When my daughter was little, I can remember the long drive from the North Side to Kiddieland. I remember getting to the amusement park early and paying an extra fee for her to play in a special area in the back. By late evening, when I was exhausted from watching her have fun, she still didn’t want to go home.
Years later, I moved to the West Side and gave birth to my son. Kiddieland was an even closer destination and one where, during his younger days, I took him to get his first experience with fun rides. So it is with sadness to hear that Kiddieland will be closing on Sept. 27 because of a family dispute.
One part of the family runs the business. The other part of the family controls the land. It was heartbreaking to hear a member of the family that runs Kiddieland would love to continue to keep the park operational, but moving the rides would be very difficult.
Anyone who has been to the corner of First and North avenues knows that Kiddieland sits on the northwest side of the street. But on the northeast side is forest-preserve land – land that is paid for and maintained by the overburdened taxpayers of Cook County. Land that is hardly used at that corner. Land that – if the Cook County board wanted to – could be leased to move Kiddieland across the street and therefore preserve one of the last vestiges of an old-fashioned amusement park for children.
Our children are the youngest and most vulnerable of all Cook County residents. Every generation has had its local amusement park. For me it was Riverview. For others it was FunTown at 95th and Stony Island Avenue. For little children, it has always been Kiddieland.
Right now, our current Cook County board has a less-than-stellar image. Most of the news coming out from the board hasn’t been good. So I’d like to offer the Cook County board a chance to get some of the best positive press that it hasn’t had in a long time:
They can get that press by reaching out and making sure that Kiddieland doesn’t go away. Kiddieland has over the years given hundreds of local teenagers employment during the summer. As a business, Kiddieland has also contributed to the county tax base via both sales and property taxes.
A move across the street would be a win-win for everyone. Little children could still have their park. A business that is a source of revenue for the county could stay afloat. And a small sliver of rarely used forest preserve land could be given the opportunity to bring joy to all.
Arlene Jones is a novelist who lives on Chicago’s West Side. Her column runs in Austin Weekly News.