Mayor Emanuel announces Little Village park--but it's not enough

Yesterday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a new 21.5 acre park in Little Village on land that used to be a polluted brownfield and sits next to Cook County Jail.  “We want to prove that when you actually have all these activities, crime goes down, kids are safer,” they mayor said at the press conference.

Kim Wasserman-Nieto from the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, who appeared in an Emanuel TV campaign ad, is getting much of the credit.  She’s inviting everyone “to come out every day, every night.  Get your run on, get your soccer on.  Whatever it is,” Wasserman-Nieto says, “we got it.  And if we don’t. we will figure out how to get it.”

Finally—the city recognizes that over 6,000 young people in Little Village need summer opportunities and recreation.

The park will offer programs outdoor programs including movie screenings.

The park is needed.  But it’s not enough.  And the organizers and city leaders need to know this.

On Tuesday, Chicago Public Radio’s Jackie Serrato reported that residents remain disappointed the sprawling park doesn’t include a field house for indoor activities.  So when it’s too chilly (like many recent days have been) or raining and when winter comes, the new Little Village park becomes useless.  Residents of all ages remain stuck inside their homes.

An aging Little Village population also needs indoor areas that are appropriately cool and warm to play lotería, dominos, and simply gather comfortably.

While residents have the option of using the field house at Piotrowski Park west of 31st and Pulaski, Serrato reports that residents must cross Latin King territory into Two Six territory—and this boundary crossing can have negative affects on young people even if they’re not gang members.  Living on the other side can be an illogical justification for a beat down.  Furthermore–one field house for 6,000 young people is not acceptable.

In March 2012, a 6-year-old little girl was shot in front of her house blocks away from Piotrowski Park on a sunny Saturday afternoon while she played outside.  Many said the shots were intended for an adult who lived in her house.

The mayor yesterday encouraged residents to prevent gangbangers from making this new park theirs.  “Don’t ever allow this to go to the gangbangers,” he emphasized.

But as a someone who lived in Little Village for thirty years, as someone whose car was chased by stupid teens, as someone who had a gangbanger die on his front steps after he was shot walking by, as someone who was shot at and whose family faced the direct impact of gun violence, I know that residents aren’t simply “allowing” gangbangers to take over.

If this park is going to serve the Little Village community, Aldermen Cardenas and Muñoz—and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia—need to lead and form a strong partnership with police or private security to ensure that residents have a safe park.

A field house with meeting areas, a gym, a pool, and resources for organized day camps should have been part of the original plans.

Shootings at neighborhood parks happen, unfortunately, and we can’t wait for another innocent young person to get shot before city and community leaders realize—again—what they should have done.

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