Why I Favor the Rosewood Beach Redesign
The Park District's plan for Rosewood is a great use of the city's only swimming beach.
It's a once in a generation opportunity.
The Highland Park Park District is working with the Army Corps of Engineers and David Woodhouse Architects on a proposal to redesign Rosewood Beach, the city's only swimming beach. Rosewood is something of a hidden treasure, with a small access drive off Sheridan Road and an upper park along Roger Williams Avenue. The beach has a staffed lifeguard during summer months, while the park also features picnic areas and trails.
Click here to read Patch's roundup of opinions about the Rosewood project.
Over the last year, a Park District task force has been working on recommendations for modernizing the beach. A previous plan was rejected by the community and city for encompassing a large, utilitarian building that would have cut into the bluff and sight lines at the beach. The task force set out to design a plan that would take all of those considerations, as well as minimize the overall impact to the site while providing maximum functionality.
During the last week, the Park District has held two public community meetings to discuss the Woodhouse plan. Unlike many other government planning efforts, they held one of these workshops on a Sunday afternoon, and thus I was able to attend -- along with 75 other Highland Park residents and elected officials. I was really pleased to see the commitment of the Park District Board, the Mayor and City Council and even state representative Karen May, who all attended along with the entire Rosewood Beach task force.
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I first heard about the modernization proposal last summer, at an event in the Ravinia neighborhood where petitions were being signed against the project. The Ravinia Neighbors Association has lobbied strongly against the scope of the proposal, specifically the plan to build a classroom-sized interpretive room on the beach itself. In an earlier column, I questioned whether this was a "not in my back yard" phenomena, where the desire was to keep people away from the beach other than the ten weeks a year where its open for swimming.
At this week's hearing, I heard several comments from Ravinia-area residents continuing to lobby against the interpretive center. They presented unqualified opinions that the building will not withstand mother nature if it is located on the beach, while at Fort Sheridan a private residence sits on the beach in a building that is over 100 years old. They argued that it would need more parking, while the proposal actually intends to reduce the size of the beachfront parking lot. They argued that the interpretive center would be better off in the park on the bluff, which makes no sense to me since the whole point is to get up close to the lake itself. They argued that an enclosed, heated facility discourages that actual interaction with mother nature, while failing to recognize the expanded opportunity a building provides to make the lake more accessible.
The Park District, Army Corps of Engineers and David Woodhouse Architects presented, in my opinion, a compelling set of arguments for why an interpretive center makes sense. A building provides shelter from sudden weather conditions, such as those we experienced just before the Sunday meeting started. It also provides the opportunity to house resources used during park district programs, such as computers with Internet access, exhibits, and science equipment. The proposed building location at the north end of the beach, not blocking the wonderful vista to Bahai temple and beyond. In fact, it seems hard to imagine what the space would be useful for, if not to build a small classroom, additional restrooms and storage. And the scale of the proposed building, as was pointed out during the meeting, is about the same as the room at Heller Nature Center -- hardly a scar on that wonderful park project.
There were other comments during the hearing that were worthy of consideration. Concerns about the concession stand seemed to range from legitimate to extreme; nobody is proposing a hamburger grill on the beach. I did agree with a recommendation that it be moved further south, making the restrooms closer to the parking lot. Otherwise, the architects and task force seem to have taken into account a wide range of community feedback, most notably to make the buildings very small scale height and depth, so as not to cut into the bluff or the beach area itself.
Chicago urban planner Daniel Burnham is attributed with the statement "Make no little plans." Perhaps that thought contributed to the largesse of the last proposal for Rosewood. The revised concept presented by the Park District seems like a great approach to maximizing the asset we all have in Rosewood Beach. I love the idea of having it available for programs year-round, right down at the water front.
Thus far, I have yet to hear a good reason not to do just that.