/elevator entrance to New Eastside.)

Such signage is obviously out of place in a public park. That was also the very surprised opinion of “Rachel”, the worker who answered the phone at the 42nd Ward office of Alderman Brendan Reilly when I called to complain about the signage this afternoon (she said the office would look into it).

Knowing full well the greenspace was in the inventory of the Chicago Park District, I went looking for the CPD’s own signs. There were two of them, and I had to hunt to find them. They were nowhere near the “Private Property” signs posted at the park’s public entrances. Instead, they were planted in two corners of the park facing directly into blind corners.

Exactly where no members of the public will ever easily see them.

park overview graphic.jpg

(Location of “private property” and park district signage in Lakeshore East Park, looking west.)

SW sign front 1.jpg

(Park district identification sign in southwest corner of Lakeshore East Park.)

SW sign back.jpg

(Blind corner facing park district sign on the southwest.)

NE sign front 1.jpg

(Park district identification sign in northeast corner of Lakeshore East Park.)

NE sign back.jpg

(Blind corner facing park district sign on the northeast.)

Now I can accept accidents and flukes as much as the next person. But I’ve lived in Chicago for long enough to know that nothing happens in this town without a reason. If you can think of a better reason why a public park in the middle of a controversial, exclusive neighborhood fails to appear in the local park authority’s inventory after two years and is festooned with “Private Property” signs at its public entrances–an explanation that doesn’t have to do with somebody trying to keep someone out–I’d love to hear it. The “Private Property” signage should be removed and replaced with Park District identification signage immediately.

I believe when a person says “Put the museum on the South Side” it’s a racist comment just as strongly as I believe that the placement of this signage in Lakeshore East Park is a deliberate attempt to keep non-resident Chicagoans out of the New Eastside. As a resident of the 42nd Ward, I think that stinks.

And that’s about as simply as I can put it.

Categories: Chicago Children's Museum Planning

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

My Bio | My Conversion | My Family Reunion


13 replies

  1. 10 More Things Brendan Reilly Should Stick in a Cave

    (Photo: Alderman Brendan Reilly, a man willing to get to the bottom of the Second City.) Of all things I thought 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly would offer as a compromise in the ongoing controversy over the Chicago Children’s…

  2. Oh sorry yes I do value debate and there is not only one correct side, and I’ll admit I made up my mind last year when they were originally thinking about relocating the CCM to Daley Bi Plaza. When the Mayor announced that the CCM would locate further south on Monroe I thought that was an even worse location further in the middle of Grant Park – if it had to be at either location I’d say Daley Bi Fieldhouse is the correct location — but neither is good. It should not be in Grant Park at all. For O’Neill to argue that it is a one for one building replacement misses the point. I think it’s reasonable for a sunken, open to the public fieldhouse to go in Grant Park, I won’t second-guess the decision made back in the 70’s, but a pay per head ($8) museum that is not really a museum and is 10x larger is a drastically different building. 1 for 1 replacement is a gross mis-statement.

    Also, regarding deep pockets I’ll agree that Lakeshore East developer may have deep wallets — in fact I just heard this morning, that the Park District handed the LSE Park back to the developer this summer because they didn’t have money to maintain it. It remains and always was open to the public as it should be, but I don’t know about the semantics of calling it a Private Park, whether it’s privately owned land or privately maintained, the purpose of the sign I’m sure was to stress the No Skateboarding because of the damage that was occurring.

    However, I’m sure the Lakeshore East is not going to take any stance on the CCM and LSE > the New Eastside Association of Residents. In fact the two have butted heads many times. (For instance, I heard LSE wanted to rename the neighborhood Lakeshore East from New Eastside for marketing reasons, and NEAR wanted to enforce the covenants requiring a future developer to put in a Pedway along Randolph which is not happening…) The NEAR group has practically no budget or means to do anything except host occasional meetings.

    I think where you hear about the CCM having lots of resources you look at the radio spots, the glossy campaign, the telephone poll campaign and troupe of consultants with whom they made presentations to eight or nine area buildings, the slick buttons, signs and t-shirts they handed out to their employees who it has been reported were paid to come hijack the neighborhood meeting on the 10th, etc.

    The community activists opposing the CCM relocating to the Daley Bi Fieldhouse have just barely slapped together some hand-written signs and printed flyers. You don’t see the community activists running radio ads or paying college students to wander around the neighborhood trying to get residents to sign a petition supporting the CCM’s move to Grant Park.

    Anyway, here’s some more press on the issue from a Sun-Times columnist this [yesterday] morning.

  3. I’ve been reading Mike’s blog off and on for over a year and I’ll vouch for him–if he’s blogging about something he’s doing for work, he says that.

    That being said, I still think you’re wrong about letting CCM build at Daley Bi. I don’t live in the neighborhood and no vested interest in keeping the space open other than I like it open and don’t like the Pritzkers’ and Daley’s heavy-handed approach to the whole situation.

  4. I’m never paid to blog on Chicago Carless. When I have written about projects I’ve worked on (7 Days at Minimum Wage, for example), it’s gravy for those who’ve signed me on, not billable time. Not that I really care what others opine of me–my blog is my platform for my opinons, and I’ll share them no matter what others think. Which, of course, is what everyone should feel free to do.

    I’ve read widely on this debate. I think there is no right or wrong side yet–except for the elitist and occasionally racist side that seeks to exclude others. In saying you believe there is a right answer at all–much less already–says to me you don’t value debate. That’s a shame, but you’re entitled to believe that.

    Regading the signage, you are contradicting yourself. Chicken or egg. Which came first, the Park District signage saying “Lakeshore East Park” (as I said, installed months ago), or the “Private Property” signs, and when, and by whom?

    Finally, I’ve read the editorials in both the Tribune and the Sun-Times and I don’t agree. I do, however, believe that the pockets are equally deep and the actors equally connected on the New Eastside. So the merits of a NEAR vs. CCM clout pissing contest seems a little silly to me. Again, your mileage may vary.

  5. I remember seeing those no skateboarding signs last year.. you are playing fast and loose with facts.

    I’ll admit you are a good debater, but you jumped into the the wrong side of it.. I hope if you are a reasonable person and can read the newspaper editorials you can see that.

    I’d recommend to read the entire section of the Trib devoted to it today before you come back and post.

    (Does anyone have background on “ChicagoCarless” – is he a paid-for blogger/debater? I woudn’t be surprised given the depth of the wallet of the CCM promoters..)

    Sorry to accuse you of this but given their recent actions I have to wonder given their heavy handed tactics to misrepresent the neighborhood even before the meeting:
    .. please tell me I am wrong 🙂

    Again, I am open-minded, but I just read my own post again (from before the meeting). I remember how they have been blatantly trying to mis-characterize the neighborhood these past months, but I am and I think many, many people are surprised to be characterized as racists.

    This is too far.. read exasperated moms (,CST-NWS-hoods21.article ) I know these people. when our baby sitter takes a day off and my wife has to work I have been down in the Daley Bi park trying to talk many languages while my own young mixed daughters playing with their “boyfriends” of all races

    Also I would point out this article from today’s Tribune. —,1,1882417.story

    Actually get the whole Sunday Trib and read the entire section.

    Anyway, I hope you are not blogging in a vacuum and there is some more deliberation and sense as to what comes out of it.

    I appreciate your comments and look forward to your future posts.

  6. No Eric. The Park District signage was in the park in June, when I took an evening stroll through the New Eastside and remarked to my friend who accompanied me that they seemed to be located in out-of-the-way places. If you haven’t noticed them up to now, my advice is to be more observant and, of course, bring a camera with you.

    So the useful gist of your comment seems to be that you still can’t tell me who put up the “Private Property” signs or why they’re still up.

    Which isn’t all that useful.

  7. No Mike it’s just the opposite. the Park District signs were put up very recently, I think just in the last week.

    The “Private Property” signs with the skateboarding restrictions were put there last year in response to benches there were damaged and no longer there (not sure if removed by the Park District this year or last year).

    Please stick to the facts instead of making them up.


  8. Thanks for the background, Eric. Those Park District signs have been there for several months, in their corner locations. However, I doubt the Park District has a stock of “Private Property” signs lying around anywhere. If they did I’d want to know why.

    Instead, what I really want to know is who put those “Private Property” signs up within the past couple of weeks in a park that, as you have confirmed, belongs to the Park District. Whoever did it had no right to do so.

  9. The Park District took control of the Park this past summer, the “Private Property” no skateboarding sign were put up last year in response to some damage that was occuring to the benches – now removed due to the damage. You are right they should also probably remove the signs, but maybe the Park District still wanted to prohibit skateboarding, I’m sure someone on the Park District pondered about needing to remove the Private Property part. The Park district signs are very new actually, just a week or two old at the most. The Park has always been open to the public and used by people from all over Chicago since well before it became park district property. It was never closed. By the way, the city required Lakeshore East to build the park first and it was finished in 2005 just as the first building the Lancaster was finished. Lakeshore continued to maintain it for a year. This is the way it is supposed to happen.

  10. Lev, my ex-partner used to opine that once the Park District took ownership of the park, maintenance would suffer. I’m not surprised to learn that began happening.

    I suspect the Park District entered into a management agreement with the homeowners association(s) to ensure the park’s upkeep. That would be a practice similar to the one we used at the citywide community garden land trust where I used to work.

    I would bet the associations took the initiative to place those signs, thinking that if they were paying for upkeep, they owned the park property. But unless the Park District gave back the park (and accidentally left their signage there), the associations are wrong. You and your wife were right to question those “Private Property” signs.

    You’re also right to note that anyone is welcome in the park. I walk through there from time to time on my rambles through Grant Park (sometimes I like to stroll from Marina City to the far end of the Adler along the lakefront and back). However, I’m sure you can understand the mixed message the current signage sends to people who don’t live on the New Eastside–especially to those visiting the area for the first time.

    Oh, and of course, welcome to the neighborhood!

  11. My wife and I recently moved to Lakeshore East and have had similar observations about the seemingly contradictory signage in the Park. There are a couple things to note:

    1. Every new home owner around the Park pays a special assessment to pay for the the construction and ongoing maintenance of the Park at Lakeshore East. To the best of my knowledge, none of it is paid for by the City (ie tax payer dollars).

    2. I met a dog walker in the park who has lived in a nearby building for over twenty years. He said that after Magellan (the developer) turned the Park over to the City, it was subsequently neglected. Through some sort of negotiation, the Developer and home owners have apparently taken back responsibility for the upkeep of the Park. It is truly kept in immaculate condition, as the pictures above show.

    So, I’m unclear whether it’s a public or private park, but regardless, the REALITY is that ANYBODY can use the park at ANY TIME. There are no barriers, and I’ve seen people from all walks of life enjoying the open space in the short 5 weeks we’ve lived there.

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