A planned half-million dollar renovation of Evanston’s Penny Park came in for sharp criticism Thursday evening from most speakers at a community meeting about the project.

For some, the meeting providing an opportunity to knit or crochet.

The largest contingent of objectors were long-time neighborhood residents — mostly now of grandparent age — some of whom helped build the park’s existing wooden play structures 24 years ago and were reluctant to see them changed.

They were joined by some newer, younger neighborhood residents, a few of whom even brought their kids to the meeting.

Lauren Barski, of 1422 Florence Ave., who’s created a website to oppose the park plans, argued that because Penny Park was built before adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it doesn’t need to be brought into compliance with the act’s accessibility provisions.

Parks Director Joe McRae.

While city officials, including Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Joe McRae, stressed that they were open to making changes in the plans, they said that after so many years the park needs a major update — and that any project of that scope would require meeting accessibility rules.

Some residents objected to replacing the existing wood play structures — which are estimated to typically have a 20-year lifespan — with ones made of more recently developed recycled plastic boards, which city consultant Kyle Cundy of Leathers Associates said are forecast to have a 50-year lifespan.

Kyle Cundy of park consultant Leathers Associates.

Others objected to separating, with a fence, play areas for pre-school and elementary school age children — a decision that a city consultant said was dictated by safety standards.

While the proposed design was developed in meetings with children at two schools in the neighborhood, one parent, who said he is an art teacher, said kids “have no idea what makes something special.”

A rendering of the proposed park design on display at the meeting.

A few speakers suggested that not everyone was opposed to the rebuilding plan. One woman said that at a previous meeting about the park in March, most people seemed happy about the design — and most of those who were happy then hadn’t turned out Thursday.

And Michael Bernard, of 1603 Lake St., said that he had shifted from being totally opposed to neutral about the park plans.

“When it comes to change in Evanston, you’ll have 75,000 different opinions,” Bernard said, “You’ll never have consensus on what the park should be.”

Alderman Peter Braithwaite.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, whose 2nd Ward includes the park, encouraged residents at the meeting to volunteer to be on a steering committee to develop revisions to the design and seek funding for additional amenities — like a restroom or pavilion facility — that aren’t in the current park budget.

He said the schedule for the project is to develop final designs this winter, seek bids for the work in the spring and have the new park completed by next August.

Related story

Aldermen move forward with Penny Park rebuild

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Couple of things

    I have a couple of thins to say:

    • I do not have kids that are of park age.
    • It seems to me that half a million dollars to replace Penny Park is about 250k too much. I think that city crews could do much of the work, like removing the old wooden equipment. Surely, the wood can be used by some business to improve appearance.
    • If the design was based on what young children thought looked neat to them, somebody needs to take a coarse on park design that leaves out the kids.
    • Go ahead and build an 8 foot chainlink fence around the kiddie portion of the park. Go ahead and build a new park for children younger that 8 years of age. Young children need more safety. Leave the rest of the park asis.
    • The existing portion of the park as it is, with a very few minor exceptions. The park looks like it is very good condition and is probably one of the better parks in Evanstion. This is why the majority of people appear to say, leave it asis.
    • City needs to avoid the need to spend as much money as possible. They do not need to a Rolls Royce park. They do not need to stroke their own egos.

    Remember that the older children become the less they go to a park to have fun. When they go to parks, it is just to hangout.

    City crews can build the fence around the kiddie park. It will cost a lot less than expected. Just ask Wally (at least that is what he has told us without providing the details that he promised).

  2. Penny Park
    As a resident that lives within 60 ft. of the park, I’m neutral on what the city does with it. I’d much rather see all the folks that take the time to go to a city meeting to complain about the park’s redevelopment, use that time to help clean up the Park or help keep it clean on a regular basis.
    As for the park itself; trust me, it’s getting old. I share the concerns of others; the sight lines are tough to keep an eye on your children. Many of the Park structures are broken and most concerning my kids get splinters there all the time using the worn wood equipment.
    Bottom line, would it be the end of the world if it’s refreshed, I think the answer is no. But can the city afford it? I’m guessing that the answer is no as well.
    Que Sera Sera.

    1. Redoing parks

      The City spent thousands of dollars within the last 6 or 8 years redoing two parks that are close to me. One is located on Washington the other is on Elmwood. Once the parks have been redone no one bothers to maintain them.

      Only time garbage is picked up is when you call 311.And tell them it close to top or animals have found a feast. In winter the sidewalks are never shoveled even though City trucks drive by.

      The one on Washington rarely recovers from the Custer Street Fair. The tire tracks get pretty deep especially if it rains. So why spend money to redo if you're not going to maintain?

      Or does this location get better attention than others in Evanston?

      1. From what I’ve seen (and I

        From what I've seen (and I see it daily), the upkeep of the park is pretty good, and it's a product of a joint City/neighbor effort. While there's often a fair amount of litter and lost items around the park at the end of the day, which is frequently picked up by neighbors, the City does a good job of emptying the trash bins. The only time I've noticed a problem with that is in the summer, when the park is heavily used by summer camps from near and far and the bins get more use than normal. In winter, for a few reasons I think, the City is also pretty good about the sidewalks. I think one reason is that the park is heavily used in the winter (the sledding hill and the wood lend themselves to winter play) and also I think part is that because the Park borders the heavily traffic-ed lake street. Lots of kids use Lake to commute to the high school, and Lake (street and sidewalk) is pretty well tended to by the city in the winter most of the time. There's also a group of neighbors who keep close eye on the sidewalks in the winter, we've all sprinkled salt, shoveled, snow-blown, etc. when necessary. It's all informal and it just gets done, no one talks about it or makes a big deal about doing it. So yeah, I don't think maintenance is an issue. It's actually the case that of the three area (Chicago/Evanston) Leathers-built wooden parks of around the same age, Penny Park is the best maintained and still in the best shape. The City has definitely taken care of it through the years.

    2. Spirit of Penny Park

      I was a volunteer at Penny Park, 20 year ago.  My neighbor, Marilyn, and I coordinated childcare for over 500 children so that their parents could work on building the play structure.  I remember that experience warmly, as a cooperative venture between neighbors and the city, to build a park for our kids.

      Penny Park was not perfect from day one.  It needs work now.  But I request respect for the spirit in which it was built.

      Now, as Evasntonians, we argue and advocate.  What about doing something, as J suggests?  Pick up some trash before you step to the podium.

      1. Respect

        Suzanne, I do not know you (at least, I don't think I do, not sure what your last name is), but I can only assume your comment is directed at me, at the least. May I ask how you have any idea what I do for the park? Why do you assume I don't already pick up trash at the park?? Just curious, given you seem pretty concerned about respect for others in the community.

        I, too, value respect for the spirit in which it was built, that's in part why the current process has been so offensive. Not sure how much you'e followed the process this time, but if you're in doubt, just ask any of the number of people at Thursday's meeting who, like you, were involved in the building of the original park.  Sorry if "stepping to the podium" doesn't seem like "doing something" to you. I don't know what you've done, but I certainly would never assume to, either.
        Respect and all.


        1. Comment

          My thoughts are not directed towards you. 

          Only to an approach to public engagement that seems to be based on confrontation  and not compromise.

  3. Penny Park

    The park is still GREAT as it is.  It's a total WASTE of $500k.  It's shocking that it's even being considered.  I suggest those considering it put up their OWN MONEY.  What on earth are we thinking here.  

  4. Point of Clarification

    Appreciate the coverage of the meeting, I'd just like to clarify an important point about how you characterized one my statements last night. It is not my position that the Park does not need to be brought into compliance with current accessibility/safety standards. Rather, a couple things: (1) the standards that apply to the Park, because construction began on it prior to Jan 1992, are different than those that apply to "newer" (post-Jan 1992) structures. So it is not correct to say (as the City does on its website) that the Park is out of compliance with current standards– the park is in compliance with the current standards for Parks built before Jan 1992; (2) Having said that, yes, we can all agree the Park SHOULD BE updated to comply with the most recent standards because, as many people AGREE, increasing accessibility to the park is important. However, notably, this can be accomplished without demolishing the park first, and it can be accomplished while preserving the integrity and design of the Park. Plenty of cities across the country have done this. I'm working on getting my website which you reference above updated with links to examples, but I wanted to try to clarify these points here first, because the confusion surrounding the law (and my public statements) on this topic is really pervasive and counter-productive. Thanks.

    1. Separate is not equal

      Separate is not equal. Keeping the existing park for kids without disabilities and creating a separate space that is accessible for kids who use wheelchairs is segregation. Any remodeling the city would do would have to be in compliance with the ADA anyway.

      1. In Complete Agreement

        No one that I am aware of is suggesting keeping the existing park and creating a separate "accessible space." A public park should be a place where kids of all ages and all abilities can play together in the same space, not separated by isolated areas, fences, etc. This can be done without demolishing the existing park, through rehabbing and updating  It is being done all over the country by other cities with similar aging wooden parks, and it's being done for a lot less than $500,000.

  5. Sightlines and multiple
    Sightlines and multiple entrances and exits to the park are the primary concern of this parent of young children. We stopped going to the park with both of our children at the same time once the little one became mobile.

    Hope the plan doesn’t lose the open space and the kiddie sledding hill.

  6. “Kids have no idea what makes something special.”

    I would to clarify my comment that was quoted in the article above.  Taken out of context, it sounds like I was suggesting that kids are idiots.  Children are fantastic and amazing!  They have incredible imaginations and are not bound by their sense of what should be or what has been done.  Should their opinions be included in the design of a new park?  Absolutely!  Who knows what fresh ideas they might bring to the table that adults would otherwise never have considered.   Should their opinions be what the redesign of the park is soley based upon?  No.  This is a ridiculous way to address the rebuilding of a park that already exists, and that has such a meaningful history as Penny Park.  When it comes to design, architecture, and play it takes a wealth of experience to effectively redesign a space that carries such great importance for the community.  Ask any architect or designer.  We cannot expect children to be the single source of creative input behind a project like this.  If you disagree with this, then ask yourself if you would be on board with letting someone tear down your home and then rebuilding it based upon the suggestions of 100 children.   

    On another note, the article also seems to suggest that the residents are stubborn and stodgy.  This is not the case.  We simply believe that Penny Park is worth preserving!  It shouldn't be mowed over and replaced with something completely different just because we have the money to do so.  We would love to see that money used to rennovate the park to maintain the spirit from which it originated.  The fact is, is that Penny Park IS old, and DOES need to be addressed.  At most, the park has a few more years left before it will likely need serious attention.  Let's use the money that is generously being put forth, but use it to preserve and (where necessary) update a space that is so special to so many.

  7. Discontinue the Proposed Project

    The City should just discontinue trying to renovate the park if there is so much uproar from the neighbors.

    For once, maybe the City can consider saving the $500K (truely a first for this Council), or at least re allocate it to a worth while project such as the renovation of the Clarke Mansion.

    The neighbors should consider purchasing the park from the City if so passionate and can then deal with the consequences of children playing on 24 year old equipment.


Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.