The people who sit on the Chicago Park District board, they must not be beach people.
Because no way would beach people let a Chicago summer come around without water being pumped in at Humboldt Park Beach.
But that’s what the board decided. It seems the decision was made months ago, but the community wasn’t made aware of it until mid-May, too late to give anyone a chance to figure out an alternative. First explanation: Costs too much. Later, a shift in the rhetoric: the board was thinking about the environment. (That switching excuses – oops, reasons – reminds me something. Oh yeah, the school closings.)
Beach people know how the few months Chicago has to enjoy sand and water is a slice of heaven. How on hot, humid summer days, you’re all sweaty and cranky, but the minute your toes hit that water, everything changes for the better. Beach people wouldn’t take away something so crucial to a neighborhood.
DNAInfo Chicago recently ran a nice piece reminding readers how the Humboldt Park beach – Chicago’s only inland beach – came to be. Puerto Rican civic leaders wanted their community to enjoy water and sand, just as communities along the lakefront did. The creation of Humboldt Park beach in the early ’70s has been a source of ethnic pride as well as a refuge from the heat.
And sure, there are swimming pools nearby, but a beach is a whole different experience. Anyone who’s raised children will tell you it’s easier at a beach to get young ones acclimated to water and swimming.
After community members started organizing – a beach blanket sit-in was particularly clever – and packed a meeting last week, the park board announced a new idea: a more green-friendly version of the beach, hopefully by next year. Community input will be encouraged.
Rousemary Vega, a lifelong Humboldt Park resident and one of the organizers to save the beach, says the way this all went down has her feeling “betrayed, let down.” She plans to be involved in the planning for the new beach: “We don’t want to be ignored anymore.”
Comic actor and community-centered artist Melissa DuPrey says gentrification has resulted in rocky relations between long-time residents and the newbies, but Humboldt Park beach has been their coming together place. This year’s closing “is a real setback for us as a community,” she says.
When the board’s decision was announced, organizer Morgan Halstead says, she was “sad,” and “wished we’d had this conversation last September.”
But Halstead also hopes improvements bring a new permanence to the beach. “I’m really happy the Chicago Park District saw how important the beach is.” she says.
Community members I’ve spoken to bring up the fact that an almost $1 million park fee was waived for the NFL Draft Town. Almost the same money the beach opening would cost. Don’t compare apples and oranges, the powers-that-be say. Why not? Here’s a perfect example of giving to those who don’t need by taking away from struggling communities.
I remember sitting at the stoplight on Lake Shore Drive at Buckingham Fountain, with its excellent view of the glitter of Draft Town. Boy, it sure looked pretty. But I did wonder, at whose expense?
And now look at what we have, a summer with no water at Humboldt Park Beach.
I get that the city is in a squeeze financially. But the answer can’t always be to take it out of the little guy.
Follow Sue Ontiveros on Twitter: @sueontiveros