Hamlin Park Residents Focus on the Positive at HPAC Meeting

By Patty Wetli | Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Hamlin Park playground is ready for a makeover. Credit: Patty Wetli

Tuesday’s pre-dawn shootout between police and offenders in the 2200 block of W. Barry left Julie Balzarini shaken.”The shell casings were on the street right in front of my house,” she said. “My daughter’s bedroom is on that side of the house.”

After an initial freak-out, Balzarini collected herself. “I said, ‘I’m going to the park meeting and work on how to make this place better.’”

Purely coincidentally the Hamlin Park Advisory Council was scheduled to meet Tuesday night in the park’s fieldhouse. Though the shooting may have been on people’s minds, it was not on the agenda, which was firmly fixed on moving Hamlin forward.

HPAC had much to celebrate, including record-breaking tickets sales during its inaugural outing as host of Circus in the Parks this past weekend. Hamlin already has pocketed $10,000 from the sale of concessions and program booklet ads; in addition, all seven host parks will receive an equal cut of total ticket proceeds (so attending at Welles Park helps Hamlin and vice versa). Jody Boutell, HPAC president, has stated a fundraising target of $100,000 by next spring to show the Park District that HPAC means business when it comes to renovating Hamlin’s playground.

Though that goal seems ambitious to say the least, HPAC is optimistic. “Having the circus and having it be so successful, we can do this,” said Balzarini, who also serves as HPAC treasurer.

The playground, which hasn’t received an upgrade since wood chips were an innovation over concrete, was the main topic of discussion at last night’s gathering. Long-time neighborhood residents Maria Segal and Richard Blender of Blender Architecture were recruited to draw up initial designs for the playground and presented their first, largely conceptual take on what the playground could look like.

“You used to just go outside and play…build a fort,” said Segal. “We wanted to get some of that play back into the lives of children.”

Segal and Blender investigated a number of parks both in Chicago (the playground at the new 31st Street Harbor received much attention) as well as cities such as Philadelphia and Columbus. Their goal was to envision a play area that would feel unique to Hamlin and incorporate options that offered more than “just climbing a piece of equipment.”

“We don’t want the lowest common denominator for our neighborhood park,” said Blender. Added Boutell, “We could still have very modern innovative things that would blend in with the natural surroundings.”

The design included few specifics short of a tentative arrangement of play areas–where swings would be positioned, space for a water feature, etc. Suggestions such as a tree house (HPAC is insistent on incorporating the park’s existing stately trees into the playground) were more pie-in-the-sky than practical. The next step is to present the rough concept to the Park District before sharing it with the wider community in the event park officials reject certain elements out of hand. No sense getting folks excited about, or up in arms over, a swinging bridge if it doesn’t have a prayer of seeing the light of day.

“It’s more challenging than just proposing a layout of equipment,” said Boutell, acknowledging that HPAC’s holistic approach to playground renovation is atypical.

The roughly 15 neighbors who attended the meeting left energized, excited by the possibilities Segal and Blender presented and brushing aside news of the morning’s shooting.

“Now when an incident happens it’s big-time news because [violence] is on the decline,” said Boutell. “During the day, it’s Pleasantville around here.”

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