Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Don't count out Daley on museum

It will be interesting to see the City Council put on the spot Wednesday, should they proceed with plans to vote on whether or not the Children’s Museum should be allowed to move from their current location amidst the tourist playground at Navy Pier to the “pristine” land of Grant Park.

A city council committee last week gave its recommendation to the move, even though many people interpret planner Daniel Burnham’s decree that the Chicago lakefront should remain “forever open, clear and free” to mean that nothing should be built in the downtown lakefront public park.

SO NOW, IT is up to the council whether this act should be permitted. Mayor Richard M. Daley has allies who tells the “gentlemen of the press” that enough support exists in the City Council to ensure a bill passage, and two supporters of the concept appeared on the “Chicago Tonight” program this week to say it would pass overwhelmingly.

Of course, two other aldermen (including the daughter-in-law of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson) say the measure will be defeated by a slim margin.

So who is telling the truth? Who is engaged in political posturing?

My incredibly safe prediction is that Daley will get what he wants, similar to how the one-time downtown airplane runway known as Meigs Field no longer exists – despite significant support in the city’s business community.

THE PEOPLE WHO are adamantly opposed to building anything at Grant Park are going to have to overcome their revulsion. Because this feels like it will happen, although we’re probably going to have to undergo hours of political posturing on Wednesday as its political critics insist on giving its defeat one last try.

What these people ought to be focusing their attention on is the design of any such museum. It is totally possible that something ugly and hideous could be put at the site that would defile the appearance of Chicago’s lakefront. They ought to be putting their political muscle behind ensuring that something of quality is constructed.

If that means they ought to think more like architectural critics than environmental preservationists, then that is totally proper.

Because the actual idea of a museum that is oriented toward families with younger children makes total sense at a downtown Chicago location.

PERSONALLY, I ALWAYS wondered just who was going to the museum at its current location.

Navy Pier itself has become a place with touristy theme restaurants (I don’t feel the need to eat shrimp at Bubba Gump’s, do you?) and overpriced bars and gift shops selling junk no real Chicagoan would ever have use for.

It is not a “kid-friendly” place, unless you define “kid-friendly” as a place where one can spend too much money on tacky souvenirs like t-shirts.

Navy Pier’s location is not the most accessible, if one is a Chicago-area type (roughly two of every three Chicago-area people live in a suburb of the city) who wants to drive their car to take the kids to see the place.

I COULD EASILY picture many suburban people being intimidated at the thought of driving their car to some place in the city near Navy Pier, only to have to park and then take a bus to the pier itself. How many would get on the wrong bus and wind up on Belmont Avenue?

The site proposed in Grant Park would be easier to get to for the masses. Urban residents who rely on public transportation would already be able to take their elevated train or bus combination that they use on a regular basis to get to downtown Chicago, then walk over to Michigan Avenue.

For suburban folks, it would be a matter of using the Metra commuter trains (which already have discounted fares on weekends), then walking to the site once they get to the downtown Chicago end of the line. In one case, riders of the Metra Electric line that runs from Randolph Street to University Park would literally be only a couple of blocks from the museum site.

People using Metra lines that stop at other downtown train stations might have to walk an extra few blocks. But it is totally practical.

IT IS MORE practical than the thought of taking a suburban commuter train, then trying to walk to Navy Pier, which is more than a mile away and could be a torturous walk if one is trying to lug along little children who are confused by the mass of big buildings surrounding them.

Now I understand that the residents of the high-rise luxury apartments in the downtown area are trying to find technical maneuvers that would allow them to get a court order prohibiting a museum from being built in the area.

These people are not as obsessed with the notion of defiling Grant Park as they are of objecting to the idea of a potentially major tourist site being built right in their area (in some cases, right across the street from their condominiums).

These people are the ones who offend my sensibilities the most when it comes to the Children’s Museum debate. I can kind of respect those people who quote Daniel Burnham and claim they have a vision for the city’s lakefront, even if I think they carry that vision just a tad too far.

BUT THE LOCAL residents are the ones who are trying to act as though Grant Park is their neighborhood park for their personal use.

It isn’t.

One summer of my life, I lived in Near North Chicago, just a couple of blocks behind what is the Gold Coast. It was an interesting summer because I was literally near the heart of the city. There was a convenience factor to having everything one could want from urban life within walking distance.

There was also a vitality to being in the middle of the masses that would come from all around the Chicago area (and other parts of the country) to enjoy the local amenities.

THE TRADEOFF IS the crowds. You have to put up with a few more clowns than you would if you spent the bulk of your life in one of the residential neighborhoods such as Sauganash, or out in a suburb like Lombard.

These residents seem to want the convenience factor, but don’t want to have to pay the price. Besides, it’s not like anyone is talking about building a new sports stadium (seriously, the team now known as the Chicago Cubs once played in a ballpark near Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street for a couple of years in the 19th century) in the area.

Something like that would attract raucous crowds that could be disruptive (how many Lake View neighborhood residents would be overjoyed if the Cubs were to leave their community?). This is an attraction that will generate the complete opposite kind of crowd.

IF YOUR PROBLEM is that you don’t want that many kids around, all I have to say is “Get over yourself.” Kids exist. We cope. It’s that simple.

Insofar as they exist, it is not unreasonable to have attractions that could appeal to them. Putting them in the downtown area is a way of having major attractions that could appeal to all of them – whether they live South Side, north suburb or anywhere else in the six-county region that comprises the Chicago area.

That ultimately is the problem I have with the thought of using other sites, some of which are out in the neighborhoods. The potential exists to create something that benefits one neighborhood (and one alderman whose ward is fortunate enough to get the project), but is inaccessible to the bulk of Chicago-area people.


EDITOR’S NOTES: City council officials are bracing themselves for the ultimate showdown (,museum060608web.article) Wednesday on the location of a proposed new Children’s Museum in Chicago.

What a shock. The Chicago Tribune and I disagree. The city’s still-largest circulation newspaper (,0,6444767.story) thinks a Grant Park location is not readily accessible for a museum.

Should City Council officials respect their long-running tradition of supporting a local alderman on any measures related to zoning of property in their wards? If so, they ought to vote ( against the Children’s Museum, because local Ald. Brendan Reilly opposes the project.


Anonymous said...

Your diatribe makes no sense. The other locations orposed for the childens museum are not all located in the neighborhoods... The best orposed location is on the museum campus, near the shedd aquarium. How fitting and approriate a spot for a childens MUSEUM! And do you really think the opponents to this move are really just trying to keep kids out of their neighborhood? Or is it possible that the are truly trying to protect the best asset that downtown has? When someone buys a condo along a park, it is something they see as a great feature of their property. They don't think "well it is a park NOW, but maybe not in a few years..." ridiculous! You made no good points - did you intend to?

Anonymous said...

What a complete uninformed nerd you are! There is nothing stopping children from going to Grant Park now for FREE. This is not about 'children', it's about $$$ for the Mayor and is high-powered pals. The locals who live in the nearby condos pay way more than their fair share of taxes to the City. Get a clue.