Park District still discriminates, decades after consent decree lifted: report
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Thirty years after the Chicago Park District’s release from a U.S. Justice Department consent decree, the district still is tinged with racism, funneling more resources to parks in white communities of means while parks in poor black and Latino communities are neglected, according to a report released Wednesday.
The new report by Friends of the Parks, which found significant inequities in programming and capital investments correlating with race and income levels across the city, was issued as the district’s board of commissioners approved a budget for 2019.
Included in that budget was a $2.7 million increase in its contract with SmithGroupJJR, the company hired to oversee the South Shore and Jackson Park renovations that include a controversial new golf course near the site of the Obama Presidential Center.
The new report, “State of the Parks,” is the first such comprehensive analysis of district spending in decades, by the same group that filed the 1982 discrimination lawsuit leading to the 1983 federal consent decree. The decree was dismissed in 1989.
“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,” Saldana said.
The report was released at a press conference before the district’s monthly meeting, where the group’s president, Juanita Irizarry, ticked off its key findings:
- Parks programming on the predominantly white North Side is significantly greater than that on the predominantly black South Side, and South Side parks of similar size and type to those on the North Side have significantly smaller budgets.
- Capital investment requests in black communities are approved at half the rate of those in white communities, and correspondingly, higher-income city areas were nearly twice as likely to have those requests approved, than poor areas.
- Latino communities had the least amount of parkland and their parks got the least amount of investment, despite they’re now being the city’s largest ethnic group.
“Members of the community have been saying to Friends of the Parks over the last three years that it felt like there was not an equitable distribution of resources, and that maybe a new lawsuit was in order. And so we decided it was time to do some research,” Irizarry told the Sun-Times afterward.
Park Board President Jesse Ruiz took issue with the findings at the meeting. District spokeswoman Michele Lemons said the Board would be issuing a response to the report, but it was not received by late Wednesday.
Regarding reasons for the increase to the original $1.1 million contract with SmithGroupJJR, Lemons said: “The increase in the contract amount will enable the District to move forward with designing a broader scope of projects than the previous contract allowed.”