Saturday, May 03, 2008

Down The Rabbit Hole

The architects who have re-designed Chicago's new Children's Museum are clearly great fans of Lewis Carroll. Why else would they come up with a structure that is as hidden as a rabbit hole?

Friends of open park lands have repeatedly pointed out that the Illinois Supreme Court long ago held that the city's lakefront had to be kept free of buildings and obstructions. It's open land, parks and green space, so you can't plunk a pile of bricks and mortar where those with clout would like to plunk said bricks.

Here you go, the latest revision: a children's museum that is so entirely underground that you won't even know it's there. How very pleasant for the little wee ones, to jump down the rabbit hole just like Alice. Will they be serving up tea with the Mad Hatter at four in the afternoon?

No structures, say those who are against the museum's proposed location. In that case, say the architects, we shall eliminate the skylights that were meant to bring in natural light to the subterranean burrow. The entrance pavilion leaves the park and moves out to the public sidewalk. No structures on the park's grassy turf, you see? Brilliant.

Not quite there yet, says Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago. Nothing obstructs the open views, but there was a bit more to the court ruling all those years ago. No obstruction can be built that is private, or that charges admission, or that is not dedicated for park purposes.

Where's the biggest stumbling block in that long list? It's the admission business. The Children's Museum will charge a fee, and that should keep those poor black kids from the ghetto out of the place. This is a museum for white kids whose parents can afford the cost of a ticket. Making the museum free to all comers would defeat the purpose of putting a posh kiddie attraction in a posh neighborhood.

There are plenty of other suitable locations for a children's museum in Chicago, sites that would not require the construction of Alice's Wonderland. The society doyennes, however, want their names plastered about in places where their friends can see those names, and that pretty much limits their desired location to Chicago's Millennium Park.

Perhaps a sixth revision is in order, one that includes a croquet field over the top of the rabbit warren. I'm sure the Lincoln Park Zoo could be called upon to provide the flamingos.

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