How to Save the Nortown | Letters | Chicago Reader

How to Save the Nortown 

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To the editors:

I was a child of the Nortown theater [Neighborhood News, January 25]. Whether I was with my sister, brothers, or friends, my parents knew that I was in a safe, supervised atmosphere, enjoying my weekend. Institutions like the Nortown serve a purpose in a community and if it cannot stay a movie theater, that is irrelevant. What is important is that the facility be saved for public use, especially somewhere safe for the kids in the neighborhood.

Because of my enthusiasm for saving this facility, I must point out that Ben Joravsky may have picked the wrong paradigm. Let us not discourage the valiant citizens of Nortown by comparing this project to the "Edgewater mansions." Only part of that project was a failure.

The first mansion, the one that became Berger Park, is a successful, fully functioning Chicago Park District facility serving a community that usually walks or takes public transportation to the park. Enrollment in the classes is high; thanks to the care and donations of local residents, the site is beautiful; and the only problem is it needs a larger budget so it can stay open weekends.

The second mansion never went public. Instead, it became a playground for the pretentious who didn't like the idea of having to walk in "that neighborhood" so they demanded that part of the open land be turned over to them for a parking lot. Edgewater Community Council president "Pave 'em over" Schroeder focused organizational resources on parking instead of program. When other community leaders outmaneuvered the ECC and saved the little piece of lakeside property for a playground, the losers had a built-in excuse for failure.

At the time of the fight to save the mansions, Kathy Osterman was a community leader who devoted hours, energy, and talent to the project. It is partly because of her work on behalf of the park that she was later elected alderman.

Kathy Osterman moved on to bigger things. The ECC was left behind discredited and deserted their little foundling, allowing it to starve to death. Despite major infusions of funds from the Berger family and the Chicago Park District, the North Lakeside Cultural Center, as the private club is called, has failed.

Joravsky may be right when he says that the mansion failed to create an identity. On the other hand, it just might be that the identity it created was rejected by the local residents. Even the nouveau-chic outdoor cafe hasn't been able to pay its rent.

But Berger Park itself is doing just fine. The advisory council and the park users themselves are a multiracial, multigenerational group who enjoy and really use their little piece of the lakefront.

Our advice to those who would save the Nortown is--keep it public! If you set up a private club, you'll find a few naive persons to go along, but they won't stick around. If plans to save the Nortown really have public benefits, it can work! Good luck.

Sharon Rae Bender

W. Margate Terrace

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