Group says parks in white areas get more support than black, Latino neighborhoods

CHICAGO — Parks in majority-white areas of the North Side get more resources than those serving black and Latino residents on the South and West Sides, according to a new study released by advocacy organization Friends of the Parks.

"We had been hearing from community residents that they perceived a lack of equity and investment in park district facilities, and so we thought it was time to do some research," Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry said of the study.

The group says 35 years after court-enforced reforms were put in place to ensure equitable funding, the Park District is still leaving some communities behind.

"North Side programming was very robust, and if you compared an area on the South Side, you found that there were very few programs offered locally," Irizarry said. "It seems that the park district would expect kids on the South Side to have to travel across the city to find good programming."

After filing a Freedom of Information Act request to get access to documents from the Chicago Park District, Friends of the Parks released an 81-page study alleging:

  • Programming on the North Side is significantly greater than than on the South Side
  • Capital investment requests in black communities are approved at half the rate of those in white communities
  • Latino communities have the least amount of parkland

"We see the Park District prioritizing revenue generation. So the programs happen in communities where people can most afford to pay," Irizarry said.

The park district says a record number of families are relying on its programming, with enrollment up almost 50 percent since 2012. Chicago Park District President Jesse Ruiz says tremendous investments are being made on the South and West Sides, and Friends of the Parks' work product is incomplete.

"I don’t know how they back into those conclusions," Ruiz said. "They weren’t completely thorough in terms of the scholarly work; this is at best a 'D' effort."

Ruiz contends some of the largest investments the park district is making are in communities Friends of the Parks says are being ignored, like Big Marsh Park and Gately Field House on the Far Southeast Side .

"There’s a lot of checking with us they could have done to portray an accurate picture. That never happened," Ruiz said.

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