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Big Ideas brewing in proposed Midway master plan

link to: Chicago JournalAs mentioned during campus master plan discussions, the University of Chicago is working with the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District to bring about a master plan for the Midway Plaisance. After presenting their ideas to the community at three public meetings this fall, the three groups have come up with an ambitious preliminary plan.

"The Midway has been both a positive and a negative for the University, Hyde Park, and the greater South Side," says Henry Webber, the U of C's vice president for community affairs. "It's nice to have a large green space in the middle of campus that is relatively open and creates opportunities for active recreation, but it has been an underutilized park space. While it's pleasant in the summer, in the winter it's quite barren."

The Midway will be anything but barren if the proposed plan is approved. Calling for the construction of a permanent ice--skating rink, an urban horticultural center, and a children's garden and playground, the plan would also entail beautifying the Midway through a variety of gardens; redoing lighting, utilities, and curbs to make the Midway safer and more pedestrian--friendly; and offering more cultural and athletic programs to bring the community together.

Right now, says Webber, the anchor users of the Midway are the U of C's intramural teams and the Hyde Park--Kenwood American Youth Soccer Organization. "The challenge," he says, "is to activate the space."

Next year should see the opening of the new skating rink, the beginning of a Chicago children's summer soccer program, and a cultural festival. In addition, the central panels of the Midway would be raised to improve drainage, with bulbs and wildflowers planted on the slopes, keeping the middle free for playing fields.

Major future projects would include creating a children's garden and playground north of the School of Social Service Administration Building and establishing an urban horticultural center south of Lorado Taft's Fountain of Time. Both facilities would be educational, with the playground employing the latest knowledge in childhood development and the horticultural center teaching visitors how to garden in the city.

A winter garden around the rink, a reading garden at the base of the Linnaeus statue, and a health and healing garden to the south of the Hospitals have also been proposed. Temporary stages might be built for music or theater performances. To better connect the Midway to Jackson Park, the viaducts under the Metra tracks would be cleaned up with new paint and lighting, and maybe even a Chicago police substation.

The time frame for the plan--designed with the help of Philadelphia's Olin Partnership and local firm Wolff Clements & Associates--spans 10 to 25 years.

"This is obviously a visionary plan," says Webber, "but our hope would be to do a substantial portion over the next five years." --K.S.

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