Friends Of The Parks Release Report Exposing Chicago Park District

Mike Krauser
December 12, 2018 - 1:07 pm

WBBM Newsradio/Mike Krauser

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- On the 35th anniversary of a consent decree that was designed to end Chicago Park District discrimination against minority communities, advocates for the parks said discrimination problems persist. 

Friends of the Park unveiled Wednesday The State of the Park report that found that significantly more money and programming goes to parks in white neighborhoods on the city’s North Side than black neighborhoods on the South and West sides. And found that Latino neighborhoods are making out the worst.

“On the 35th anniversary of the Consent Decree which was put in place to remedy the Chicago Park District’s systemic discrimination against minority communities, Friends of the Parks’ analysis finds that the Chicago Park District again is balancing its budget on the backs of African-American and Latino communities,” said Friends of the Parks Board Member and former Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners President Maria Saldaña. “In 2018, the Chicago Park District invested the least in park programming, capital, and park acreage in communities that need it the most. And we see a similar approach in their proposed 2019 budget.”

Lauren Molts, Friends of the Parks Board President, said this started with listening.

“Among many concerns we repeatedly heard from stakeholders on the South and West sides is that it is time for a new legal initiative against the Chicago Park District because of racial inequities," she said.

They’re not talking about a lawsuit. Not yet.  But Executive Director Juanita Izazarry said that the Park District needs to change.

“They seem to think that they are equitable serving the city and we beg to differ,” she said.  “If a child has to commute across the city to take advantage of a park program that is not equitable.”

“Teens shouldn’t have to travel for good programing. If parks were functioning properly we could significantly minimize the problems of violence plaguing our city. Way too few programs are being offered for children, especially teens, in their own neighborhood,” stated Jeanette Foreman, Vice President of Rosenblum Park Advisory Council and executive committee member of the Chicago Parks Consortium. “We have seen first-hand examples of community-engaged, high quality youth programming helping to diminish community violence, such as at Hamilton Park in Englewood, but the community has had to pool its own resources to accomplish that absent adequate park district funding."

Among key findings of the report, Friends of the Parks found that "50 percent of the money that the Chicago Park District budgets to subsidize the participation of needy youth doesn’t get used. While the Park District budget claims to offer nearly $3 million in annual financial assistance for daycamp participants, all customers are required to pay the full price before applying for assistance. Records Friends of the Parks received indicate less than $1.3 million in assistance being allocated in each of the last three years," according to a press release.

Michael La Farge, President of the Chicago Parks Consortium, said of the report: “It provides facts and numbers that prove our suspicions about park programming, budgets, transparency, capital improvement inequity.”

Friends of the Parks said they filed more than a dozen Freedom of Information requests with the Park District that former Park Board President Maria Saldona said weren’t easy.

“I think it goes back to governance and transparency.  We frankly don’t understand why some of this information is not made publicly available," she said.

Irizarry added, “We think everyone is complicit in this.  We do think sometimes the commissioners do what they’re told and aren’t even aware. But we certainly hold our mayor accountable.”

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Capital requests in black communities are approved at half the rate of those in white communities.
  • Higher income communities were almost twice as likely to have their capital improvement requests approved than lower income communities.
  • South Side parks of a similar size and class to those on the North Side have significantly smaller budgets.
  • While the official data show relatively low levels of reported crime on park property proper, highly publicized violent crimes in or near parks, gang member presence or unreported crimes, and a general sense of insecurity in and around parks are reported by many stakeholders and too often lead to parks that do not contribute to the health of the community.
  • Despite being created to be independent advisory bodies, Park Advisory Councils (PACs) are increasingly being subjected to unilateral control exercised over them by the Park District.
  • Chicago needs more parkland. Despite our rich Burnham Plan history which gave us a wonderful system of parks, The Trust for Public Lands’ 2018 report ranks Chicago as number 14 of 18 cities in terms of amount of park acreage per 1000 residents