Openlands Statement on a Lakefront Stadium


The Chicago lakefront is among the most far-sighted promises ever made by an American city. This one-of-a-kind urban masterpiece enjoyed by millions every year is not mere accident but the work of generations of Chicagoans anchored in the expectation of a lakefront for the people, unencumbered by obstruction and commercial enterprise. Any lakefront stadium for the Chicago Bears breaks this promise.

The Lakefront Protection Ordinance is clear in its purpose to protect the natural environment from development, making provision for “natural resources, water quality, and the lives of fish, migratory birds, and other fauna.” On the issue of birds alone, a stadium of this scale and design would have dire implications for the Chicago stretch of one of the world’s major migratory flyways, where countless birds die each year because of the glass facade at McCormick Place East to the south.

A stadium proposal that also includes detached hotels, restaurants, retail operations, and other structures is tantamount to a mixed-use commercial district in a public park. By subjecting nearly all the use, value, and control of public trust property to private commercial interests, the actions of the City and State would effectively encourage Chicago and other local governments to offer their public lands to non-governmental interests whose purpose is not the public interest.

Chicago has a unique and enviable history of lakefront protection. In 1836, the State charged three men – Gurdon S. Hubbard, William F. Thornton, and William B. Archer – with the task of selling unsettled areas in Chicago to raise money for the construction of the Illinois & Michigan Canal. In their search, they refused to sell the lakefront. Instead, on the map, they wrote these words along the lakeshore: “Public Ground – A Common to Remain Forever Open, Clear and Free of any Buildings, or Other Obstruction whatever.”

Despite any legal protections against lakefront development and a citizenry whose love of the lakefront creates unshakable political and social capital for its preservation, development pressure from private enterprise creeps in episodically. Openlands calls on the City and State to refrain from convenient interpretations of the Lakefront Protection Ordinance now and in the future. To honor both the letter and spirit of the law is to do right by the people of Chicago.

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