Ambitious idea to unite lakefront no small plan - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Ambitious idea to unite lakefront no small plan

Chicago should acquire more lakefront and create land where none is available as it pushes to complete the chain of parks along the South Shore, a prominent advocacy group is proposing.

Friends of the Parks has begun shopping an ambitious series of plans to give the public access to more than 2 miles of South Side lakefront currently off limits.

After meeting with Chicago Park District Supt. Tim Mitchell Tuesday, the group will make its pitch for the multimillion-dollar expansion in meetings and exhibits around the city.

Between 71st and 75th Streets, where the lakefront is occupied by residences, one idea is to use landfill to create islands--an archipelago connected by bridges that would allow the public to get around one of the last privately held stretches of shoreline, south to Rainbow Beach.

At the next gap in the chain of parks, the former USX property, about 123 acres has been set aside for a lakefront path, said Friends of the Parks President Erma Tranter. But because residents feel that stretch would be too narrow, the group's plan calls for building out into the lake and creating beaches.

Farther south, more than 40 acres at the mouth of the Calumet River designated as a confined disposal facility are expected to become park property once the facility is filled with dredge material and capped.

A larger Calumet Park

The Friends of the Parks proposal calls for the city to negotiate with the Illinois International Port District for adjacent green space that is unused, allowing the Park District to double the size of the heavily used Calumet Park.

Mitchell said he would wait for Friends of the Parks to present two or three plans with the most community support, likely this summer. With those plans in hand, he said he would go to federal and state officials to seek funding. "

This fits into thinking about the generations that have come before us," Tranter said. "We're starting to rethink this generation and future generations' responsibility to complete" the city's lakefront park system.

Only 4 out of the city's 30 miles of lakefront are needed to fulfill Daniel Burnham's 1909 vision of an entirely public lakefront. The latest plans would account for more than 2 miles on the South Side. But they avoid the thorny issue of nearly 2 miles of private beaches on the North Side along the Edgewater and Rogers Park neighborhoods.

Rogers Park activists have fought off attempts to build marinas both in the neighborhood and in Evanston next-door. In 2004, they helped pass an advisory referendum proposal opposing an extension of Lake Shore Drive on landfill.

Some observers fear residents to the south might have similar objections to the Friends of the Parks plan to create parkland east of private lakefront.

Islands seen as problematic

"Everything sounds doable except the islands," said Peter Skosey of the Metropolitan Planning Council.

"They're going to have the same problems as they did on the North Side."

But, he added, "sometimes the public good outweighs the private interest," and the city should look at acquiring land.

 "It may be cheaper than landfills," Skosey said.

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