Ben Joravsky may be shortsighted in taking a jaded view of the chances of Northerly Island’s becoming perhaps the world’s greatest city park [“Giving Away the Farm,” March 4]. Certainly there are grounds for Chicago-style cynicism in the Machiavellian machinations that will put Clear Channel in the park. But far more is going on than just that. In the longer, democratic view on the evolution of Northerly Island, Clear Channel is likely only a blip. I hope so, at least.
Park District planners have just completed a series of public-input hearings in which naturalists advocated a wilderness in microcosm, historians a maritime museum, jocks a water-sports venue, birders a sanctuary, educators a learning environment…and aviation buffs a postmortem airport. (This last group hasn’t a snowball’s chance, but it is admirable if only for courage against all odds–and for getting Joravsky’s ear.) Planners promise to digest this considerable mass of populist input, to sort through the profusion (and plethora) of ideas, and to derive insights, and maybe figures, on true public sentiment. Then more hearings will follow, and so goes the democratic process. It’s unwieldy and imperfect, but there it is–functioning and fixated on creation of the world’s greatest city park.
Clear Channel is disconcerting because it breached the democratic process. It didn’t appear at hearings. It won’t have to wait years, like everyone else. It may be only a temporary presence, and it may even turn out to be a good thing for the park. But it raises fears that the side door has been opened to more sinister philistines lurking with money and connections and that hearings are only charades and cynics are smug. Arnold Randall, Park District planning director (a credible man), insists that the democratic process still works despite intrinsic flaws and the believers will prevail and the park will come to pass–though even he is necessarily noncommittal on whether there may be more breaches, or if breaches will be only blips.
It’s going to be a long, slow story. It has to be viewed in a large perspective.