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Another children’s museum controversy

Post by Cheryl Tucker on Sep. 28, 2007 at 9:06 am |
September 28, 2007 9:06 am

Tacoma’s not the only city with a controversy over siting a children’s museum. Chicago, well known for its support of museums, is also debating the issue.


Chicago’s case is a little different: whether it’s appropriate to put a private, pay-for-entry children’s museum in the city’s public Grant Park. And there’s also a racial element that I don’t think applies to Tacoma. But the basic issue is the same as the controversy over the proposal by the Children’s Museum of Tacoma (which also has an admission charge) to build a new facility on the Thea Foss Waterway: the potential loss of open space.


The land the museum wants to build on in Tacoma was purchased with money set aside for preservation of open space. Opponents want the Foss Waterway Development Authority, the owner of the property, to find a different location for the museum.


Here’s the Associated Press article.


Residents oppose plan for children’s museum at popular park along Chicago lakefront

By CARYN ROUSSEAU

CHICAGO (AP) — Nestled between Lake Michigan and downtown skyscrapers, Grant Park is the crown jewel of the city’s lakefront, a mile-long ribbon of green that draws local residents and tourists alike.


It’s where Peggy Figiel brings her 4- and 7-year-old sons almost every day to run, swing and bicycle in a small playground at the north end of the park. And where people from all over the world stroll among mature trees and landscaped gardens.

But a proposal that would bring even more people to the park — a new $100 million Chicago Children’s Museum near the playground — has come under fire, pitting the mayor against a rookie alderman and powerful, wealthy benefactors against local residents.

Neighbors say the public park is no place for a private pay-for-entry museum and argue its open space should be protected, citing a declaration by city commissioners in 1836 that the area should remain "forever open, clear and free."

"It’s a huge loss of park space," Figiel said recently as her sons played nearby. "The question is why give up protected park space? People come from all over the city to Grant Park and they play in this playground."

Supporters say a museum for small children is a good use of public land, and that it would not affect the park because the structure would be mostly underground. They also say moving the museum from its current location at Navy Pier would allow it to expand and put it closer to public transportation and more affordable parking.

"Being at the center of the city with good access to public transportation is very practical," said Jennifer Farrington, the museum’s chief operating officer. "We feel from a philosophical standpoint it also allows us to literally be at the center of the city alongside the other great cultural institutions and elevate the position that we think children should have."

As the dispute heats up, it has taken on a nasty tone.

Mayor Richard Daley has lashed out at opponents, including Alderman Brendan Reilly, whose district includes Grant Park, implying they don’t want kids and minorities there and are trying to claim a city park as their own.

"You mean you don’t want children from the city in Grant Park?" the mayor said earlier this month when reporters asked about the campaign against the museum. "Why? Are they black? Are they white? Are they Hispanic? Are they poor? You don’t want children?"

Meanwhile, some opponents have accused museum officials, including billionaire board chairman Jean "Gigi" Pritzker Pucker, of exerting undue influence with the city.

"No doubt she would enjoy having the museum next door to one of her family’s other prominent Chicago landmarks, Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion," wrote Cate Plys, a columnist at the local Web site, www.beachwoodreporter.com . "Perhaps the real narrative here is: well-connected institution and its ultrawealthy backers versus anyone who stands in their way."

Pritzker Pucker, whose late father founded the Hyatt Hotel chain, did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment. Schools and libraries in the Chicago area bear the Pritzker name, as does the Frank Gehry-designed music pavilion at Millennium Park.

Reilly said a lawsuit certainly would follow if the City Council approves the museum in Grant Park.

"This is not about the Children’s Museum," he said. "It’s not about race. It’s not about children. I want to make sure Grant Park is here for future generations of children from every corner of the city."

Experts say the city’s dedication to preserving the park’s open space and public areas has been inconsistent. Some private institutions, such as the Field Museum, were denied, but other private buildings, including the Art Institute, built for the 1893 World’s Fair, were allowed.

The city’s development choices over the years have been murky, said Dominic Pacyga, a history professor at Columbia College in Chicago, but "the courts really have held up that it should be forever free and clear."

Whatever happens, Reilly and Daley agree on one thing: The park belongs to everyone in the city.

"To me when you bring children from all racial backgrounds together at the age of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 years old, many people don’t have this opportunity in America, but we can do this," Daley said.

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