Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What to Do in Kenwood Park? Meeting Tomorrow Night

An HPP reader forwarded me this message about a community meeting tomorrow night that may be of interest to sports enthusiasts and park users in Kenwood and Hyde Park. It appears that a controversy is brewing in a part of the neighborhood that hasn't featured much on HPP lately.

HPP does not endorse one side or the other on this issue. This post, and the information included with it, and in the comments, is meant as a public service before a public meeting, and to allow for community debate and clarification of the issues.

I don't know the history here, but the details are all going to be rolled out tomorrow night, so check it out if you're curious, or just want to weigh in as a citizen park user, to balance out folks who live immediately adjacent to the Kenwood Park.

The note appended below is presented to stimulate discussion.


Dear Baseball Family,

As you may or may not know, Legends Baseball has been embroiled in a
dispute with neighbors of Kenwood Park regarding our desire to expand
our league to include 13-15 year olds (which would play on Saturday
and Sunday) and our desire to move Fall Ball to Shoesmith.

We received a go ahead from the Alderman for these two proposals in
December. Since then, several articles have appeared in the Hyde Park
Herald critical of our plans. While Julie Lemon, the head of this ad
hoc grouping claims to be representing the Kenwood Park Advisory
Council, the Chicago Park District has informed us that no such group
exists. She has selectively passed out to the community spurious and
incorrect information regarding our program. This information suggests
that the four baseball fields and the existing program are too much.
They prefer to severely limit use of the baseball fields and have more
soccer and a doggie run.

As a result what may be a very heated meeting will be held THIS
WEDNESDAY, January 9th at St. Paul the Redeemer church (located at
50th and Dorchester opposite Shoesmith) at 7:00 PM.

HPK Legends is in desperate need of your help. The room will be filled
with individuals opposing our program and we need to balance it with
our baseball supporters. PLEASE COME TO THE MEETING.

If it is absolutely impossible for you to attend the meeting, please
email Alderman Preckwinkle at tpreckwinkle@cityofchicago.org with a
brief letter of your support for baseball's existing program and
proposed expansion.

Please defend HPK Legends; a program that belongs to all of us, or we
could lose it.

Please RSVP if you can attend the meeting. We must know that we have

Sincerely, Evonne Taylor, President, Hyde Park Kenwood Legends


Peter Rossi said...

This article makes a very good point.

The Park District has a formal process by which "advisory" councils can be formed for various parks. Frequently, these councils have never been formed and then various people attempt to masquerade as the "advisory council."

This appears to be yet another example of this.

The problem is that the Herald and the Alderman listen to these ad hoc committees of self-interested folks.

What is clear here is that volunteers want to improve a park in our neighborhood. They don't want to put in a shooting gallery- they just want to put in a regulation-sized baseball field in a park that has been used regularly for organized baseball for more than 30 years.

How can anyone in their right mind be against that? Oh, we don't want "those people" in our neighborhood making noise, I suppose.

Again, this is the recurrent NIMBY theme- there is something magical about the status quo and we dont' want any change.

Jean Maclean Snyder said...

As one of the people who has convened the meeting to talk about baseball at Kenwood Park, I am writing to say the following:

1. Nobody we knows what to shut down baseball at Kenwood Park. All of us value the presence of little league ball in Kenwood Park, and we value the work that Hyde Park Legends does to bring baseball to the lives of many Hyde Park boys.

2. We are concerned, instead, about the effect on Kenwood Park caused by the expansion of one of our four baseball fields so it can be used for teenage boys (instead of the younger boys who play little league). Kenwood Park is a multi-use community park, used by boys and girls, moms and dads, neighbors and their dogs, from dawn to dusk. It is home to Shoesmith Elementary School and activities of Kenwood Academy and to a Park District-sponsored summer camp. The Park works so successfully because people cooperate in sharing the space. Yet during the time that teenage boys play on the expanded field, the entire field is closed down to use by anyone else. Further, the expansion of the field raises significant concerns about safety caused by the widened expanse of clay and the possibility of faster balls flying farther and harder across our small park. All of us who are neighbors of the Park should understand these concerns and have our questions answered.

3. We are disappointed that Legends’ president has sent a mean-spirited email message across the neighborhood about our concerns. We hope that personal attacks can be avoided in the future. We wish that all neighbors who care will be able to learn what the proposed expansion means for the Park and have the chance to share our views about what to do.

4. We hope that everyone who is interested will attend the meeting tonight to learn about the plans for expanded baseball at Kenwood Park. The meeting is at 7 p.m. at St. Paul and the Redeemer Church at 50th and Dorchester.

Jean Maclean Snyder

Elizabeth Fama said...

A friendly correction, in advance of tonight's meeting: HP-K Legends allows girls to play ball, too. I assume the teenage league does as well.

bornatreese said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chicago pop said...

Following from bornatresse, and in the spirit of Richard Gill's breakout reportage of the final Co-Op Board meeting, if any intrepid observers attend this meeting and feel capable of doing a write-up, please send it along; I'm sure it will compare favorably with whatever the Herald prints.

Rosemary said...

Who wouldn't want a neighborhood park used as much as possible by kids/teens? Don't live by a park if you want quiet during daylight hours. There are no lights--so there will not be evening noise from games. Take delight in kids/teens who participate in sports and have a safe place to play them. Try coming out to a game and cheering for them rather than viewing them as a possible annoyance.

chicago pop said...

While there may very well be some NIMBY-ism at work here, there may also be some legitimate issues, and I echo the call of previous commentators to try their best to sort them out. Different parks do come in different sizes, and some are better than others for different activities. But I think everyone would benefit from a really clear presentation of the contending claims.

One also has the sense here that perhaps the Park District (*shocker!*) didn't handle this properly to begin with ...

Rosenwald said...

I enjoy Hyde Park progress, and frequently agree with the views expressed here. I was therefore disappointed with what appears to be the uncritical acceptance of Evonne Taylor’s nasty and somewhat hysterical call to arms about the proposal to expand baseball in the Kenwood Community Park.

As the NIMBY section of this blog frequently points out, one should beware of claims made by those who claim that only they (and not those who disagree with them) have the interest of children at heart.

This dispute isn’t about whether kids should get to use a small neighborhood park for organized baseball. Legend’s little league and pee-wee leagues (which used to play in Nichols Park) have grown significantly in recent years. No one that I know of objects to their continued use of the Kenwood Park.

Rather, the controversy primarily concerns (1) whether a single, politically connected group can essentially take over the entire park for the summer, (2) whether it is in the best interest of the park to bringing in additional older children when such older kids already (during certain times of the day) overrun a playground designed for small kids, and (3) whether the park is large enough to safely accommodate hardball played by this older age cohort.

Jackson Park and Washington Park are much more suitable for this activity. Indeed, the only reason provided by Legends for not expanding and improving a diamond in one of those larger Parks is that the suburban kids who play on other teams in the league are not “comfortable” in those venues.

This blog’s criticism of NIMBYism is usually directed at those who try to stop others from using their private property in the most economically advantageous way. The Kenwood Community Park is not private property and its use is, for better or worse, regulated by the Chicago Park District which is entrusted with allocating this resource, along with the other parks, in a way that meets many different needs.

Finally, to address a side issue (and a red herring): there is nothing “ad hoc” about the Kenwood Advisory Council. The Advisory Council existed long before this issue arose, and its members, including Ms. Lemon, have worked tirelessly to improve the park (their efforts have included such unglamorous work as early-morning trash pickups.) Meetings of the Advisory Council were organized by Park District personnel.

Although I’m not familiar with the genesis of the Kenwood Park Advisory Council, I know from personal experience that such self-perpetuating Advisory Councils have been formed throughout the city and recognized by the Park District for many years. Contrary to Mr. Rossi’s statement, there are don’t appear to be any regulations concerning the formation of such groups, although (in typical bureaucratic fashion) the Park District apparently drafted such rules in 2007 and its 2008 budget includes provisions for their adoption.

I will post separately some information prepared by some of neighbors that might permit a more balanced evaluation of this issue.

Rosenwald said...

The following information, provided to the Advisory Council by several neighbors should be of interest to anyone concerned about this issue:


Traditionally, Kenwood Park has welcomed neighbors of all ages and sexes
for numerous activities that take place simultaneously.

Kenwood Park has always been a multi-use park, where all neighbors can enjoy the out of doors and where children can play organized sports and other activities.

Although it is only one square block (between 49th and 50th Streets and Dorchester and Kenwood Avenues), Kenwood Park has four baseball fields, a soccer field, a ball court, two tennis courts, a play lot, and a fenced-in garden.

Organized sports include (1) Legends Little League baseball ages 5 to 12; (2) soccer for girls and boys in the South Side Fire soccer league; (3) soccer for boys on the Kenwood Academy Boys’ Soccer Team; (4) tennis; and (5) a summer camp run by the Park District for school age children.

School activities include school sports for Kenwood Academy students and before- and after-school play for Shoesmith Elementary School students.

Non-structured, informal activities include (1) visits by neighbors who walk their dogs from early morning to late at night; (2) visits by parents with young children who use the playground equipment; (3) pickup soccer, football, and soft ball; and (4) picnics and informal visits by families who arrive after work or on weekends and stay until night fall.

Special festivities sponsored by the Park District include jazz concerts and a community Halloween party. The Park also is the site of private events such as a sorority reunion attended by dozens of people last Spring.

Without notice to the community, the Park District expanded all ball fields, converting one into a regulation-sized field to be used for baseball for teenage boys.

This Fall, bulldozers arrived at Kenwood Park and began tearing up the grass to expand our four baseball fields. The field closest to Shoesmith Elementary School was expanded by 50 percent. When neighbors inquired about the bulldozing, they were informed that the Park District was making the changes in cooperation with Hyde Park Legends, the group that runs our neighborhoods’ little league teams. Upon further inquiry we learned that the largest field had been expanded to meet the requirements of the Babe Ruth League (a national league for 13 to 18 year olds), so that Legends’ teen-age boys teams could play ball in Kenwood Park. (Previously they had played in Washington Park or elsewhere.) Two concerns were immediately apparent. First, the new enlarged ball field threatens the Park’s dedication to multi-use activities. That is because when teenage boys play hardball, no one else can use the field, and also because the expansion of the field had substantially diminished the field’s grass, replacing it with clay.

Second, our soccer teams’ use of the field was threatened. The clay from the expanded ball fields now overlaps extensively with the area where the soccer teams play. Soccer coaches have advised us that the overlap presents problems because the clay becomes like heavy mud when it gets wet. For the soccer teams, the mixed-surface fields are risky in good weather and unplayble after heavy rain.

The Kenwood Park Advisory Council promptly contacted interested parties
and attempted to learn the facts, and it continues to raise questions.

Kenwood Park Advisory Council is the group designated by the Park District to communicate the community’s needs and concerns to the District. Upon learning of the Park District’s actions, the Council promptly contacted the Park District and Fourth Ward Alderman Tony Preckwinkle. In October and November the Council convened meetings, inviting Alderman Preckwinkle and representatives of the Park District, of Hyde Park Legends, of the soccer teams who have used the Park for nearly a decade, and of Shoesmith Elementary School.

Council members expressed concern both about the process by which changes were made and the substance of the changes. Teenage boys baseball excludes all other uses of Kenwood Park. How could such an expanded function have been sanctioned without input from the Council, on behalf of people who use the Park? We also questioned why the change had occurred without notice, and we sought unsuccessfully for answers to questions about safety and ongoing drainage problems and increased noise, trash, and traffic.

The primary concern expressed by the Alderman was whether the Legends teenage boys’ teams would interfere with the Park’s long-time use by its soccer teams.

Legends representatives assured the group that both sports could coexist. At the conclusion of the November meeting, Alderman Preckwinkle stated that she approved the use of Kenwood Park for Legends’ teenage boys baseball. At the same time, she directed the Legends representatives to meet with representatives of both soccer groups to work out a schedule that would accommodate soccer as well as baseball.

On December 3, representatives of Legends and of one of the soccer groups, South Side Fire soccer league, reported that they had met. They announced that Legends would make Kenwood Park its home field, while South Side Fire soccer league would need to find a new home after 2008. Next summer, while both leagues play here, their proposed schedule is so tightly packed that on Sunday ball games would run from 9 in the morning to 7 at night.

Kenwood Advisory Council representatives contacted the coach of the Kenwood Academy Boys Soccer Team and learned that he had not been invited to the meeting. He told us that the Legends’ reconfiguring of Kenwood Park no longer accommodates a regulation soccer field and that it raised serious safety concerns. As a consequence, his soccer team would be forced to leave Kenwood Park immediately, unless the field was returned to its previous state.

The process and substance of the bulldozing of Kenwood Park to accommodate teenage league baseball raise significant concerns of both process and substance.

► According to the Park District, the Kenwood Advisory Council “works with the park staff to advise them on the needs and concerns of the community.” Yet the Council was not consulted about the new ball field. Neither were representatives of Kenwood Academy or Shoesmith Elementary School or the two soccer teams who have played in the Park for nearly ten years. Traditionally, when the Council has requested improvements, numerous meetings and extensive discussion has taken place. Yet we were not contacted or consulted about this significant change.

► Besides expanding the size of the field, Legends has proposed expanding its schedule of play. Until now, the Legends teams played ball in Kenwood Park for three months, from mid April through mid-July. Now Legends proposes to play for six months, from mid April to early October. Through mid July, they will be playing seven days a week; after that, the schedule runs five days a week (mid July to mid August) and then three days a week (mid August through early October.) Attached hereto are Legends’ schedule of play (before the change to accommodate Sunday soccer), a list of its baseball divisions, and a diagram showing the layout of the new field.

► Kenwood Park’s activities exist more or less in harmony because people cooperate and respect each others’ use of the Park. Yet teen-age hardball makes no accommodation. When the teenage boys play ball no one else can use the field.

► The prospect of our small park serving as a home field for teenage ball players raises obvious safety concerns. Yet neither the Park District nor the Legends League has addressed safety issues satisfactorily.

► At the meetings called by the Advisory Council, Legends representatives said that their the newly expanded field would be used by 13 to 15 year olds. Yet the written plan they provided at the second meeting proposes adding a new division for 16 to 18 year olds, as well as one for 13 to 15 year olds.

► At the Advisory Council meetings, Legends representatives assured us that their increased play would not dislodge our soccer teams’ use of the Park. That proved to be wrong, as explained above.

► Legends representatives have written that they are experiencing “tremendous growth.” The literature they provided shows that the number of ball players (now at 305) is expected to grow by more than 20 percent next year (to 368). How, we wonder, will our small park accommodate this growth? We also wonder whether the growth of League baseball will require more changes to the structure of the Park as well as changes to accommodate more noise, traffic, and trash.

► Many are concerned to see more and more of our grass torn up and replaced by clay. When the clay gets wet, it is messy and can even be dangerous. When it is dry, clouds of dust fill the air, with the obvious potential damage to people’s lungs. These health issues are of particular concern since the new field is only a few feet away from the entrance to Shoesmith Elementary School. Further, there are significant problems with the drainage in the Park which have not been addressed, although we have complained about them at Advisory Council meetings for years.

► Kenwood Community Park is the most intensively used park in the Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood. No other park abuts so many residential homes while also serving as the home-park for two public schools. Other parks with more room for teen-age sports include Washington Park, Jackson Park, Harold Washington Park, Burnham Park, Mandrake Park, and Nichols Park. We acknowledge the value that Legends may bring to Hyde Park/Kenwood boys, but we wonder why other fields could not take up the slack.

► Many neighbors believe that Kenwood Park is at the bursting point. Some feel that even without the addition of teenage baseball, the Park was paying too high a price for four ball fields’ worth of baseball.

Kenwood Park neighbors should take the time, now, to come to a thoughtful, careful decision about whether teenage hardball should be added to our Park.

Those who love and use Kenwood Park should take the time to make a thoughtful, deliberate decision about the Park’s future use. We should take the time to ask the right questions, and we should insist on satisfactory answers.

Just as the grass has been uprooted, it can be also be replanted. If, instead, neighbors agree that Legends should be allowed to introduce teenage baseball to Kenwood Park with its increase in schedule, the concerns outlined above should be addressed.

The Advisory Council will hold a meeting on Wednesday, January 9, 2008, at 7 pm, at St. Paul and the Redeemer Church, 4945 S. Dorchester (enter through the back double doors – parking available).

Submitted to Kenwood Park Advisory Council by:

Julie Marie Lemon, jmlemon@uchicago.edu, president
Mary Margaret Bell, mmb25@hotmail.com
Heinrich Jaeger, h-jaeger@uchicago.edu
Jean Maclean Snyder, jeansnyder@sbcglobal.net

January 7, 2007

Elizabeth Fama said...

I hate to be a cow on the track, but it appears to me in all their literature that the Legends and Babe Ruth League both allow girls to play. I'm wondering why everyone keep saying "teenage boys."

Sorry, but feminism is still alive and well...

Rosenwald said...

In response to Elizabeth's question, although the Babe Ruth league does allow teanage girls to play, the reality (affirmed last night by someone on the Legends side of the aisle) is that they almost never do. (This former coach praised the experience that girls get as umpires.) Perhaps Hyde Park will be different.

The Babe Ruth league has a separate girls softball league, but Legends has not offered this activity.

I'm sure there are many reasons for this, which we need not debate here. One possibility: Although feminism may or may not be alive and well, it may not be a popular philosophy among teenage boys, and girls may not feel welcome on some teams.

Elizabeth Fama said...

I understand that the teen league may not in fact have any female players, but that shouldn't stop us all from using the correct terminology (the rules say teenage girls can play either baseball or softball or both on the web site). For one thing, it helps girls feel the possibility of participating if adults are careful to include them in the language they use.

And of course the younger league does actually have girl players.

We should just call them "Legends players" and "teenage players."

There, I've officially belabored the point.