City To Begin Northerly Island Restoration Plan In Fall

By Chuck Sudo in News on Aug 17, 2012 4:50PM

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly announced Thursday that work would begin in the fall on the long-awaited restoration plan for Northerly Island. The $4.3 million project will be funded by a $2.8 million Great lakes Fisheries Restoration (GLFER) grant, with the balance covered by park District reserve funds saved from concerts on Northerly Island.

Under the Emanuel plan, Northerly Island would become an “urban camping hub” for children, families and at-risk youth. Of the planned 900 annual camping slots, 600 would be reserved for families while the remainder would go to young people ages 12-to-15 in the Wilderness Camping program. Kelly said in a statement to media:

“Expanding the camping programs will help Chicagoans of all ages experience nature right here in the city. Research has shown that participating in wilderness programs have a major impact on the emotional and intellectual development of a child. We plan to reach as many children as possible, including slots designated exclusively for at-risk youth who may have never even considered camping as an activity.”

The Emanuel plan follows the blueprint Northerly Island Framework Plan developed by MacArthur Award winning architect Jeanne Gang and is consistent with the one announced by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2010. But Crain’s Chicago Business’ Greg Hinz wrote that Northerly Island isn’t the place for either plan.

Northerly Island is an irreplaceable asset, located smack in the middle of the densest part of a metropolitan area of 10 million people. It needs to be developed for heavy use, not the sort of passive nature-y stuff better suited for, say, the Indiana Dunes, or Cook County Forest Preserves.

Doing what's proposed is the equivalent of tearing down three blocks of central Loop office towers and turning the space into a picnic ground: a dramatic underuse of space.
With this kind of money, the camping kids easily can be accommodated at any number of campgrounds that surround the Chicago area, or in the Forest Preserves. That strikes me as a much better location to learn how to strike a flint than a half-mile offshore from McCormick Place.

Northerly Island would serve much better as a high-intensity recreation center. How about a real complex of soccer fields, which are in desperately short supply here? Or the sort of water facilities that the city was willing to back when Chicago was aiming for the 2016 Olympics?

Hinz went on to add that the kind of development he proposed is something that could be implemented by the Chicago Infrastructure Trust.