Remembering the trees of Jackson Park: a photographic essay
Months before the official opening of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), residents and commuters were already noticing changes in the landscape near the lake. Preparatory work has started with the closure of familiar streets like Cornell Drive and Midway Plaisance, which will undergo changes that alter traffic patterns and so far make it harder to cross the street or take the bus.
Still, for many people, the scale of the region’s impending transformation didn’t really hit until the trees fell, hundreds of trees – some over a century old – apparently caught on. for granted by the planners of the OPC. Last month, construction crews destroyed the runway and grass field near 61st Street to make way for the project. And the Jackson Park Women’s Garden was recently uprooted, much to the dismay of local residents who had been told by the Obama Foundation that it would be left untouched.
You don’t have to be a “tree flayer” or nature conservationist to realize the ecological damage that has been done overnight, which has wider implications for the city. The southeast side, for example, if not the entire south side, is notoriously suffering from environmental pollution and can hardly afford to spare a square foot of greenery.
Studies show that the trees in Jackson Park removed about 350 pounds of air pollution per year and absorbed two hundred tons of carbon. They also provided a cooling effect and much needed respite for Chicagoans. OPC supporters in Jackson Park have assured the public that they will replace the shortage of trees with the same number of saplings, but frankly we may not see the Lake Shore canopy return to its old. glory in our lifetime or never.
The trees that were cut consisted of around forty mostly healthy mature tree species with trunks up to 59 inches wide and serving as both food and shelter for birds and wildlife. The majority of birds that inhabit or migrate through the state descend to the shores of Lake Michigan from Chicago on a route known as the Mississippi Flyway. All manner of species of birds, plants, animals and insects depended on the ecosystem of Jackson Park which was disturbed.
This protected land has been coveted ever since it hosted the Universal Exposition of Colombia and longer. But today, through a combination of legislative maneuvers, Jackson Park has moved from public oversight to control by private hands.
With no community participation or a comprehensive agreement on the benefits to the community, it is not clear what other changes are to come with this development. But so far, a lot has already been lost.
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Jackie Serrato is the editor of The Weekly. She was most recently a neighborhood captain for Best of the South Side, where she covered La Villita, Pilsen and Back of the Yards.
The South Side Weekly is a non-profit newspaper dedicated to supporting cultural and civic engagement in the South Side and the development of emerging journalists, writers and artists. Read more on southsideweekly.com.