Ridgeland Common

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Ridgeland Common is an expansive area within Oak Park, Illinois, which is the location of a swimming pool, ice rink, and ball fields. Until the summer of 2013 it was also the location of a popular sledding hill, dog run, and wood chip/mulch pile.

Although numerous public meetings on the reconstruction of the area had been held for several years, the discussions centered on the swimming pool and ice rink. In backroom maneuvering, park board commissioners affiliated with youth soccer, some as paid coaches, managed to push through unannounced plans to remove the natural turf field and replace it with artificial turf, bulldoze the sledding hill, remove the wood chip/mulch pile, and cancel the dog run.[1][2] Dozens of mature trees, including the two large hackberry trees on top of the sledding hill, and bushes were also planned on being destroyed.[3][4]


The plans followed efforts by the same commissioners to install artificial turf in two other parks in Oak Park, Lindberg (Greenfield) Park and Taylor Park. The residents bordering those two parks, after becoming aware of the planning process for their parks, vociferously objected, and the plans were scrapped. Ridgeland Common, in contrast, is located in a business district, with very few neighbors. No one other than youth sports was notified of the plans and no neighbors existed to protest. The plans to replace the natural grass with artificial turf, requiring destruction of the sledding hill, dog run, and wood chip/mulch pile, was done in near Star chamber circumstances.

Focus of Citizen Disgust With Park District

Dog Park

Cancellation of the dog park resulted in its own emergency meeting in Oak Park. The dog owners felt betrayed, and believed that Jan Arnold had unilaterally cancelled a binding agreement made after several years of negotiation between the previous park district executive director and a group organized to obtain a dog run in Oak Park. This was needed after the popular dog park at spacious, safe Lindberg (Greenfield) Park was cancelled by that same previous executive director.

Sled Hill and Environmental Devastation

The joy of snow activities lost because of Executive Director Jan Arnold, and the park board, led by Paul Aeschleman and Christine Graves, to destroy Ridgeland Common by removing the sled/toboggan hill, the dog park, and the mulch pile, and to replace natural grass with toxic artificial turf. You can’t even build a snowman there, thanks to their selfish, short-sighted policy. Do not forget their destruction of our once joyous park.

The greatest disdain, however, was split between razing of the more than 50-year old sledding hill and the environmental consequences for Ridgeland Common.

The latter includes concerns that artificial turf is composed in part of recycled synthetic tires, which according to its mandated health risk data sheet, or MSDS, is considered a "hazardous waste" which require special disposal. This material contains carcinogens as well as endocrine disrupters, including lead, arsenic, mercury, zinc, benzene, phthalates, cadmium and carbon black. The latter breaks down into a chemical dust and acts like asbestos.

In addition, artificial turf, as a result of its non-natural drainage and lack of decomposition, harbors feces, vomit, blood, and even MRSA. The high temperature it reaches has led to the literal melting of shoes worn by those walking or running upon the surface.

Citizen Uproar

A citizens group, Oak Parkers for Sanity in Our Parks, organized by Oak Park, Illinois, environmentalist Les Golden, scheduled a meeting with the Executive Director of the park district, Jan Arnold, and addressed their concerns. The citizen initiative led to articles in the Chicago Tribune,[5][6] and numerous letters to the editor in the local Oak Park press. A rally was scheduled at Ridgeland Common and a resident began an online petition.[7]

Because of Golden’s environmental activism against destructive actions by the park district dating from the 2007 devastation of Field playground at the hands of past Park District head Gary Balling and the feckless, political patronage dump Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Golden used the name of Richard Kullman in scheduling the meeting. He did this for two reasons: 1. To ensure the protest stayed to the issue of Ridgeland Common and not be diverted by bureaucrats and the organized sports lobby to him, and 2. to begin afresh with the new executive director.

The strategy proved to be in vain, however, when Diane Stanke, the public relations mouthpiece, and a holdover from the Gary Balling era, in an effort to discredit the passion of those wishing to keep the sled hill, dog park, and mulch pile, informed Arnold that Kullman was in fact Golden. Quickly, as Golden had feared, the issue began to focus on him rather than the thousands of children and dog owners who would now find their passive pleasure destroyed.

Golden also shared the concerns of the group with the so-called “Green Committee,” which had been formed in 2008 in response to citizen uproar over the devastation of Field playground, and the destruction of most of its trees and all of the bushes surrounding the fieldhouse. The response of the Green Committee was to invite an artificial turf contractor to an emergency meeting with easily predicted results.

Letters concerning the toxicity of the matter of artificial turf continued through May, 2013, long after the destruction of Ridgeland Common had begun.[8][9][10]

Political Concerns

These are the concerns that were expressed to the Executive Director, Green Committee, and the local press.

Citizens Survey: 2% !

The Oak Park Park District website reports the results of the Leisure Vision/ETC Institute Fall 2010 Community Survey commissioned by the Park District of Oak Park. Released in February 2011, the goal was to establish priorities for services and programs. It showed that only 14% of Oak Park residents wanted "outdoor sports fields with synthetic turf," and that only 2% of Oak Park residents placed "outdoor sports fields with synthetic turf" among their top 4 priorities.

Democratic Citizen Input Lacking

When artificial turf was proposed for Lindberg Park, residents were notified by flyers and the resulting uproar led to cancellation of the plans.

Because there are very few “neighbors” to Ridgeland Commons, few attended the meetings to cause another uproar. The organized sports interests were notified and were present in great disproportion to their numbers in the community.

Citizen Input Lacking: Timing

Options for Ridgeland Commons have been discussed for a decade, and most of the resident meetings were held years ago. The proposed artificial turf and bulldozing of the sled/toboggan/exercise hill was only finalized in the last few weeks as shown by local press coverage[11][12]: “But the turf field option at Ridgeland Common is still up in the air as the park district waits on a grant and bid numbers for that renovation project ...”

Citizen Input Lacking: Precedence

This lack of representative citizen involvement and the undue influence of a vocal minority sets a bad precedent. During the previous administration residents of the NEIGHBORHOODS shared their feelings in a meaningful way.

Desires of Other Users Largely Ignored

Other Winter Activities

Sledding, bobsledding, and tobogganing are all lost to passive users. Tobogganing was routinely enjoyed with the top of a garbage can, a large piece of cardboard, or a plastic toboggan sled. Only a one-inch snow cover is needed to enjoy tobogganing. Indeed, you can’t even build a snowman on artificial turf. In past decades, numerous snowmen would appear at Ridgeland Common. Artificial turf, however, doesn’t bend to form a flat surface under the weight of snow. As a result, rolling a large snow ball encounters two difficulties: A large amount of friction with the synthetic turf and the actual abrasive effect of the plastic shoots against any snow mass attempting to be rolled along its surface. Even building a snowman is now an act of the past in Ridgeland Common!

Many Users of the Hill: Fitness

Many people use the hill year-round, not just during organized sports season:

Dog exercise
Kids running down the slope with their kites to get added speed
Maternity health exercise
Kids just running up, down, and around for exercise and joy
Frisbee launching
Aerobics, marathon, and triathlete training (running and up down the hill)

Many Users of the Hill: Simple Joy

Picnicking in the shade
Sunbathing away from the pool crowds
July 4 fireworks viewing position for more than 100 people every year
"Wrigley Field bleacher" viewing of the sports
Solitude for reading
Star gazing and meteor shower viewing (shielded to the south by the tracks) with or without telescopes

Bulldozing of Hill Leaves Poor Alternative

Bulldozing the hill will leave poor alternatives for those engaged in these exercise activities. They will have to travel to Barrie Park. The doubling of the usage of that hill will lead to danger for children, especially young tots, and inevitable injury.

Dog Park & Mulch Pile Gone

With this plan, the Dog Park Plus will be gone. There are more dog owners in Oak Park than families with children. This is a slap in the face to those who negotiated seven or eight years ago as the organization FDOOP in good faith with the park district to have a large dog park. This was to replace their long-term home on weekends and holidays in spacious and safe Lindberg Park.The wood chip pile provided by the village that many people use as a source of yard mulch will be gone. The proposed alternative is acknowledged by the park district to be only an modest “dog run.”

Environmental Consequences

Environmental Toxicity

Artificial turf is made of toxic material and, unlike natural turf, contributes to the urban heat island and global warming by reaching high temperatures in sunlight.

We believe the very concept of replacing natural grass and its living animals and ecology with plastic is an environmental disaster – and that feeling was shared by those against installing artificial turf at Lindberg Park.

Environment: The Global Warming Problem

With poor thermal conductivity compared to natural grass, artificial grass does not conduct the heat of the Sun downwards into the ground. Instead, the plastic material reaches high temperatures, which then radiates large amounts of energy into the atmosphere. A Stanford University engineering study has shown that urban heat islands, including buildings, roads, and artificial surfaces, contributes up to perhaps 5% to global warming.

Government leaders must include such in their deliberations. Their decisions must be based not only on their relationship with their constituents but also with future consequences in mind.

Environment: Birds, Fish, & Oceans, Part 1

Artificial turf degrades by the blades of plastic breaking and splintering. Unlike natural grass, these particles do not decay into soil and gas. They remain in the grass. The first result is ingestion by native birds. Unable to digest the plastic, they die of starvation as the plastic pieces clog their stomach.

The material not eaten by birds gets blown away into the streets. This becomes more and more severe as the artificial turf ages and the blades become shorter and shorter. These, as other plastic garbage, gets washed into the sewers. As it floats down the Des Plaines River, into the Illinois River, into the Mississippi River, and into the Louisiana Delta, some is ingested by fowl and fish. These too die of starvation. If the plastics have broken down into smaller and smaller polymers down to molecular size, this material becomes part of the animal itself, to eventually find itself into the human food chain.

The material that does not get ingested ends up eventually in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, or the Indian Ocean Garbage Patch between one and ten years from breaking down of the artificial turf blades.

Environment: Birds, Fish, & Oceans, Part 2

In the oceans, the artificial turf material continues to devastate the world ecosystems. As the plastic flotsam photo-degrades into smaller and smaller pieces, it concentrates in the upper water column. As it disintegrates, the plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by plankton and other small aquatic organisms that reside near the ocean's surface. In this way, plastic may become concentrated in neuston and enters the human food chain in the oceans.

Some plastics decompose within a year of entering the water, leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A, PCBs, and derivatives of polystyrene, a major component of artificial turf.

Some of these long-lasting plastics end up in the stomachs of marine birds and animals including turtles and their young. As one example, of the 1.5 million albatrosses that inhabit Midway Island, nearly all are found to have plastic in their digestive system. Of the approximately one-third of the chicks that die, many of them are due to being fed plastic from their parents.

Environment: Birds, Fish, & Oceans, Part 3

Besides the particles' danger to wildlife, on the microscopic level the floating debris can absorb organic pollutants from seawater, including PCBs, DDT, and PAHs. Aside from toxic effects, when ingested, some of these are mistaken by the endocrine system as estradiol, causing hormone disruption in the affected animal. These toxin-containing plastic pieces are also eaten by jellyfish, which are then eaten by larger fish. Many of these fish enter the human food chain, resulting in their ingestion of toxic chemicals.

Marine plastics also facilitate the spread of invasive species that attach to floating plastic in one region and drift long distances to colonize other ecosystems.

On the macroscopic level, as in the local river systems, the physical size of the plastic kills birds and turtles as the animals' digestion can not break down the plastic inside their stomachs.

To exacerbate this effect, the macroscopic plastic makes it much more difficult for animals to see and detect their normal sources of food.

Oceanographic and biological research has shown that this plastic marine debris affects at least 267 species worldwide.

Environment: Birds, Fish, & Oceans, Part 4

From nearly every aspect -- animal kill, multiple modes of food chain poisoning, invasive species migration -- the use of artificial turf outdoors is an environmental disaster felt worldwide. The turf used in Oak Park, unless it is literally vacuumed after ever use, will contribute to the devastation of the watershed from the DesPlaines River to the Louisiana estuary and into the world’s oceans.

The only means of mitigation is replacement of the turf every three or four years before the blades remain long enough to prevent the plastic from blowing into the streets. Even before then, significant local bird kill will result.


Trees and Bushes #1

The destruction of all the trees and bushes in the park except the one 50-inch elm close to Lake Street concerns us deeply. This includes two on the hill, the dozen or so north of the ice rink, the large elm west of the rink, and the dozen or so bushes north of the rink.

As the Park District did at Field Park and as the village did at the Marion Street Mall, the bushes could be relocated to the high school, other parks, the library grounds, the branch libraries, or made available to homeowners. Please consider reusing, rather than destroying and buying new bushes when these are healthy and would flourish in fresh soil.

Trees and Bushes #2

Gro Horticulture, a respected firm skilled in tree transplanting, has performed this task for numerous trees on Park District property. For the trees in front of the ice rink, the cost of transplanting will partially offset the cost of cutting the trees down and purchasing new saplings.

Moreover, this transplanting would insure that mature trees would grace the area of Ridgeland Common rather than saplings which would take several generations to reach the stature of the existing trees.

Taxpayer Burden


The additional cost is a concern. The Park District currently has a $20 million debt and liability (figure from tax bills). Installing artificial turf will cost $3.7 million.

Every eight years replacing the artificial turf will cost more than $500,000, an annualized cost of more than $60,000.Hiring a maintenance man full time to care for the turf will occur, which will add $50,000 to the budget Although he will also care for the natural grass in the parks, we believe the proposed placing of the artificial turf is the major reason for this new position. If that was not the case, we wonder why wasn't he hired in years past and why can't all the current grounds people continue to do whatever maintenance on the natural turf is needed? The increase in total debt to $30 million will hurt the bond rating, meaning that future borrowing will cost the taxpayer more.

Park after Park Altered for Vocal Minority

Park after park in our town is being sacrificed for organized sports – Field Park, Taylor Park, and Ridgeland Commons because of a vocal and well-organized MINORITY.

We repeat: The Park District’s own survey released in 2011 showed that only 14% of Oak Park residents wanted "outdoor sports fields with synthetic turf," and that only 2% of Oak Park residents placed "outdoor sports fields with synthetic turf" among their top 4 priorities.