(WGN-AM)- Chicagoans love to brag about their open, people-friendly lakefront. In reality, 4 of the city's 30 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline are unavailable to the public--cordoned off by an intimidating combination of high-rises, "Private Property" signs and fences topped by razor wire. That's more than 13 percent of the waterfront, an outrageous violation of Daniel Burnham's ringing epigram that the lakefront "by right belongs to the people."

On Tuesday, however, the advocacy group Friends of the Parks unveiled a visionary plan that seeks to change that.

Called "The Last Four Miles," the plan proposes to plug these holes with 2 miles of new parkland on both the north and south lakefronts. If fully carried out, it would create a chain of parks, beaches, lagoons and bike trails that would stretch without interruption from the Evanston border on the north to the Indiana state line on the south. "Park poor" neighborhoods on the city's edges, which the City of Chicago defines as those with fewer than 2 acres of park per 1,000 persons, would get new swaths of green.

"There are people who don't sense that they have a lakefront park system. They don't have a place to bike or walk," said the group's president, Erma Tranter. "Where do they go to enjoy Lake Michigan, the breezes, the sun? They've been blocked off consistently from that land."

Now comes the hard part: The estimated tab for the Friends of the Park plan runs anywhere from $350 million to $450 million, and the non-profit has precious little of that money in hand. Nor does it have official backing from Mayor Richard Daley's Chicago Park District, even though the mayor, an avid cyclist, has publicly expressed frustration at gaps in the lakefront bike trail. Moreover, the plan is sure to face tenacious opposition from shoreline property owners in the Edgewater, Rogers Park and South Shore neighborhoods.

In light of the clashing views, the Chicago Park District's limited resources and its need to attend to the parks it already has, it was not surprising when Park District officials praised the effort associated with the plan Monday but stopped short of endorsing it.

This was the tepid response of Gia Biagi, the district's director of planning and development. "We appreciate ... that civic organizations are thinking about these broad plans and visions," Biagi said. "We appreciate the work that they've done to get these ideas to the table."

So take the Friends of the Parks plan for what it is--not a finished blueprint that is going to be transformed into reality any time soon, but an attention-getting concept that uses bold imagery to engage and excite the public about the long-term aspiration of a fully open lakefront, free from "Private Property" signs and razor wire.

Someday--decades from now--it actually might happen.

More from Blair Kamin in Cityscapes on chicagotribune.com

(The Chicago Tribune contributed to this story)

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