Updated 4:48 p.m.
Thirty-five years after a federal court order forced the Chicago Park District to spend more equitably on city parks, public parks are still divided along neighborhood and racial lines. That’s according to Friends of the Parks’ 2018 “State of the Parks” report, which the advocacy group released Wednesday.
Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry summarized the report’s findings by saying, “The Park District is investing the least in the communities that need it the most.”
The group spent three years talking to park stakeholders, such as community park advisory councils, and analyzing documents obtained from the Chicago Park District through the Freedom of Information Act.
The 2018 report commends the park district for maintaining 8,800 acres of parkland across nearly 600 parks, and offering more than 26,000 activities. But the report also “suggests some rather obvious disconnects between the Chicago Park District’s investments and the needs of underserved communities.”
Irizarry said a lack of transparency by the Chicago Park District’s Board of Commissioners has led to “systemic discrimination against minority communities.”
The report broke down the findings into 10 key areas that need attention in order to create equal access to the city’s parks.
A big concern of Friends of the Parks is the shortage of parkland in Chicago’s Latino communities, including Little Village, West Elsdon and the Near West Side. The report found that these mostly Latino areas have only about 197 acres of parkland, “By far the least of any racial group in the city.”
Daniel LaSpata, principal investigator of the report, said parks on the city’s North Side, including the Albany Park, Forest Park and North Center neighborhoods, had the most robust programming available with almost 3,000 activities.
LaSpata contrasted that with the South Side, including neighborhood parks in Chatham, Englewood and Gage Park that offered about 750 programs. LaSpata noted those neighborhoods are mostly African-American or Latino.
Irizarry said the group has presented the findings to the Chicago Park District. The report outlines recommendations such as holding park district meetings across the city during evening hours so more people can attend.
Chicago Park District General Superintendent and CEO Michael Kelly said Wednesday afternoon he has not read all 81 pages of the “State of the Parks 2018” report, but that he disagreed strongly with the parts he has read.
Kelly said, “Their [Friends of the Parks] assertions that we’re shortchanging based on race is offensive.” Kelly claimed the report’s methodology “was flawed”, and said the group may be working off old data, and making outdated assumptions about Chicago’s public parks.
Kelly said the Chicago Park District meets with Friends of the Parks every month. The Superintendent said after he reads through the complete report, there needs to be a dialogue with the advocacy group about how to best move forward on how to work together on solutions.