Charlie says: Don't fence me in

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Charlie, a chocolate Lab from the South Loop, shares the frustration of his owner and their neighbors over the installation of a fence around the tiny park in their neighborhood. It's a small park, surrounded by quiet dead end streets.

The fence has created such a quality of life controversy that neighbors took the matter to court, and now their waiting for a judge to rule on whether it should stay. The principal of South Loop School, which is adjacent to the park, says the fence is a "safety measure" that will allow students to safely have recesses with out much worry that they'll wander into the street.
Neighbors say the park was mean to be open, and nobody consulted them on the issue until it's too late.
Without a voice in what happens in the neighborhood, folks who pay boat loads of property tax to fund schools and parks have a legitimate gripe. But nobody -- not the school system, not the park district, not the alderman. Seem to care. When I called each of them on Charlie's behalf, the principal said the fence was necessary no matter what they thought, the park district said they agreed to the fence at the schools recommendation. And newly elected Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) didn't bother to call back.

So there you have it — life in the city.

How has big city government and the powers that be negatively affected the quality of life in your hood?
Post your thoughts here.

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I hate your stupid columns written from the dogs point of view. Why do you feel that every inch of green space has to be dedicated to the happiness of selfish, demanding dog owners? And why are you so anti-leash laws? They are there for the safety of the animals and humans living together in this city.

You and the rest of the dog nazis got the Grant Bark Park built, although you didn't raise the specified amount of funds or community support. You have always had the smaller dog run on Wabash and 14th. Now you need to take the park away from the school as well? When will it stop?

I write this letter as a former South Loop resident and dog owner. My dog was happy to walk on a leash when in parks and to go visit off-leash areas to run around. Now that we live in California we follow the same rules. What makes you so special that you don't have to follow them? I hate when people like you make unreasonable demands and give all the rest of us a bad reputation.

Just because you own a dog doesn't mean everyone else has to share in your relationship.

You do not represent me.

Konkol responds: That's an awful lot of hate. Thank goodness you moved out of town.

I live in the South Loop and take my two year old twins to that park every week. I honestly don't get why the neighbors are so upset about a fence going up around the park. The play equipment in the park extends within a few feet of the street, and I'm constantly worried that my kids are going to run out in the street inadvertently and be injured as a result. South Loop Elementary houses preschool programs as well as an elementary program, so we aren't simply talking about older kids who should know better than to run out into the street. While it is a quiet location, that still doesn't stop some drivers from tearing down the streets at excessive rates of speed, I see it every time I'm at that park with my kids.

It's simply untrue, by the way, that the neighbors had no idea about the pending installation of the fence in question. The principal at South Loop Elementary has been trying to get this approved for over a year, and I have yet to hear a convincing argument against the fence. As long as the park remains open to use by the neighbors as well as students why are so many neighbors so angry and upset?

What's the surprise? You think this is a democracy or something?

Dictator Daley has forced iron fences on every neighborhood in the city ruining the open space and creating eyesores without any consultation with any one who lives here. The entire city council is a corrupt rubber stamp that only George Bush and Karl Rove would love. Fitting since Daley seems to love his Republicans.

Portage Park was a gorgeous easily accessible park. Now it's a limited access "exercise yard". Not only did they put up fences so you can't get into or out of the park easily. They fenced in a great big lawn into the summer pool area so it can't be used 10 months out of the year!

The song and dance in my neighborhood is that Daley likes Paris' iron fences and so he's trying to make everyone go along with his defective esthetic.

It's time to throw monkey wrenches into the machine. What does it take to get elected Ward committeman? No joke. How do we take back our government?

No rational person would object to making this park a safe place for kids, just because the minority dog-owning population imagines that they'll be inconvenienced by a fence.

So why are these dog owners so upset - is it that they don't want to share "their" park with the influx of kids attracted to play in a safer park?

I've seen this same kind of territorial attitude in Washington Square Park on the Near North Side, where groups of dog owners stake out a stretch of the park for themselves. I once ventured into "their" part of the Park, and they tried to shoo me away, telling me I was in the "doggie" area!

A convincing argument against the fence? How about it is ugly to begin with. It will become a maintenance headache as well. Gates on sidewalks were taken down by the Dearborn Park Unit One Townhomes Association 27 years ago because the Association knew they would become a maintenance headache. How about $50,000 of taxpayer money that could or should have been spent on books or something really needed. (It is nice to know that the schools and the parks are now so flush with money they don't need anyone's help anymore.) I guarantee you that some child will get hurt by climbing on and falling off the fence just as kids have apparently climbed on and broken trees in the park. I also am willing to bet that some child will run into the nice hard, immovable object that now surrounds that park, which incidentally, no "dog owners" or anyone else took from the school. It isn't the school's park at all. The school's property line stops at the school itself. The park belongs to the neighborhood and was guaranteed to be open, green space for the neighborhood. In trying to keep the neighborhood out or changing the nature of that neighborhood park, the school, for the sake of children who are hardly ever there, has stolen a resource from neighborhood children and neighbors who are there 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, because they live there.

Incidentally, the park already was a safe place for kids. There is no traffic around the land-locked park or school. Parents sent their children to the school for 21 years without any fence. Neighborhood kids played in the park for roughly 2 decades and I raised three girls from infancy in the neighborhood and in the park. The fence was not needed for safety and has now become an eyesore and more of a safety hazard than if it were not there. Until it is taken down, it will have changed the nature of the park and the neighborhood. What a waste of taxpayers' money.

Parks are for everyone to use all the time. The safety issue was a bunch of B.S. so the school could steal a public park from the people of chicago. Just watch the evolution of the parks they have ruined. It has happened in several places, this neighborhood just said "No!" which they have a right to do. CPS has no money so I guess they have to resort to stealing land. The land in question is valued at million of dollars, you would think the PD would have a process before they just give away land under their so called "trust". Let this be a lesson for developers everywhere, If you give your land to the Chicago Park District they will not honor the public trust.

This is a big city. People who hate dogs have to deal with it, sorry we are not going away. Dog owners are a lot less demanding, annoying, irrational etc. as the over protective (I burden everyone because I have a kid) parents.

Charlie did you and your buddies get any bones from the holiday weekend? You know the ones with a little bar-b-que sauce still left on it, or did those humans only give you regular dog food and slopped up all the good stuff for theirselves? Shame on them and crying about a fence! They are not even feeding you properly. What’s a holiday without a little sauce on the old rib bone?

This matter about the fence Charlie you need to let it go. I understand you know better than to run into the streets with oncoming traffic, but humans take a longer time to figure this one out. Why you think our kind is used for guides for the visually impaired? WE KNOW BETTER! We should be used for those who have 20/20 vision considering they do not know how to cross the street. Charlie have you viewed how many humans jaywalk and flip the bird to the driver? They will just walk out there into oncoming traffic, get hit, wind up in the hospital or cemetery (God Forbid) with bills up the wazoo and lose the house because of it. Charlie my dawg, our humans will be living on the streets and so will we! These numbskulls forget to renew the insurance policy, which is the reason for the fence! They forget things easily. We got to let the little humans have the park this time. Let’s do it for the kiddies Charlie, we already know the big humans will curse and fuss and that type of talk upsets me! I was thinking of going to another human, but I saw her kick one of us. Some other four legged friends saw this, got upset and tried to get at her, but forgot about the leases they have us hostage with! Man, you ever try to run and growl at a human only to have your human snatch you by the lease? Charlie, I almost turned around and took a plug of flesh out him. He better be lucky he feeds me well and let me play in the water when it is hot outside. It was close Charlie, I almost had a doggie flashback to when before I was rescue from the kennel, dawg.

Charlie, my human and their friend was talking about his childhood doggie! He stated he loved that doggie, but he would not get another one while living in the city. Too crowded, no place for us to stretch out, run around if we wanted or simply other mean people treating other doggies to fights. When he said fights, “I thought he was talking about humans, but Charlie they are using us for fights!” A dog’s life is rough if not having the right human!

Well Charlie to bark up a short story, we really need to be out in the countryside or wide open areas. This city life is for humans only! My paws are hurting from the hard pavement; my head is dizzy from all the speeding cars, and my human is cranky all the time. I think it has to do with this digital society. If the humans would take life a little easier, take us for more walks, feed us properly and quit arguing over every square inch of dirt we could be in doggy heaven right here. Oh yeah, do your human play on this thing called a computer all day? Well what the (wolf, wolf) they need us for if only to watch the house. I like to go out too, don’t you? Thought so! Think we can take our case to the ACLU? The PETA group only comes around after serious abuse. Well if sitting in the house all day, waiting on a human to come take you for a walk after a snack is not abusive I do not know what is?

Well Charlie until next time…Wolf-Wolf, Wolf-Wolf, Wolf-Wolf!

PS (Pass the barking so it gets to state of California, seem like we need to nibble on a human out there)

Maybe rational people should watch out for their own children and stop expecting everyone else to be responsible for other people's kids.

Sheesh! How ever did anyone grow up in the city without bike helmets, child seats, stop signs on every corner, 24/7 adult supervision, and fenced in parks.

Get out there and watch your own kids!

I don't have a dog. I don't have a kid. I don't want to be responsible for other people's. Take care of your own!

Bottom line is many people out there care more about their dogs than about human life. Many times, these are the same people who start putting their grocery items on the conveyor even before you are done emptying your cart, or they drive like idiots because they think they own the road and people should be watching out for them.

I'm a former dog owner and I love dogs. But if you live in the city you have to make sacrifices, and one of those sacrifices is dog space for human space. Hmmm...a safer park for children and residents, or an open park for dogs? I think I'd choose humans. If you live in the city, where there is a lack of green space, you should expect to not have a park for your dog to crap in. Simple as that. Also, besides the fence being put up to "keep out" dogs, it also keeps out potential child predators. So, put that in your pipe and smoke it, South Loop dog owners. Lastly, does the fact that a fence is put up eliminate access to the park? Does it really negate the quality of life? I mean, the park still exists, and it is still accessible, correct? So, what the f is the big deal? Is it because the park's neighbors can no longer simply let their dog out the back yard to go crap in the park? Boo-friggin-hoo!

And to the person complaining about the wrought iron fences in Portage Park, God forbid you have to take an extra 20 steps to get to an opening to the park. If there weren't so many hooligans in that park on a daily basis, maybe the City wouldn't have felt the need to try to enforce traffic control at the park. Maybe they should have put up 20' chain link fence with barbed wire on top to really make it an "exercise yard" as the complainant stated.

I dont think anyone objects to sharing the park with kids... its clearly their park as much as anyone's :) And of course child safety is a big priority - obviously, no argument there. Those are simply incorrect assumptions. My concern is that the school will slowly begin to control park usage - if community members can't use the park during the day when the kids are in recess, will they might lock the gates early, will they ban dogs because of some personal LSC vendetta?

I've heard conflicting statements on the future of this park from the school principal and the LSC.

If it was just a fence, and only a fence, and that was the end of it, I dont think anyone would care as much as they do now.
But the perception is that its not, so then people start to become active about it.

There is a fence around Washington Square Park, and it hasn't deterred people from bringing their dogs to the Park one whit. If anything, unfortunately, it's only emboldened some of them to illegally run their dogs off leash.

Shouldn't the decision to put a fence around Mary Richardson Jones Park be based on the greater good - the safety of hundreds of kids vs the wishes of "about a dozen" owners of "South Loop barkers?"

Child Predators now??

Think of it this way - if a predator was after your child, wouldn't you rather give your child a way out? Instead of being trapped in a locked, gated park???

Wake up folks, this isn't an issue of child safety. Kids and dogs have co-existed quite lovingly for many decades :) This fence is an embarassing waste of money by CPS. Why would anyone in their right mind spend $60,000 on a fence "for recess" - when the school can't offer recess anyway because of teacher union issues - when there are schools not two miles away that NEED that money for actual educational purposes, like computer labs and new books.

Seems to me that this is just another example of rich people getting little things they want while poor people forego things they need.
Bob Fioretti ought to be ashamed of himself.

I dont think there are very many people out there who care more about dogs that human life. Now that's just a silly thing to say.

Take it back :)

Furthermore, for those that do, I'd bet they're guilty of far worse things than grocery store etiquette violations, or bad driving :)

Just a bit of clarification: the "about a dozen" owners of "South Loop barkers" you refer to actually obtained 700+ signatures on a petition opposed to the fence (those petitions are on file with our elected officials). Just slightly more than the dozen you so quickly dismiss.

Also, if the area was so unsafe with predators and out-of-control automobiles, wouldn't the residents have fought for a fence a long time ago to protect the over 500 children who live in the neighborhood and use the park 365 days a year? In fact, we probably would have paid for it out of our own pockets.

I challenge you to think a little more deeply about what's going on here. If this was a legitimate action, why was it done in secret? Why were residents lied to by government officials including their Alderman? Why do so many fence supporters have to rely on name calling and smearing the community to make their point?

Several alternatives to the current fence were proposed by the community that would meet the school's "safety" requirement and be acceptable to the residents. All of them were ignored by CPS and the school's leadership. Now if you were the leadership of the school and decided that you were going to impose your will anyway, wouldn't you have at least gone through the motions of meeting with the community? What possible good can come from the school treating the surrounding community in this way?

I suggest you look deeper at what's going on here before you write off the neighborhood as a bunch of dog-loving, school-hating crazies.

After reading about all of the controversy regarding this fence and offering my opinion on the matter I decided to return to this park to check it out myself.

Seriously people, why is everyone up in arms about this silly fence????

Yes, it has a gate, but its left open at all times. And it doesn't have a lock of any kind.

I definitely felt much more secure letting my toddlers play in the park now that it's surrounded by the curiously controversial fence. Apparently most of the readers of this column have never been to this park and seem how close the play equipment is to the street itself (as I mentioned above, its only a matter of a few feet.) The whole point of a playground is for children to actually play and run around and have fun. As far as I'm concerned the fence only encourages that.

If the whole fence controversy is the biggest problem these neighbors are facing they are very fortunate people indeed. There are far more serious issues in the South Loop neighborhood these days, like crime and skyrocketing property taxes, that arguably deserve far more attention than this ridiculous park nonsense.

True, Prairie Avenue. I was being facitious. However, I'm sure you know at least one person who probably would save a dog rather than a person. Of course, I guess that also depends on which person you're talking about saving, right?

As for the funding of the fence, although the Chicago Park District has a partnership with the Chicago Public Schools for all of the park space that surrounds a school. This is true, I think, in all instances of this phenomenon around the city. In those instances, the Park District controls the funding for improvements, such as a fence, new play equipment, other traffic/safety control measures, etc. Maybe the LSC did push for the fence, but ultimately it was the Park District's decision to fund the installation of the fence. That money probably didn't come from CPS and hence, could not be used for new computers, books, etc., for a school that needs those things more than South Loop School needs a fence around the park that buttresses its property.

And I agree with SMT...there would seem to be much more important issues for South Loopers to discuss rather than a fence. Get over it!

No, the fence was 70,000 big ones and it was paid for by CPS. Glad my tax dollars are going towards ruining the neighborhood I live in. Thanks a lot Robert "the clown" Fioretti.

Folks- If a fence in the neighborhood was needed why was the neighborhood not included in the decision. All you moms out there are not seeing the bigger picture.... wake up its a "LAND GRAB". Are the gates locked now? Not yet , CPS will slowly scope creep and take your park away from you. Down the road your children will have nothing but a parking lot to play in ( if the gates are not locked). Why would a school begging for donations waste 70 grand to put a fence around property they do not own with out consulting the area? Who will be upkeeping the fence? Neither the school or the park district can afford to.
The school already let Bears game tailgaters party and drink last year on school property and they charged people $25 to do it. To me that is not safe for anyone, drinking and driving is no no. PLEASE CLUE IN PEOPLE, your park is being given away to the school--- the fence is just the beginning. The fence is not a open greeting fence, to me it says "Keep Out". Wait until they need all of your residential parking spaces every day and work with Fioretti for one way streets. To bad the school won't work with the community. Every community needs a great school, not one that lies to its parents and students. Nor does any neighborhood need a school that takes over a wonderful safe area and park causing conflict such as it has.

Anon, I would feel the exact same way about the horrible, evil fence even if the park wasn't adjacent to an elementary school. There is another park on Wabash a few blocks away from South Loop Elementary that is also enclosed by a fence, do you also regard that fence as a similar conspiracy to take away general access to a public park?

The bottom line is that enclosing these playground/parks with fences is the best way of insuring the safety of the small children who play there. Even SLE is not immune to city drivers traveling on the nearby streets at excessive rates of speed. Safety is a very real concern when parks are located in urban areas like the South Loop, and I think you are the one who needs to wake up and acknowledge that reality, Anon. I as well as many other parents in the South Loop feel far safer when taking our children to Mary Richardson Jones Park now that a fence surrounds it.

message posted September 13: "The bottom line is that enclosing these playground/parks with fences is the best way of insuring the safety of the small children who play there. Even SLE is not immune to city drivers traveling on the nearby streets at excessive rates of speed. Safety is a very real concern when parks are located in urban areas like the South Loop, and I think you are the one who needs to wake up and acknowledge that reality, Anon. I as well as many other parents in the South Loop feel far safer when taking our children to Mary Richardson Jones Park now that a fence surrounds it."
Dear Anonymous, if the area in fact needed a fence did it have to be this ugly fence? It is the cheapest fence I have ever seen and the cement posts are pushing up from the ground. Who paid for and chose the fence around the park at Wabash? The fence around that park certainly is a quality fence. Seems to me the fence around Mary Jones Richardson could look so much better and have better openings, better planning for snow, upkeep etc.

I live right across from Jones Park. What a blight that fence is! Maybe it's a poet Robert Frost put it, something on the order of before I put up a fence, I'd want to know what I was faencing out as well as what I was fencing in. So. Loop School never had a fence, so why know? Parents don't own the park, So. Loop doesn't own the park. The park was set aside as an open space, not a kid corral. Fencing is is purely a land grab. Saying it's a safety measure is just an excuse. If safety is an issue, get adults to monitor kids. Neighborhood residents offered to help monitor, inlieu of a fence, and that suggestion was turned down.
If safety is an issue, why does hardly a parent stop at the stop signs around school? Why do parents drive 30 mph down Plymouth Ct. and Fderal St.? Clearly, it's just an excuse.
Parents don't have a right to dictate how an open-lands park, and how a neighborhood should be run.

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Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Konkol published on August 31, 2007 9:00 AM.

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