I am saddened when I see empty baseball fields on a nice summer day. I guess I am nostalgic – as when I grew up, bats, balls and pick-up games were an instrumental part of my friends’ and my summer activity.

So, I am disappointed when I see the baseball field at Touhy Park rarely, if ever, used.

Of course, it seems that these days, kids rarely play pick up  baseball or any sport at Touhy Park, though prior to Covid, several soccer leagues played organized soccer there, which seemed to be a wonderful almost festival like family activity. The players were skilled, dozens of spectators, presumably family and friends, lined the sides watching, little kids enjoying the playground or kicking the ball nearby. Ice cream vendors pushed their cart, hawking their product, clinging their bells.

During a typical summer, with the support of local elected officials, the Touhy Park Advisory Council put on occasional movie nights, often attended by over 250 people. In 2019, In the summer of 2019, the Summer before Covid, I remember watching Shakespeare on the Park – a wonderful presentation of Hamlet, attended by dozens of community residents.

Now it seems that with the exception of occasional dog walkers or two or three people kicking around a soccer ball, community members  rarely use the large open field at Touhy Park.

Of course, Covid likely had a large role to play in people avoiding the use of Touhy Park and many other parks for recreational play.

Then, in early in the Spring of 2021, homeless individuals started pitching tents in the western end of the park - at first, a few; within weeks, a full collection of 20 - 30  tents - different sizes; different colors.

Touhy Park Fieldhouse
Closed until further notice

Touhy Park is now no longer known as an intimate, family friendly park located in the center of a multiethnic diverse Rogers Park neighborhood, equipped with a functional field house, playground and baseball fields.

Now, its knows as the site of a substantial tent encampment - with the official word that the neither the Park District, the City nor the police will enforce 11:00PM curfews that once existed.

Who isn’t sympathetic to the plight of the homeless? We all know the challenges and cost of finding solutions to this enigmatic problem. I have heard people ask “Where will the folks who live in the tent go if the City enforces the 11PM curfew?” The Alderwoman advises us that, at her direction, social service agencies routinely approach the individuals in the tents offering options, which many residents decline - at least not when temperatures are pleasant.

Yet, word is out about troubling incidents this Summer.  The open fields in Touhy Park are rarely now used.
While walking Touhy Park earlier this afternoon, I counted around 25 tents. A couple of weeks ago, an individual “in the know" told me that most tents are double or triple occupied. That person told me other disturbing facts about the encampment and public safety.

Early August, out of safety concerns, the two day camps that used Touhy Park have moved a few blocks west to Pottawattamie Park. Also, as a result of a few unfortunate interactions between a couple of tent residents and students, the Grade 6 - 12 school across the street no longer uses the park for flag football nor girl’s soccer, voicing concern for student safety.

Is the lack of community use of the open fields at Touhy Park directly attributable to the tent encampments? Even without the encampments, who knows if kid pick up games will reappear, or soccer leagues choose to rent the field.

But so long as the tent encampments remain, it seems unlikely that Touhy Park will ever be able to achieve its potential - or anywhere near it.
When will local kids and families gather in Touhy Park again?

There was a Movie Night in Touhy Park a couple of weeks ago - I am told attended by around 20% of the number of people than who previously attended. This Saturday, August 20th, Shakespeare reappears - a production of Midsummers Night Dream at 6PM.  Hopefully those seeking a fun outdoor cultural experience will show up and enjoy.

Or, do we need to borrow from the famous Shakespeare soliloquy that I heard recited only three years ago at a Touhy Park presentation of Hamlet. Is community enjoyment of Touhy Park “to be or not to be?"