Oak Park has a tremendous opportunity in the development of the Field Center/Mann School green space. The town hall meeting last week at Mann School displayed that in living color (some of it green) as we saw so many individuals who were passionate about the development project. We have $1 million to spend on approximately five acres of green space. There were hundreds of passionate individuals at the meeting last night. This is happening in Oak Park, one of the sexiest villages in the nation. With so much money, land, and passion, we can make this project stand out among all park development in the United States.
I live in Oak Park, and I reside seven houses away from the project. My credentials are: owner/manager of an eco-lodge in the U.S. Virgin Islands (with 6.5 acres of land devoted to protecting the planet); prairie gardener of the Mann School halfmoons on Berkshire and Kenilworth – and the small parkway patch on Woodbine – and the parkway prairie in front of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church; donator of prairie plants/indigenous trees to neighbors and friends in the Chicago area; most environmentally protective person I know (OK, that’s just my opinion).
The reason my credentials are listed is because I generally approve of the tree removal/plantings that are proposed in the master plan of the Field Center/Mann School project. Of the trees that are to be removed, there are only two that give me concern. The trees that will be added provide diversity, many are native, and will be planted along the perimeter of the park. Birds, butterflies, bees, rabbits, and other native species will thrive in a space that is relatively undisturbed by human activities.
The current swath of trees in the middle of the park does not give protection to animal life. A prairie garden is planned for 2,400 square feet along the alley. The roots and green growth of that amount of prairie exceed the oxygen and water filtration benefits of the existing non-native maple trees that are to be removed. The roots of many prairie plants are 8-10 feet deep, versus the root depth of the maple which is approximately 5 feet deep. Not even the canopy of the trees to be removed can compete with the prairie in terms of carbon dioxide consumption and oxygen output.
I suggest a few modifications to the plan to ensure that the green space is even more satisfying to habitat. The changes are: Keep the native honey locust (big, old one) and nearby oak on the northwest side of the park and exchange some of the “pretty” new trees (crapapple, redbud, magnolia) for hardy, indigenous trees or more prairie. Since the baseball fields and soccer field satisfy the humans, let’s make sure the rest of the space satisfies the planet.