More access to more money means more park improvements

Kelly Park, in Chicago's Brighton Park community, floods every time it rains. The local advisory council spent years looking for outside money to seed the $1.4-million renovation, eventually landing a private grant before the Chicago Park District committed.  [Photo by Emily Jan]

Kelly Park, in Chicago's Brighton Park community, floods every time it rains. The local advisory council spent years looking for outside money to seed the $1.4-million renovation, eventually landing a private grant before the Chicago Park District committed. [Photo by Emily Jan]

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been hitting the public recreation scene hard, visiting more than a dozen parks across the city during the past month. Last week, he was at Bronzeville’s Anderson Park to unveil a new playground. The week before, he picked up a shovel in Morgan Park and broke ground on the $16 million Morgan Park, Beverly Sports Center. That was on the heels of a visit to Kelly Park in Brighton Park, where he unveiled plans to overhaul a 7-acre patch of green space.

“It’s the type of investment to Brighton Park as Millennium Park is to downtown,” Emanuel told reporters while pointing to a rendering of a new turf field and playground.

The comparison was a bit of a stretch considering the improvements at Kelly Park were funded to the tune of $1.4 million—just a small fraction of the $490 million it cost to finish off the crown jewel of Chicago’s parks.

Neighborhood activists spent years looking for money to level the field so it won’t flood when it rains and so kids can play soccer without twisting an ankle. They eventually landed a private grant that got the project going. Unlike Millennium Park, there were no corporate underwriters to call or special taxing districts to tap. But without the seed money, Kelly Park Advisory Council President Sara Reschly said the park district wouldn’t commit to a renovation.

Equality has long been an issue in the Chicago Park District. In our latest issue, we look at which neighborhoods are winners and losers when it comes to spending on recreation. We found that need doesn’t necessarily drive which parks receive improvements. Rather, it’s often which communities have outside money — grants, wealthy benefactors, city capital money that’s divvied up by aldermen or tax increment financing districts, better known as TIFs — that get the upgrades.

The result? More than half of the $500 million spent improving parks since 2011, the year Emanuel was elected, went to just 10 of the city’s 77 neighborhoods — seven of them are increasingly white, affluent and have access to outside money. Dig into this map yourself to see how your community compares.

 

 

We ranked the neighborhoods by total investment –capital spending between 2011 and June of 2014 along with actual spending on staff and materials at each park in 2012, the most current year available.

Check out our latest investigation for the backstory on equity in Chicago’s parks.

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