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Big Trouble in Little Village

By: Emiliano Vazquez-Parrales, Section Editor for Student Voices (evazqu20@uic.edu)

Little Village. The Chicago Park District is no stranger to the misappropriation of funds amongst Southside and minority neighborhoods.

In 1982 the Federal Government filed a civil rights suit against the Chicago Park District bringing forth a broad range of discrimination charges in terms of the programs and facilities offered in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.  It was also the first time that the Federal Government had to file a lawsuit in order to enforce the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974.  This act basically states that any Federal Grants given to the Chicago Park District must be distributed without discrimination.  This still holds true to this day.  However it looks like the Chicago Park District is up to its old tricks again.

A 24-acre plot of land located on 31st and Albany was purchased by the City of Chicago two years ago for $7.5 million as part of the plan to build a new park on the site of the former Celotex asphalt factory.  According to a 2011 interview from Lawndale News, Executive Director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), Kimberly Wasserman,  said that it has been 75 years since a new park was built in the Little Village neighborhood.

The LVEJO, the Enlace Program, 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas, and the St. Agnes church started the campaign for a new park in Little Village eight years ago, and in 2012 Mayor Rahm Emanuel approved a plan by the Chicago Park District to invest $8-10 million to develop the new park, which is practically nothing compared to the amount certain parks downtown and in more affluent neighborhoods received when they were being constructed.

A grand total of $60 million will be invested in the construction of the 20-acre Maggie Daley Park.  Supposedly most of the money invested comes from a parking fund that was set aside when the downtown lots were originally leased which just goes to show how far in advance the construction of this park was being planned by the city.  A more extreme example is the 5-acre Mary Bartelme Park located in the Near West Side on Adams and Morgan, which cost the city approximately $22 million, according to the 2012-2016 CPD Capital Improvement (Construction) Plan Budget which has a total of $290 million.

The original plans for the Little Village park, acquired from a former LVJEO board member, included a theatre, a picnic area, vollyball court, fieldhouse, tennis court, ice-skating rink, farmers market, and a game area for dominoes and cards.  All of these areas were cut out by the Chicago Park District and the remaining areas like  the gardens, sledding hill, playgrounds and ball courts were drastically reduced in size and number.  The city does not even know if it will put lights on the basketball courts yet.  Meanwhile Maggie Daley Park will have a skating ribbon, two rock climbing structures, and a three-acre childrens playground in addition to the already existing Cancer Survivors Garden.

Little Village Park, also known as park #553, as it has not been officially named yet, will provide a new area of recreation for the people that live in the Little Village and North Lawndale community.  Piotrowski Park, located on the West end of Little Village, is the only other park in the area with a baseball field and basketball courts, and residents who wish to use the facilities often have to wait in long lines.  26th Street, which is the main street of Little Village, is the second highest grossing street in the city, next to Michigan Ave, yet Little Village doesn’t get nearly the same amount of attention as Downtown Chicago.  The case in point being that it takes 75 years for the city to even attempt to build a new park for the people that live in the neighborhood, and it only took the city nine years to begin constructing a new park downtown.

In truth, Maggie Daley Park is not really for the people of Chicago per se.  It is a place where tourists will go to have their pictures taken and then tell their friends what a lovely time they had visiting Chicago.  The people that live in neighborhoods like Little Village, Lawndale, Pilsen, and Engelwood are not going to go to Maggie Daley Park when they want to play ball.  They go to their community parks, and that is where the funding needs to go.  Chicago does not need another tourist attraction.  It needs parks, schools, and medical facilities for the people who struggle everyday to make a decent earning while the Mayor’s office squanders $60 million on a park to memorialize the Daley family, whom I think the city would rather forget than memorialize.

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