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Children’s Museum debate continues

Submitted on Tue, 10/23/2007 – 12:24.
Story by Michael Pasternak
As critics continue to accuse opponents of the Chicago Children’s Museum’s proposed move to Daley Bicentennial Plaza in Grant Park of racism, some local residents say increased traffic, not race, is their biggest opposition to the move.

“I want my park. I want this area free and clear,” said Elizabeth Dolinsky, who lives about a mile from Grant Park and takes her three-year-old daughter there each week. “I’m really hoping the museum won’t come here at all.”

However, Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy, which is in favor of the museum’s move from its current location at Navy Pier, says Grant Park does not only belong to residents like Dolinsky.

“We look at Grant Park as Chicago’s park, not as one particular neighborhood’s park,” O’Neill said. “They are being selfish. They don’t want the congestion. That’s elitist, hypocritical and it’s wrong.”

Mayor Daley announced in September 2006 the museum would move to the northeast corner of Monroe Street and Columbus Drive in Grant Park, according to a Chicago Children’s Museum press release. More than 776,000 total people including almost 54,000 students and educators visited the museum in 2006, according to the Chicago Children’s Museum’s 2006 Annual Report.

Richard Ward, president of the New Eastside Association of Residents, which opposes the museum’s move to Grant Park, said the massive amounts of extra visitors to the park would negatively affect traffic in the area.

“We don’t want 750,000 additional visitors on the Randolph choke point,” Ward said. Randolph Street dead ends just north of the proposed site.

Dolinsky, a member of the Children’s Museum who takes her daughter there four to five times per month, said similar things about the local roadways.

“The three levels of Randolph are confusing,” Dolinsky said. “Out-of-towners and others would easily get lost.”

However, the museum’s website sees the three levels of Randolph as a positive.

“The unique configuration of the three levels of Randolph allows for multiple points of entry, covered parking within close proximity to the museum, and spaces for loading school buses,” states the website in a Frequently Asked Questions section. “Chicago Children’s Museum is sensitive to traffic growth in the neighborhood and has committed to implementing a new, comprehensive traffic plan, in collaboration with Chicago Department of Transportation, that would meet the needs of residents and visitors alike.”

While some residents and the Chicago Children’s Museum continue to disagree on how the traffic will impact the area, the race issue has not gone away.

Dolinsky said she could not believe racism played any role in the opposition to the move, because the area is already racially and ethnically diverse.

“I was offended. The whole reason we moved here is the diverse environment,” said Dolinsky, who moved to the area from Waukegan.

But some area residents and visitors say the area is not the diverse neighborhood Dolinsky makes it out to be.

“We don’t ever see any African American kids at all. I come to the park everyday and we’re the blackest people here,” said Erika Hatcher, a bi-racial nanny who takes a bi-racial nineteen-month-old child to the playground in Daley Bicentennial Plaza. “To them this is safe. It is their kids and only their kids here.”

Lucy Lopez, who traveled to Grant Park from Park Forest with her four-year-old daughter, said Grant Park should be for people of all races and economic classes.

“Why shouldn’t there be wealthy, middle-income and poor people together?” said Lopez.

The Chicago Children’s Museum opened in October 1995 as an anchor tenant of Navy Pier. The proposed museum plan is for a 100,000 square-foot space, nearly doubling the 57,000 square-feet the museum currently occupies, according to the museum’s Web site.

The membership supervisor of the Children’s Museum, who refused to give her full name, said she believes museum membership will go up with the move to the new spot.

“Now it’s tucked away and it’s part of something else,” said June, who works at the museum’s Guest Relations desk. “I think it will be more accessible.”

Accessibility is the word Children’s Museum proponents use over and over.

Natalie Kreiger, public relations manager for the Chicago Children’s museum, said in an email that the Children’s Museum needs to be “accessible to all children and families.”

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