3rd Annual Tour de Depaving
All kinds of different groups come out of the woodwork to promote various causes or just to roll along for fun. This weekend I joined the folks from ForeverFreeAndClear. For the last few years they've been advocating for more green space here in Chicago. They specifically focus their efforts on depaving Lake Shore Drive, the city's primary north-south route along Lake Michigan. So Sunday's 15-mile tour took 30 of us to examples of successful depaving.
No bike-driven advocacy would be complete with Kathy Schubert. She's been a fixture in the Chicago bike community for over 30 years. One of the founders of the Cycling Sisters, Kathy has been a loud and persistent voice in nearly all aspects of bike advocacy. She shows up at most of our masses as well.
Kathy is best known for her ever present rolling companion, Joey. The little schnauzer has her own bike seat and helmet. And I've never seen a dog take to biking with such calm and patient enjoyment.
As I said, 30 of us, including 3 Chicago Bike Ambassadors, took off from Queen's Landing just east of Buckingham Fountain. Michael Burton, another stalwart of the bike community, led us on his Raleigh 3speed blaring music suitable to the occasion from two rear-wheel mounted stereo speakers.
Our first stop was Daley Bicentennial Plaza at the northeast corner of Grant Park. The building pictured left was specifically built into a hill to preserve the green space above it. But it's now under threat from a proposal to relocate the Chicago Children's Museum on top of it. A two-story above-ground atrium would serve as the entrance for a new 100,000 square foot museum.
Meta Brown, one of the lead organizers for Save Daley Plaza, met with us there. She pointed out that it serves as one of the few clean and safe children's play areas in the neighborhood. Parents bring there kids to play tennis or ping-pong and in the winter, they can skate as well on the ice rink. Only a few blocks from some of the city's largest high-rises and office buildings, Daley Plaza also servers as one of the most accessible civic spaces along the lake front.
Meta made a powerful case to preserve the open space of Grant Park especially since when it was established the city declared that the lake front would be forever free and clear. Over the years that has been practiced more in the breach. The next open space we rolled to near the corner of the Randolph and Lake Shore Drive is an actual example of a successful depavement. Back in the 70s, the the city straightened the drive to remove a dangerous S-curve. The resulting open space was then converted to open space, now called Cancer Survivor's Park.
The Cancer Survivor's Memorial is a tall wrought iron structure that reminds me of a Greek temple. Its open air construction doesn't obstruct the views of the park or surrounding skyline. It also allows you to see south down Lake Shore Drive to museum campus. Here, Michael is pointing out the huge number of cars that use the drive even on a Sunday afternoon.
On our way out of the loop, we came across a number of round-abouts. They were initially intended to calm traffic at busy residential intersections. Over time, the city has planted them with trees, flowers, and graces, converting the round-abouts into little island open spaces.
Our final destinations were over on the West Side. At three elementary schools, the teachers and students, supported by the city and CPS, have depaved their school yards. The School Campus Park program was started in the mid 90s as a way to get kids outside for recess. In addition to grass and trees, all three open spaces include these really cool jungle gyms with slides, swings, chain bridges, etc.
Mitchell Elementary School is in the middle of the depaving process. I'm including this picture because it's a good illustration of the difference a few feet of sod can make. When we arrived a couple of parents were teaching their kids to bike! Needless to say it was a beautiful example of what safe, accessible open space can do for biking.
After that we made our way to Albany Consensus. ToddG, who is also a fixture of bike advocacy in the city, was our host. He moved to this housing cooperative in Logan Square last year. It's been around for nearly 20 years. Originally the back yard was paved for parking. So the cooperative members fenced it in, ripped up the concrete, and hauled in top soil to create an incredible urban oasis. It even has a small, gurgley fish pond.
ToddG explained the entire depaving process complete with before photos. The most difficult challenge was breaking up and disposing the concrete. It's definitely not something for the faint of heart or weak of limb %) And I was totally amazed by how the low bushes and small tress have cooled the area in comparison to paved or asphalt lots.
The Sprocket brought the 3rd Annual Tour d Depaving to a close. It's a 3 flat owned by Michael Burton and his wife, Gin Kilgore. She was waiting with a keg of IPA homebrew, warm chocolate chip cookies, grapes, and hot dogs - beef, turkey, and veggie! We enjoyed our rest, despite the intermittent rains, in a back yard over half depaved. Instead of dumping the concrete, Ginn and Michael trimmed it into blocks to create raised garden areas. Towards the house, Gin and Michael even planted a small Macintosh apple tree. They get about a hundred apples every season.
All in all, it was a very cool ride indeed. Summer tours, particularly those led by committed advocates, are an excellent way to see new neighborhoods as well as learn about the current state of the city's civic life. Although there's still a lot to be done when it comes to restoring open spaces, the people and the ideas are there to get the job done!