In 2007 a story leaked that the Chicago Park District had entered into a secret deal with the private Latin School of Chicago, which borders the public Lincoln Park, to permit the Latin School to tear up a long existing natural grass field in the park that was being used for open public recreational activities and free play and turn it into a one use artificial turf soccer field under the primary control of the Latin School, who was already freely using Lincoln Park as its outdoor athletic field. Private educational institutions do not pay the Park District real estate taxes that regular taxpayers must pay.
The governing Board of the Latin School, and many alumni of the school, are prominent in Chicago politics and business, including by chance one who at the time was a Commissioner of the Chicago Park District.
A group of concerned local neighborhood residents smelled something rotten and started to meet in a coffee shop across from the park and the Latin School and to talk to each other about what was happening and how to raise a protest. When the media, the Alderman, other environmental groups, or the Mayor and the Park District showed no intention to stop the arrogant land grab, the “Coffee House” group said “if not me, who” and collectively decided to organize what became POP (Protect our Parks) a non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable corporation to do whatever it might take to undo the illegal Latin School deal.
A public meeting was called, a large turnout of local residents responded, motivated speakers were heard, money was raised, in depth research of the land grab was initiated, a lawyer was found who offered to work for discounted pro bono rates, and a detailed lawsuit was filed in the Chancery Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County.
By luck of the draw, the assigned judge was not another political party hack but open minded, understanding of the law, and resistant to the army of City, Park District and Latin School insider lawyers who swarmed the courtroom in an effort to crush POP. They failed and the Latin School soccer field deal was scrapped – BUT – shortly thereafter in another secret back door deal the Park District voted to itself build the identical Latin School desired artificial turf soccer field in Lincoln Park at taxpayer expense, the Chicago Plan Commission brushed off all objections and rubber stamped it, and after another valiant POP legal effort, this time before another hostile judge, and this time unsuccessfully all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, it became a fait accompli. All the authorities who are sworn to protect and defend the public interest took their directions from another master.
There is an expression “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”, from the writings of Juvenal, literally translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?”. What we have learned, when public parks are involved, with public support, if not me who, it has become the mission of POP.