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Lakefront museums are freaked out about DuSable Drive – here’s why they shouldn’t be

The Museum of Science and Industry. There’s no need for the lakefront museums to get their backs up about the DuSable Drive name change. Photo: John Greenfield

Despite what anti-DuSable Drive alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd), would have you believe, the ordinance to rename Chicago's Lake Shore Drive for Black city founder is likely to pass during tomorrow's City Council meeting with at least a simple majority of 26 out of the 50 reps.

Streetsblog's research shows that 17 aldermen, all of them Black or Latino, are confirmed supporters, with another 12 likely supporter. Meanwhile five aldermen, all but one of them non-Hispanic white, are confirmed opponents, with another nine likely opponents. The remaining seven have either said they're undecided, or have given no indication of where they stand. Here's a full breakdown of what we know.

The 17 confirmed DuSable Drive supporters.
The 17 confirmed DuSable Drive supporters. See the full breakdown of support and opposition here.
The 17 confirmed DuSable Drive supporters.

However, if the ordinance passes with fewer than 34 votes, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has indicated that she's dead-set against the name change, has the power to veto it. But ordinance sponsor Ald. David Moore (17th)  told WBEZ he’d be “surprised if the she decided to make this her first veto.” Indeed, it would be remarkable if Chicago's first Black female and LGBT mayor decided to cancel the effort to create a citywide tribute to Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the Black trading post operator who established the area's first recorded permanent settlement.

The five confirmed DuSable Drive opponents.
The five confirmed DuSable Drive opponents. See the full breakdown of support and opposition here.
The five confirmed DuSable Drive opponents.

One interesting wrinkle in the DuSable Drive saga is an email thread from May 3, 2021, that the Chicago Department of Transportation finally handed over to me yesterday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request I submitted more than a month and a half ago. (FOIA requests are supposed to be addressed within five business days, but CDOT told me they were having computer problems that delayed their response.)

The exchange indicates that the directors of Chicago's major lakefront museums are very worried about what expenses they might incur if they have to change their addresses from Lake Shore Drive to DuSable Drive. (Almost all residential addresses will stay the same, since only the outer lanes of the drive will be renamed.) This confirms some intel passed along to me by a ward staffer last week that the Shedd Aquarium was concerned an address change might cost them "millions."

On the evening of May 3, Shedd president and CEO Bridget C. Coughlin wrote to DuSable Drive ordinance sponsor Brookins and cosponsor Ald. Sophia King (4th.) Many other aldermen were cc-ed, as well as Field Museum president and CEO Julian Siggers; Adler Planetarium president and CEO Michelle B. Larson; and Museum of Science and Industry president and CEO Chevy Humphrey.

The Shedd Aquarium, as seen during a snowstorm last February. Photo: John Greenfield
The Shedd Aquarium, as seen during a snowstorm last February. Photo: John Greenfield
The Shedd Aquarium, as seen during a snowstorm last February. Photo: John Greenfield

"Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Adler Planetarium and the Museum of Science and Industry watched with great interest yesterday the Committee on Transportation and Public Way’s discussion and vote to approve an ordinance to rename the 'Outer Drive of Lake Shore Drive from Hollywood Avenue to 67th Street in honor of Jean Baptiste Point DuSable," Coughlin wrote. She was referring to the contentious, profanity-laced Committee on Transportation and Public Way hearing on May 2, when the ordinance passed in committee.

"Please see attached our urgent ask for the opportunity to discuss the impacts of this with you and a request to work together as you formalize the legal description and application of the ordinance language." CDOT did not provide Streetsblog with the attached letter.

In a subsequent email, Moore told CDOT chief Gia Biagi he would attend a May 13 meeting with the museum heads at the department's LaSalle Street office.

In a message following that, CDOT public way unit manager Bill Higgins, whom previously FOIA-ed department emails revealed has privately expressed opposition to the name change, asked Biagi if he had to show up to the meeting in person. The commissioner responded, "Attendance in person is optional. [Moore] wanted to do it, so I’ll meet him in my conf[erence] room, no prob."

While we don't know what went down in that meeting, the fact that the museums were concerned about changing their addresses does not represent a valid argument against DuSable Drive. The museums, as well as the handful of harbors located on Lake Shore Drive, could simply retain their LSD addresses as vanity address. As I've discussed here before, vanity addresses are fairly common in Chicago. While they caused me some confusion back in the 1990's when I was a bike messenger, no one with a smart phone should have trouble locating them today. And when you're talking about iconic, monolithic structures like the lakefront museums, a phone really isn't even needed for finding them, regardless of their addresses.

If, for some reason, the museums still insist on switching to DuSable Drive addresses, sure, it might be a significant expenditure. In that case, the city can subsidize the expense with some of tens of millions of dollars we'll save by doing the roughly $1 million highway renaming instead of implementing all of Lightfoot's $40 million anti-DuSable Drive counterproposal.

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