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A Cultural Revolution
In Chicago's Chinatown, carving a public space out of an urban wasteland.
By Mark Hinshaw

Ping Tom was a tireless advocate for the revitalization of Chicago's Chinatown neighborhood. His contributions are now commemorated in a new park that perfectly conveys the strength of his ideas and his passions.

Several decades ago, thoughtless planning by highway engineers resulted in the removal of the only open space in Chinatown. While an urban plaza had been constructed in the heart of the community, there was no green place to which to take families, friends, and visitors. Moreover, Chinatown had been slowly deteriorating; buildings and streets were falling apart. Little new investment had been seen.

In the late 1980s, the Chicago Parks Department acquired an odd piece of land that had been a switching yard for the railroads. Tucked along the Chicago River, it was cut off from Chinatown by an Amtrak line and an elevated segment of a Chicago Transit Authority line. Another side was sliced by an approach to a roadway bridge. As if that weren't enough constraints, the land sloped sharply down to the river's edge. All in all, this was not the ideal place for a park.

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