Photo: Evan Garcia/Chicago Tonight, 2016
July 2017 Update:
A contract for remediation of radioactive material has been signed, and work will begin this August. A coalition of us has been advocating for decades for the actualization of this park–named after Chicago’s first non-native settler, black man of Haitian descent, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable–which was designated in 1987 by Mayor Harold Washington!
SAVE THE DATE of Saturday, August 26, at 11:30am, for our annual commemoration of the death of DuSable and a walk along the Chicago River to a site overlooking the future park to mark this momentous occasion! To RSVP go to https://dusablechicago.eventbrite.com or for more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
DuSable Park Sits Unfinished Decades after Dedication
In 1987, Mayor Harold Washington dedicated DuSable Park in the name of the first non-native settler of Chicago. Three decades later, this site honoring our city’s black founder remains undeveloped. As a member of the DuSable Park Coalition, Friends of the Parks continues the fight to bring DuSable Park to fruition.
Jean Baptiste Point DuSable was born in Haiti of African and French descent. In the late 1700s, he made his way to the Great Lakes region and established a trading post on the north bank of the Chicago River near what is now Pioneer Court. In 1800, DuSable sold his homestead to Canadian trader William Burnett, who later sold the property to his partner, John Kinzie.
DuSable Park, an undeveloped 3-acre parcel of land at the convergence of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, is not currently open to the public. The fenced-off site is contaminated with radioactive thorium from a gas lamp factory that closed in the 1930s. The Chicago Park District received EPA funding in 2012 to remove contaminated soil from the site. However, further remediation is necessary, as well as fortification of the coastline.
The Park District has no dedicated funding for DuSable Park and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s recent “Building on Burnham” plan, a strategy to invest in the city’s open spaces, included no mention of the undeveloped park. A July 2016 article in the Chicago Tribune reported that more than 70 proposals for DuSable Park have failed over the nearly 30 years since the site was formally dedicated by Mayor Washington.
The DuSable Park Coalition was formed in 2000 in response to plans to lease the parkland for a parking lot. The coalition has gained new allies in recent years, such as Alderman Brendan Reilly, who has expressed strong support for the park. He wants to ensure that any developer of the aban-doned Chicago Spire project is held to the previous commitment to contribute funds for the development of the adjacent park. In addition, the Park District has identified funds from an EPA legal settlement that could be used to conduct further soil remediation at the site. The Park District is also pursuing permission to use the EPA funds for coastal revetment. Nevertheless, the hoped-for fall groundbreaking may not start until the spring.
Each year, Friends of the Parks joins with other members of the DuSable Park Coalition to commemorate DuSable’s death and advocate for the actualization of the park in his name. This year’s commemoration took place on September 7th and was a visible reminder that the coalition will publicize this issue for as long as necessary. Friends of the Parks also focused on this important topic at our June Netsch Lecture, which brought together local experts to discuss “DuSable Park: Chicago’s Past, Present & Future.” Through these efforts, we continue to grow our coalition and shine a light on the need to honor our city’s founder with the completion of DuSable Park.