Report Finds Discrimination in Chicago Parks Funding

Andy Berg Headshot

Chicago’s Park District still has work to do to ensure parks in black neighborhoods receive the same consideration and resources as those in predominantly white neighborhoods.

A report released by Friends of the Parks last week and reported on by the Chicago Sun-Times found significant inequities in programming and capital investments correlating with race and income levels across the city.

The report was published just as the Chicago Park District’s board of commissioners approved a budget for 2019.

That budget included 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 Friends of the Parks “State of the Parks” report is the first comprehensive analysis of district spending in decades. The report was compiled by the same group that filed the 1982 discrimination lawsuit, which lead to the 1983 federal consent decree.

“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’s findings include these conclusions:

  • 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 their now being the city’s largest ethnic group.
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