The Chicago Park District is approving and funding capital improvement requests in rich white communities at almost twice the rate as low-income minority communities, according to research by Friends of the Parks.
In its annual State of the Parks report, the nonprofit organization argues that parkland, amenities and programs are unequally distributed by the Chicago Park District, which voted Wednesday to approve its 2019 $464 million budget.
The Friends of the Parks analysis found capital improvements requests in black communities were approved at half the rate of those in white communities and richer communities were almost twice as likely to have their capital improvement requests approved than lower income communities. The analysis showed that of 106 capital improvement projects that were approved in 2016 and 2017, half came from just 33 of the district’s nearly 600 parks.
When the projects were analyzed by race and class, they found that while black community areas have twice as much parkland as white communities, their capital requests were one-third as likely to be approved.
Latino communities, where the study found there are about 197 acres of parkland, fared even worse – only eight of the submitted capital requests were approved.
“We’ve had a lot of folks in the community say ‘we’re concerned that we see inequity in the way the park district is investing across the park district’ much like when the park district was sued for its discrimination against minority communities,” said Irizarry.
The report argues 35 years after a consent decree was established to ensure equitable funding for parks across the city, the park district is now losing the ground it built.
Along with maintenance requirements, the 1983 decree outlined a minimum of $10 million in spending with priority given to “parks of concern,” identified by experienced neglect and inadequate staffing. The decree was dismissed in 1989 following a new capital improvements plan.
Jesse Ruiz, President of the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners, pushed back against the report’s findings, but said he’d only reviewed parts of the document ahead of the Wednesday meeting.
“We obviously disagree on some of these points. Some of them are just flat out incorrect because it wasn’t a complete dataset that was looked at,” Ruiz said.
“There’s a lot of critical studies of the Chicago public schools but there was always an advanced meeting to go over that because sometimes they weren’t always right and they would give the school district the opportunity to correct incorrect assumptions or incorrect premises. We look forward to doing that in this case because there are certain things that are just not accurate,” he said. Ruiz is a former CPS board member.
The first State of the Parks report was created following the dismissal of the consent decree. Following a 2014 investigation by the Chicago Reporter about lingering inequity in park access, Friends of Parks conducted a listening tour of South and West Side communities to collaborate on the research for the latest report.