Calls to quell Riot Fest should lead to compromise about Douglass Park

The park district should have a sit-down with the community about the frequency and size of music events and reach an arrangement that benefits residents.

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Festival-goers walk along Riot Fest grounds on day 4 of Riot Fest at Douglass Park, Sept. 19, 2021.

Festival-goers walk along Riot Fest grounds on day 4 of Riot Fest at Douglass Park, Sept. 19, 2021.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

You can’t blame Little Village and North Lawndale residents for turning up a nose at Riot Fest returning to Douglass Park next month.

Music festivals and special events have occupied the park for 40 days this summer, according to neighborhood organizers, restricting the neighborhoods from having full access to the 173-acre green space at 14th Street and Sacramento Blvd. in this all-too-brief warm weather season.

It’s too rash, in our view, to end all music festivals at Douglass Park, as suggested last week by Little Village organization Únete La Villita.

But the time has certainly come for the Chicago Park District to have a serious sit-down with the two neighborhoods about the frequency and size of events at the park — particularly those that charge for admission — and reach an arrangement that benefits both communities.

Overburdened by events?

The parks can be spectacular event venues — when things work correctly. Getting away from the bustle of the city to enjoy entertainment under blue skies and open spaces is among the better opportunities the city has to offer in the summer.

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But the crowds and associated noise can be a nuisance to neighbors, or others seeking to enjoy the park.

Anton Adkins, who lives near Douglass Park, told the Sun-Times last week he’s seen festival attendees sitting on stranger’s porches while waiting for rides and vomiting in private yards. And festival noise can go on for 12 hours a day, he said.

Big events like Riot Fest also leave the terrain pretty battered afterward, which keeps that section of the park out of commission or looking poorly until repairs are made.

“Although they are required to fix some of the damage that they cause in the park, it doesn’t happen immediately right after the festival ends,” Karina Solano, a community organizer with Únete La Villita, said. “So that affects some of the sports leagues that play in Douglass Park.”

That’s a lot to ask of a park and a neighborhood, particularly in areas of the city like Little Village and North Lawndale, which are historically underserved.

“City officials are innovative enough that they could find a central location for all the music festivals,” Adkins said.

Balance needed

The late Chicago landscape architect Alfred Caldwell — he gave us lakeside beauties such as Promontory Point in Hyde Park and Montrose Point in Lincoln Park — said the city’s parks are built for the “people of Megalopolis, including those without hope of escape in Buicks.”

Caldwell meant the parks are for everyone, with a special shout-out for those who lack the means to drive away from the city to experience nature and open space.

That’s why Chicago loves its parks. They were built for us. All of us.

But as is the case in Douglass Park, Chicagoans are increasingly, and rightfully, questioning how these spaces are being used — not just to provide the respite Caldwell talked about but to generate money for the city.

Douglass Park will host three major music fests before the summer is over.

“It’s just incredibly frustrating that there’s no community input for these mega festivals, and the people that are benefiting are not the most vulnerable people in our community,” Solano said. “So it’s really wrong.”

And if city officials see parks as moneymakers, that changes the game, whether it’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot chasing a dollar by trying to cram as much as possible inside and on top and around Soldier Field — or the deal that’ll send NASCAR racers blasting around Grant Park in 2023 and 2024.

Which isn’t to say parks should be entirely event-free. But a balance clearly must be struck that puts green space — and people — over the greenback.

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