On October 15th, the Office of Mayor Emanuel sent out a press release announcing the completion of his Chicago Plays program. This 3-year program is described in the press release as:
“Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Park District General Superintendent Michael Kelly today announced the completion of Mayor Emanuel’s Chicago Plays! playground initiative, which built or renovated 327 playgrounds across the City so that every child in every neighborhood is within a 10- minute walk of a world-class park or playground”
This is a great program in theory. There are many neighborhoods that do not have the green space my neighborhood has. We are blessed with a 40 acre space in the city with green space and other multi-use facilities. There is a nature preserve, gymnastics center, park district building, trees, fields, and lots of wildlife. Seriously, my city kids see deer so often they don’t think it’s a big deal anymore. Yet, here we are with a fence still up around our “new” playground, but in an effort to deter people from playing they added a sign that says it is still a construction area and to call 911 if you see someone inside the fence. Can you imagine that call to 911?
911 Operator: 911, what’s your emergency?
Good Samaritan: Yes, I’d like to report a mother and her child playing on the playground. Please send all available units immediately the little one is running. I repeat, the little one is running. You are looking for a young male heading north towards the slide…
We began the summer with two playgrounds in the large park district run area by our house. The park director told parents on the last day of classes in June that the older playground would be demolished and turned into green space. The other, playground which was still working fine would be replaced. The old playground was originally slated for demo in October, but for some (probably political) reason it was fenced off September 1st, 5 days before Chicago Public Schools started classes. That’s right, we ended our summer with a fence around our neighborhood playground. Oh, and by fence, I mean large fence panels being held up by sandbags, with a large gap that backs up to a field of stinging nettle.
This is one area of fence. Held up by orange sandbags.
As time has gone on, the new equipment has been installed. It’s been almost three weeks since the wood chips went in and the playground looks complete. Two weekends ago a group of teenagers breeched the “secure fencing” and a swing broke. On Wednesday of last week, there was a party van that pulled up filled with what I was told were from the group of big shots donors (one is the red spot in the above photo) who helped finance the park. They walked around the playground playing with things, taking selfies with their phones, and in general patting each other on the back for a job well done. All the while shooing off children who walked in through the portion of fence they left open.
The park director said the park was supposed to open last Friday, but they have to wait for the mayor to do a ribbon cutting. Why would he do a ribbon cutting a few weeks after he called the project complete?!? And why is the fence still up around our playground?!? Another sign on the fence indicates the park will open mid October…maybe they mean of 2017.
My kids wanted to see if the playground was open after dinner last night. As we walked over you could see people playing through the field of stinging nettle, but the fence was still up. My 6 year old is a rule follower, and she was very upset to see people playing when she has heard for almost 2 months that the fence is there for a reason and she can’t play inside it. She was also upset to see that a second swing has broken.
Again, in June we had 2 playgrounds, and by September 1st we had zero. We now have one, but it’s already falling apart…this is the “world class playground” the mayor talked about in his press release. The press release also says:
“The program invested an average of $135,000 in the construction of new playgrounds at each park location for a total cost of approximately $44 million, allowing for a broad investment in capital projects throughout the city.”
So, the city now has 327 new or rehabbed parks, but how many of them are still behind fences? And how many are only a month old and already breaking? Considering the fact that the swings take the least amount of materials to build, shouldn’t they be the least likely to break at the beginning? The giant slide, with play castle topper has thousands of pieces, and probably IKEA level directions. How can that monster pass inspection if the swings clearly can’t?
In the end, everything in Chicago is political. While my alderman, the mayor, and their minions are patting themselves on the back for all these great parks, we are left with crap equipment behind a crap fence. On the upside, every weekend that passes, more children learn about stinging nettle as they walk through it to get to the new crap playground. And seriously Mayor Emanuel, take down the fence before the sandbag breaks and a kid gets hurt when a fence panel falls on them.
And to the other parents in my neighborhood, if the fences are still up next weekend I say we all get together and simply move them to the side of the park district building. I’ll bring a cardboard cutout of the mayor, a red ribbon, and scissors for a tasteful dedication ceremony.
This is a picture from May, of my youngest on the swings, with some of the old equipment in the background…unlike the new park, these swings worked.