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Think of the Children? Whose Children?

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 13, 2007 4:15PM

bpbridge_2007_09.jpgThe debate over the Chicago Children's Museum plan to relocate to Grant Park has escalated since Monday’s neighborhood meeting at Daley Bicentennial Plaza. There, museum officials introduced plans for a more sunken, environmentally friendly design adjacent to the Plaza. The Museum’s growth has been remarkable. Founded in 1982 in two Chicago Public Library hallways, it’s since moved three times, most recently to Navy Pier in 1995. Twelve years later, they’ve apparently outgrown that tourist magnet.

Championing the move are, as expected, the Museum’s President and Board Chairman, museum supporters, the Grant Park Advisory Council, and Lois Wille, author of Forever Open, Clear, and Free, who’d like to see the BP Bridge connect Millennium Park with something more exciting than a leaky field house.

Against the move are the Tribune editorial board, citing considerable legal precedent protecting Grant Park, Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin, fretting that the vision of city founders to maintain vast, open space on the lakefront would be crushed by the Museum and a subsequent building boom, Reader architecture writer Lynn Becker, who asks whether Chicagoans are still committed to open land, citizen groups including Save the Parks and Friends of Daley Bi, and neighborhood residents concerned about the park and fearing traffic nightmares. Some of those residents held a public protest in July, where they asked us to consider what Grant Park means to their children.

We like Grant Park, open space, and children, so we’re siding with the opposition. This project reeks of vanity, a scheme for adults on the GPAC and CCM institutional boards to claim a prime, and likely subsidized, piece of real estate they can show off to their friends. Unlike Millennium Park, a largely free resource offering something for everyone, the Museum is an attraction aimed squarely at youth and families able and inclined to pay the $8 admission. The Museum's plan is contrary to the cause for which A. Montgomery Ward so tirelessly fought and to the State Supreme Court rulings which upheld that vision. In 1836, civic officials protected Grant Park from land sale, robustly declaring it a "Public Ground — A Common to Remain Forever Open, Clear and Free of any Buildings, or other Obstruction Whatever." Build a museum in the park and you might as well put an ellipsis before the proclamation’s final word and pronounce it apathetically (“… Whatever”).

At this point in the Internet discussion, the question “So what's your plan?” typically surfaces. Thanks for asking. Chicagoist's answer is after the jump.

southloop_2007_09.jpgWe believe the Museum should integrate itself into a more urban community, specifically, the South Loop. We’ve spent enough time in the well-scrubbed, gentrified “new” South Loop to see the fit. The neighborhood's tourist friendly, with South Michigan Avenue hotels serving budget-minded travelers and fashionable, but not too fashionable, sushi, Thai, faux-Irish, and fast food joints serving their palates. Nearby is the Roosevelt CTA rail hub, connecting the red, orange, and green lines, conveniently shuttling north siders, south siders and southwest siders into the area (they have children too!). Between the uncertain fate of old buildings and the uncertain fate of those new condos in a shaky real estate market, we see a few opportunities.

The HotHouse recently closed, so 31 E. Balbo is vacant. The site’s only a couple blocks from Michigan Avenue museums (MOCP, Spertus) and Grant Park’s giant playground. The National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum is struggling to find donors, and the City is inclined to help them. Why not expand the property to accommodate both institutions? And a quick survey of the Department of Buildings’ list of vacant properties turns up 1005 and 1007 S. State St., both City-owned.

The Museum is running radio ads and urging people to sign an online petition, pushing the “Won’t Somebody Think of the Children” angle. Reminds us of the email appeal to save the adorable puppies that’s actually a scam. We shouldn’t send money to that “Nigerian prince,” and we shouldn’t support the Museum’s plan.

BP Bridge photo via wallyg.
South Loop photo via Bridgeport Seasoning.