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Rahm Is Trying To Win Over His Haters With Fancy New Parks

By Mae Rice in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 23, 2016 4:33PM

via Getty Images

On Tuesday, we claimed that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s spring buzzword was “gathering spaces.” However, this was before he announced his full “Building for Burnham” plan Tuesday afternoon—a sweeping effort to improve the city’s parks, especially the lakefront, which Emanuel termed “the city’s front door.”

Now, we would like to revise this spring’s Mayoral buzzword. It’s actually “Parks, where people go to relax and have fun and maybe to start liking me again? Sigh.”

More of a buzzphrase, really, but Emanuel definitely needs to get the city back on his side if he wants to try for reelection. Emanuel’s current term has been plagued by police scandals—the Laquan McDonald shooting case, other police shootings, and someone (multiple someones?) on police radio who can’t stop saying the n-word—not to mention the city's high homicide rate this winter.

So now, he has some good news for the city: Parks! Parks near water! Parks everywhere! Emanuel plans to remodel the Lakefront Trail by repaving seven of the path’s 18 miles, creating lanes separating runners from bikers from Fullerton through Ohio and from 31st through 51st streets, and opening of a Navy Pier flyover. The new South Side gathering spaces announced Sunday are also part of the lakefront remodel.

The local transportation advocacy group the Active Transportation Alliance praised the lakefront remodel in a statement. “One of the most common concerns we hear about is congestion on the Lakefront Trail, and many people say they avoid the trail all together on summer weekends because it is so crowded,” said Active Trans Executive Director Ron Burke. “With tens of thousands of people moving at very different speeds crammed into a narrow trail, the summer Lakefront Trail experience can be hectic and prone to conflicts and crashes.”

Emanuel has already spearheaded renovations of downtown’s Riverwalk, but Tuesday, he announced further plans to build out recreation opportunities along all of the Chicago River that’s north of Little Village. The Paseo trail connecting Pilsen and Little Village is part of that plan, as is expansion of the stadium at Devon and Kedzie, opening the Eleanor Boathouse in Bridgeport, and two new bridges: Riverview Bridge at Addison (pedestrians only) and a bridge that passes under Irving Park at Horner Park (for bikes and pedestrians).

Not all these modifications have been well-received, though. The Pilsen Alliance critiqued Emanuel’s claim that he would “provide information about housing resources to preserve affordability and foster home improvements” in the area, which could be majorly impacted by the Paseo.

“Yet another empty statement and promise from the mayor's office,” the Pilsen Alliance said in a Facebook statement. “We need that information NOW, TODAY, AHORA... in fact we needed this information and resources yesterday. This is an empty statement, the city has not plan or intention of investing in more affordable housing in Pilsen.”

Other key elements of Emanuel's plan include: a glam climbing wall at Steelworkers Park, an indoor track and field facility at the South Side’s Gately Park, a new Big Marsh Bike Park in Calumet focused on adventure sports, and an expansion of protected natural areas. Currently, the city has 1,400 acres of protected natural areas; Emanuel hopes to raise that to 2,020 acres by 2020.

The protected natural area expansion is the only part of the plan with a specified completion date. However, one thing Emanuel firmly states is that these new parks will keep Chicago’s children safe (and en route to fulfilling careers?) with their mystical park powers!

“With this new plan, we will put every child within reach of an opportunity to stay safe, to stay engaged and to stay on the road to a brighter future,” said Emanuel in a statement. “This new strategy… [will] help ensure that the City in a Garden is within reach of every child of Chicago. In this way, we can ensure that our children make no little plans—because we want their dreams and their futures to be unlimited.”

Yes. Parks will ensure that people, even in neighborhoods plagued by poverty, crime and other structural problems, will still dream big and feel hopeful about the future—that is definitely within the reasonable scope of what a park can do! Listen, we love parks and bike trails. We really do. But parks alone will not cure Chicago’s problems, or make Emanuel into some kind of folk hero.