Closing Trails for Fancy Events Sends the Wrong Message

A dinner for One Percenters on The 606 will feed fears about trail-related displacement

The trail closure at Wood. Photo: Amme Willis
The trail closure at Wood. Photo: Amme Willis

Off-street trails can have many benefits for residents. They serve as car-free transportation corridors, make it easier for people to get physical activity, provide recreational opportunities for youth and families, and can promote social integration, encouraging people of different backgrounds and incomes to interact. As such, every neighborhood in Chicago should have an amenity like the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, on the Near Northwest Side.

On the other hand, the Bloomingdale has raised not-unrealistic concerns about longtime residents along the corridor being priced out by rising property values, property taxes, and rents. While this part of town was already gentrifying well before the trail opened in June 2015, a recent report from DePaul’s Institute for Housing Studies indicates that the greenway has accelerated that trend. The study found that property values along the western stretch of the elevated path have gone up by 48.2 percent since construction began on the greenway. To address the displacement issue, an ordinance proposed by three local Latino alderman calls for stiff fees for tear-downs and building expansions along the corridor west of Western Avenue.

Residents have also voiced concerns about trail-related displacement in Pilsen and Little Village, where the Paseo greenway is planned, and Englewood, where the Englewood Line Nature Trail is proposed. If the city is going to gain local support for trail projects in these and other gentrifying or lower-income communities, residents need some guarantees that they’ll be able to stay in communities, so that they can enjoy the benefits of the trails in the future. In short, leaders need to convince people that a major purpose of new trails isn’t to fuel the development machine that gentrifies neighborhoods, replacing poor and working-class Chicagoans with wealthier ones.

A dinner for One Percenters on The 606. Photo: Gordon Meyer via Facebook
The dinner on The 606. Photo: Rick Bayless via Instagram

With that in mind, the $200-a-plate meal that shut down the east end of the trail, between Wood Street and Walsh Park, on Friday evening seems awfully tone-deaf. The event, called Farm2Table Dinner on The 606, was hosted by celebrity chef Rick Bayless, who lives next to the trail in Bucktown, as part of Chicago Gourmet Week. “Enjoy a cocktail in Chef Rick Bayless’ personal urban garden before moving up to trail level where you’ll indulge in a farm to table full service dinner along The 606,” the event description promised.

In fairness, the pricey repast was a benefit for the Chicago Parks Foundation, which raises money for local park improvements, and the Frontera Family Farmer Foundation, which provides independent farms with capital development grants. These are certainly worthwhile causes. And I’m sure it was a wonderful experience to enjoy a gourmet meal on a long, communal table in the middle of a beautiful trail on a lovely early-autumn night.

But the trail closure for the event, which was supposed to last from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday, but actually started at 4 p.m., according to a report from DNAinfo’s Alisa Hauser, represented a minor headache for trail users. Some daily 606 commuters posted on social media about how annoying it was to be forced off the path in the late afternoon in 90-degree weather.

Worse, this kind of event makes residents question the true purpose of trails like the Bloomingdale. Look, I get it that sometimes public amenities are temporarily privatized for events that provide revenue for charities and/or the city. For example, the Lakefront Trail is often swamped with runners participating in races with registration fees. I wasn’t even that horrified by the news that Daley Plaza will soon be available for wedding rentals.

But shutting down a section of a trail that runs through diverse communities for a white-tablecloth dinner for high-rollers sends a terrible message. (Granted, the closure took place in Bucktown, the fanciest of the neighborhoods the trail runs through.) It says that the authorities can, at their discretion, shut down this public amenity so that it can be used for the exclusive enjoyment of the well-heeled.

If the city is trying to reassure normal Chicagoans that first-class trails like The 606 are being built for the benefit of people who currently live in the communities they will run through, rather than to attract newer, wealthier residents, the Farm2Table Dinner was a terrible way to show it.

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  • Dingus

    I chuckled at the photo caption; “A dinner for One Percenters on The 606.” Do you believe $200 donations/dinners only within reach of One Percenters? There must be a lot of One Percenters out there, based on the expensive restaurants in town! Add dinner and drinks…and you can easily get into that territory at a lot of spots around town.

  • Vic

    I would have either rode through it no matter what the diversions were. Or just bought a few 20oz pops. Shaken then up and tossed the from ground level say at like the Paulina or marshfield bridge up to the trail and soaked them.

  • Tooscrapps

    You should see the price of a ticket to the Active Transportation Alliance’s annual gala!

  • skelter weeks

    I can’t believe the ridiculous comparisons some commenters are making to excuse this horrible intrusion.on our rights.
    The 606 is not a park. It’s a transportation corridor thru Chicago neighborhoods that also happens to connect to some parks, That’s why it got $50 million from the feds. The Lakefront Path isn’t really for transportation since it’s so far out of the way – it doesn’t pass through neighborhoods. That’s why it’s full of recreational and fitness bikers. And street festivals close down streets to auto traffic, but you can still ride your bike through them.
    Closing the 606 at 4 PM on a weekday would be like closing Lake Shore Drive during rush hour for Lollapalooza. And when has that ever happened?
    Bikes are banned from sidewalks 24-7, on CTA trains 7-9AM & 4-6PM, and on Metra even longer. So it’s not too much to ask that a bike trail, built for transportation, should be open AT THE VERY LEAST during rush hour. If they can’t hold their events on the off hours, midday and weekends, then they have no business being on the 606.

  • Guy Ross

    Well, it kinda is. The users of the block are the initiators of the action. The users of the trial (while there could indeed be overlap) are not.

  • CIAC

    “With that in mind, the $200-a-plate meal that shut down the east end of the trail, between Wood Street and Walsh Park, on Friday evening seems awfully tone-deaf.”

    Here we go yet again. Basically at least once a week Greenfield looks around for some exotic issue that could theoretically offend someone, comes up with quite a lot of mental gymnastics to argue that it does, and then writes a blog post about it. Never is it the impetus for these posts an actual person who was offended or claims to be significantly concerned about the issue he is writing about. A few weeks he decided to theorize about the idea that some minority women might be uncomfortable participating in women’s cycling groups that have a lot of white members so he wrote about how minority race women’s cycling groups could be a good idea to deal with any such problem. Next, it was the idea that some people might be offended by a statue that was put up more than a century ago in Chicago not because of the reason the statue was built but because of things involving he person that occurred after it was built. A few months ago, he was making a big stink about the fact that blacks use Divvy less than whites and suggested that maybe there was some big social inequality problem that was causing this (rather than simply the fact that African Americans in Chicago tend to live in less dense areas that are more car, rather than bike, friendly): https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/divvy-study-report-bike-share-equity-breaking-down-barriers/Content?oid=27096839 Now he somehow thinks the closure for a few hours of a TINY portion of the 606 trail for a fundraiser (for causes that he admits are good) is somehow a massive injustice that is offensive to some theoretical people that he hasn’t talked to. This reminds me of Trump’s discussion of the Kaperneck situation this weekend. I’m not saying the two things are equivalent, obviously, but both of them involve reaching out to find a controversy that didn’t spur up much organically and then heightening it in a manner that creates conflict.

    And, of course, as others have pointed out one doesn’t need to be a “one-percenter” to enjoy a $200 dinner. If Greenfield did some type of independent research to discover that most of the people attending the dinner were in the top 1% of earners I’d like to hear about it. If not, he shouldn’t be stating it as if it was a fact when he has no evidence of it.

  • skelter weeks

    Rick Bayless stated that “I know for a fact that Chicago Gourmet made every effort to limit the
    inconvenience — even a temporary one — for those of us who use the
    trail.”
    So Critical Mass should ride through one of his restaurants but “make every effort to limit the inconvenience’ to those who use it.”

  • Guy Ross

    Many of the comments here lambaste the author for things he already accepts and clearly states in the original text. It’s all there: ‘it’s not really a big deal’, ‘the inconvenience was minimal’, ‘it was indeed for a good cause’, ‘things like this happen all the time on other public spaces’…..

    The entire point of the article was summed up (duh) in the closing paragraph

    **If the city is trying to reassure normal Chicagoans that first-class trails like The 606 are being built for the benefit of people who currently live in the communities they will run through, rather than to attract newer, wealthier residents, the Farm2Table Dinner was a terrible way to show it.**

    This is spot on and hurts the efforts to repurpose other spaces into great public assets in poorer neighborhoods.

  • Guy Ross

    A dinner at $200 a plate in the middle of some of the most expensive real-state in the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world.

    If that’s your world, then good on ya. Don’t think it isn’t a world of privilege though.

  • CIAC

    What evidence do you have of that? There isn’t a single person quoted in this article nor in the DNAinfo article it links to that complained about this event in that context. The only people who have complained about this event that I’ve seen (and that includes all the comments here) have based them on the lack of convenience for those six or seven hours. Many of them don’t appear to realize how small this area was. Nobody has argued that this made them feel they were less likely to afford their homes because of this or other projects. The notion that people in middle class areas are fretting about a fundraiser with relatively expensive dinners on a small portion of public space for seven hours or so and thinking that it was some type of act of class warfare is utterly ridiculous. You and Greenfield are arguing that theory from a bubble. You haven’t actually talked to anyone who had a response like you imagined they did. Generally, that’s a recipe for completely misjudging how people actually do feel about something.

    (By the way, I cannot believe that Greenfield again brought forth the suggestion that building a nature trail in Englewood might displace residents there. My God! Rising property values in Englewood would be a GOOD thing and is NOT something in which people should spend time worrying about negative effects. If someone is concerned about displacement in Englewood resulting from a possible rise in property values from its current rate amongst the lowest in the country then they are going to be concerned about absolutely everything that could possibly occur in life.)

  • Guy Ross

    Hmmmm…. Either you are being intentionally obtuse or have really not been paying attention to this issue for the past decade. The issue of gentrification is inseparably entwined with bike lane expansion, traffic calming or really any public works projects seeking to improve neighborhoods – in Chicago and elsewhere. It’s real and it is a major roadblock.

    http://peopleforbikes.org/blog/bike-lanes-in-black-and-white/

    Another aspect you seem to either genuinely not understand or willfully wish to deny despite the clarity of the problem for low and middle income residents is your aspect of property values. Yes, for holders of private assets who have a desire to liquidate at some point, this is great. For all others, this is a massive macroeconomic hammer that will drive people out of the neighborhood. And please don’t look to Pilsen or Englewood as examples. I was priced out of Wicker Park in the early 2000s. I was making good money but the rise was just too fast for me to justify at that time.

    I’m guessing we have very similar views about transit and street level quality-of-life issues. I thing the 606 is great. The best way to reduce the very real effects that such projects have on gentrification is to place them all over the place to dissolve this aspect. However, the imagery presented in this article hurts that cause. No need to worry ourselves to death, just to acknowledge that it is shooting ourselves in the foot by rubbing people’s noses in our prosperity.

  • Tooscrapps

    First of all, the LFP sees more bike commuters on a daily basis than does The 606. Not that bike commuters should be the standard. I use The 606 multiple times a week not to commute but to get around. And while the LFP it doesn’t pass “through” neighborhoods, it certainly connects a lot more people than does The 606. Many people on the north and south sides gladly ride the extra distance to the lake for a miles long carfree path. Bonus: if getting CMAQ funds is your benchmark for a transportation corridor, well how do you explain the funding for the Navy Pier Flyover?

    Secondly, Many street festivals do not allow you to ride bikes through, but rather make you dismount and walk it. Due to the people walking in every direction, the stalls, etc, this makes sense.

    Lastly, it is not like closing down LSD in Grant Park during rush hour. It’s like closing down South LSD from just Marquette to Hayes. An inconvenience yes, but there are adequate detours. Just like there were for bikes and peds in this case. There was no gridlock or heavy congestion caused by this closure.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yes, you didn’t have to be a literal One Percenter to afford the dinner, but it was certainly a One Percenter-friendly event. I may have used a bit of poetic license here to achieve the numeric equivalent of alliteration.

  • rohmen

    True. Let’s punish a guy who volunteers his time for nonprofit efforts that benefit the City because it inconvenienced cyclists/trail users for 7 hours.

    The outrage is a bit much on here given that this was a nonprofit, charity event partially aimed at benefiting Chicago parks themselves. Our parks (including the Lakefront Path) are routinely shut down for purely corporate-driven events with much, much less attention/care given. This feels like a slow news day level of outrage.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Hmm … the language throughout the article implies that the ethical and urban planning/policy question(s) of gentrification — and also of using public space for private events — is really all a matter of “rhetoric” and “communication,” “convincing” and “messaging.” John Greenfield states that, “leaders need to CONVINCE people that a major purpose of new trails isn’t
    to fuel the development machine that gentrifies neighborhoods,
    replacing poor and working-class Chicagoans with wealthier ones.” And “If the city is trying to REASSURE normal Chicagoans that first-class
    trails like The 606 are being built for the benefit of people who
    currently live in the communities they will run through, rather than to
    attract newer, wealthier residents, the Farm2Table Dinner was a terrible
    way to show it.”

    These statements / this mode of thinking implies that these issues are all a matter of “convincing” and “reassuring” folks (regardless of what the “reality” is) — ‘reality’ meaning what the “city” really wants or knows. (But then I would ask Mr. Greenfield what exactly he means by “the city” — the mayor, DOT, developers, power brokers, each and every single resident, etc.?) Or ‘reality’ meaning what really, objectively, happens, regardless of reassurances and convincing. I.e. All would be ok, if only the city (whatever “the city” actually is) convinces and reassures enough people. But I ask, how many people is “enough,” and “to whose satisfaction”? This is a critique of the practice and the prevailing theory of “public outreach” in urban planning. It stinks and is based, really, a lie and self-deceptions.

    Finally, equating “gentrification” and “using public space for charity events” is a bit unfair. The former is a much more serious, systemic problem of the political economy — a sign of some basic contradictions in U.S. capitalism in our time (trust in free market economics and basic human rights that the free market may trample upon).

  • Chicago Cyclist

    It all depends on whether “the folks in the neighborhood” own or rent. But even if they own, then they can be “priced out” by drastically rising property taxes.

  • Carter O’Brien

    To be fair, this convolution of the Bloomingdale Trail into the “606 Park System” was inevitably going to lead to this kind of conflict. It likely took that transformation to make the project happen, but there are inherent differences in usage and expectations between a transportation corridor and a park.

    As for the street festivals, there are more than a few people who think that they have grown way too big for their britches in a larger sense. When I was a kid they closed streets and requested donations, but you certainly did not have this fenced-off vibe of exclusivity that you see now as standard operating procedure. You should never feel obliged to have to pay money to access a street, period, as far as I’m concerned. Parks are different.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “The language throughout the article implies that the ethical and urban planning/policy question(s) of gentrification… is really all a matter of ‘rhetoric.'”

    No, as stated in the piece, the urban planning / policy questions of preventing displacement are also a matter of legislation: “To address the displacement issue, an ordinance proposed by three local Latino alderman calls for stiff fees for tear-downs and building expansions along the corridor west of Western Avenue.” This revenue would be used to build affordable housing.

  • Chicago Cyclist

    I wonder whether this ordinance, if it passes, will stop gentrification? What do you predict? When, btw, will it be voted on? Regardless, taking an historic view, there seem to somehow always be “loop holes” and “work-arounds” for Chicago’s, and other cities’, attempts to prevent gentrification. To my mind, the inability to admit, to confront head-on, the fact that some folks/residents/politicians want gentrification, and others do not, and that many folks/residents/politicians can’t decide — or change their minds on — whether they want it or not, Others see both “good and bad” in it. Others say “it depends on the specific project.”

  • CIAC

    “Either you are being intentionally obtuse or have really not been paying attention to this issue for the past decade. The issue of gentrification is inseparably entwined with bike lane expansion, traffic calming or really any public works projects seeking to improve neighborhoods – in Chicago and elsewhere. ”

    Yes, people concerned about gentrification have pointed to these projects as causes of it. But that doesn’t mean they are likely to have a big negative reaction to a fundraiser for park improvements that attracts mostly upper middle to upper class donors. It’s really tough for me to see the connection.

    “I thing the 606 is great. The best way to reduce the very real effects that such projects have on gentrification is to place them all over the place to dissolve this aspect. However, the imagery presented in this article hurts that cause.”

    And if so, that’s the fault of the article and not the event organizers. The event did not occur in any manner that’s “rubs people’s noses in our prosperity”. It took place on a tiny portion of the trail for a few hours in the most expensive neighborhood on it. I doubt the dinner table was even visible from outside the event. So if people think that seeing expensive food being eaten somehow causes people to turn against those who want to expand bike infrastructure I think that’s a misplaced worry. Anybody who was riled up about the event for the reasons put forth in the article likely did so as a result of reading it and not simply because of the event occurring.

  • hopeyglass

    less than that, btw. don’t know the last time you showed up. anyway, its not a gala, it’s an awards reception these days.

  • Tooscrapps

    How much is it? Was more than $200 last I looked into it. Also, Streetsblog own posts has refer to it as a “gala” in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017.

    So maybe it’s just a bit more modest these days?

  • Car free and car light are still very different experiences, and the reason while I’ll probably see people biking on the trail that I don’t see biking on the street (families with children, and seniors, mostly).

  • What does what personally inconveniences me have to do with this issue?

  • Tooscrapps

    But they generally still need to take streets and sidewalks to get to the trail.

    Your comment was disingenuous because they never shut down the trail and there are in fact quiet alternative routes for the 3 block detour.

  • Guy Ross

    Excellent points and well explained, Thanks!

    People involved in the 606 and other projects see the love for these improvements and want to duplicate them in other areas. Local blow back can be a huge stumbling block (Parking and Gentrification). This is why many involved in advocacy are so allergic to these appearances of elitism. But you are probably right, this is not the hill to die on and this is probably some inside baseball for do-gooding worrywarts.

  • Huh?

  • kastigar

    How is this different front shutting off and walling out everyone from Daley Plaza on a Friday night/Saturday for “Beer and Bacon” fest or something like that?

    The 606 and Daley Plaza should be kept open, forever free and clear.

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