Daniel LaSpata, Planning & Policy Associate:
It is my pleasure to welcome you to our “Black and White Party for the White City” commemorating the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. We hope you’ve enjoyed the music of the fair that greeted you during the reception and the narrated tour thanks to Ray Johnson of Friends of the White City.
We are excited to share more of the story of the World’s Fair with you through the lenses of resilience and resistance. Earlier this year, Friends of the Parks co-hosted with the Hyde Park Historical Society and the DuSable Heritage Association a lecture and tour of Jackson Park framed through the experience of Frederick Douglass, whose resistance to the ‘White City’ was played out in part by his role representing the country of Haiti—the only African diaspora country which had a pavilion at the Fair.
Tonight, we tell more of the story, through the voices of women.
And to do so, I am happy to hand the mic over to three fabulous females of Friends of the Parks: our Board Secretary and chair of our Board Governance and Nominating Committee, Troy McMillan; our executive director, Juanita Irizarry; and our board chair, Lauren Moltz.
Troy McMillian, Board Secretary and chair of our Board Governance and Nominating Committee:
Chicago’s World’s Fair rose out of the ashes of the Chicago fire. I hope you know your Chicago history—remember the Great Chicago Fire took place in 1871. Two decades later, Chicago showed off with the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. It was a marker of Chicago’s resilience.
But it was also marked by resistance:
Ida B. Wells was a well-known African-American activist, community-builder, and journalist, who specialized in bringing light to the unjust lynchings of Black men. She came to Chicago to protest the exclusion of African-Americans from any kind of significant representation and participation in the World’s Fair. A mentor to W.E.B. Du Bois and a good friend of abolitionist and freedom fighter Frederick Douglass, she wrote the majority of the pamphlet called: “The Reason Why the Colored American is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition”
Its preface reads as follows:
“Columbia has bidden the civilized world to join with her in celebrating the four-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America, and the invitation has been accepted. At Jackson Park are displayed exhibits of her natural resources, and her progress in the arts and sciences, but that which would best illustrate her moral grandeur has been ignored.
The exhibit of the progress made by a race in 25 years of freedom as against 250 years of slavery, would have been the greatest tribute to the greatness and progressiveness of American institutions which could have been shown the world. The colored people of this great Republic number eight millions – more than one-tenth the whole population of the United States. They were among the earliest settlers of this continent, landing at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 in a slave ship, before the Puritans, who landed at Plymouth in 1620. They have contributed a large share to American prosperity and civilization. The labor of one-half of this country has always been, and is still being done by them. The first crédit this country had in its commerce with foreign nations was created by productions resulting from their labor. The wealth created by their industry has afforded to the white people of this country the leisure essential to their great progress in education, art, science, industry and invention.
Those visitors to the World’s Columbian Exposition who know these facts, especially foreigners will naturally ask: Why are not the colored people, who constitute so large an element of the American population, and who have contributed so large a share to American greatness, more visibly present and better represented in this World’s Exposition? Why are they not taking part in this glorious celebration of the four-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of their country? Are they so dull and stupid as to feel no interest in this great event? It is to answer these questions and supply as far as possible our lack of representation at the Exposition that the Afro-American has published this volume.”
As we all know, we as a society are still working on the concerns raised in Ida B. Wells’ pamphlet—here in Jackson Park, across Chicago, and across this country.
Nonetheless, after the fair, Chicago’s resilience continued to be manifest as Daniel Burnham (thanks for being here, Daniel Burnham, by the way) turned his attention to developing the “Plan of Chicago,” which became known as the Burnham Plan. It prominently featured an amazing park system–with many big regional parks, connected by tree-lined boulevards, and even proposals for what became the county’s forest preserves.
The vision of Chicago’s early park planners and that of Friends of the Parks is that parks should be democratic spaces–open to the masses.
“The Lakefront by right belongs to the people,” wrote Burnham. “Not a foot of its shores should be appropriated to the exclusion of the people.”
Thank you Mr. Burnham!
Juanita Irizarry, Executive Director:
While the vision of Daniel Burnham, Montgomery Ward, and their contemporaries inspire us, we as an organization have been grappling with the gap between that vision and the reality of how some Chicagoans—back then and now—at least some of the time experience Chicago’s parks.
And, we recognize the on-going need for resistance and resilience.
In that spirit, it behooves me to make some connections to another significant event that some of us are remembering today as well.
On the heels of a hurricane on the east coast, we have arrived at September 20, the anniversary of Hurricane Maria pummeling Puerto Rico, the island of my heritage.
Behind me you see slides of bomba dancers in Chicago’s parks. Bomba is a music and dance of resistance and resilience, celebrating the African roots of Puerto Rican culture. We enjoy these slides thanks to the photography and community leadership roles of Charlie Billups, our photographer here tonight and one of our newest board members. He is a native of Puerto Rico, and for many years now–my neighbor–near The 606 and the border of Logan Square and Humboldt Park, the Puerto Rican “barrio” where tonight so many of our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters, our fellow countrymen, our “compatriotas,” are gathered at another gala—that of Humboldt Park’s National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture—one of Chicago’s Museums in the Parks, (converted from a former horse stable, by the way, not built newly in a park to create a museum, for the record.) Their program tonight is focused on commemorating this somber anniversary.
Not only the physical space on the island but the people of Puerto Rico both there and here have been beaten down in many ways over the last year. My own step-daughter moved from Puerto Rico to Chicago to live with us as a result of the hurricane (and is here with us today. I’m so going to get in trouble for this.)
And there’s the incident surrounding Mia Irizarry (no relation, thanks to the many of you that asked.) A Puerto Rican woman who lives here in Chicago, an incident that made the news in which she was harassed in Caldwell Woods, a Chicago Forest Preserve, by a man who didn’t think she as a Latina had the right to peacably have a picnic in a park or even be in this country.
And my and Charlie’s own experiences at Humboldt Park and its Park Advisory Council—in a park situated in what is now a gentrifying community—are sometimes marked with the tensions between the cultural and community-building activities that the Puerto Rican community has enjoyed in Humboldt Park for so many years and the types of activities that some of the neighborhood newcomers think are more appropriate.
In response to our struggles with gentrification and alienation and in the face of the president’s inhumane responses to the great devastation of Puerto Rico, we rise up in resistance.
Both here and on the island.
Just today the Humboldt Park community sent another—and final—load of supplies to Puerto Rico—not long after we all learned of the Government of Puerto Rico report that approximately 3000 people died in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria.
300 people died in the Chicago fire.
Post-fire and post-Fair, Chicago laid out a system of parks and beaches and boulevards and field houses in the insistence that a healthy system of parks was key to being a world class city. Of course, they didn’t bounce back immediately. 20+ years had passed since the Great Fire when the fast-growing metropolis pulled off the World’s Fair.
In post-hurricane Puerto Rico, at this point, they’re talking about selling off public beaches. Coincidentally, my step-daughter was here in Chicago visiting with us when the Lucas Museum battle came to a close in 2016. On the very day that Lucas said that he was abandoning Chicago because he didn’t get the lakefront site that he demanded, an announcement was made in Puerto Rico about selling off public beaches. It’s no secret that Puerto Rico’s economy was already struggling badly before the hurricane. Their budget woes have looked quite a lot like Illinois,’ actually.
I so hope that in Puerto Rico’s pursuit of resilience, they can hang on to what has long been a particularly unique reality in the Caribbean—their system of public beaches. And may they derive inspiration from the post-crisis city that produced the Burnham Plan.
Though I wouldn’t suggest they look at our current example, as the City keeps insisting on handing lakefront parks over for development for $10 for 99 years.
Lauren Moltz, Board Chair:
As we reflect back on the Gilded Age economy and attitudes that gave us the Burnham Plan, we realize that we have come quite far but also have a long way to go. We value the concept of parks as democratic spaces while acknowledging that many among us have not always been or felt welcome in them. We refer to our parks, and especially our lakefront, using the Lungs of the City concept that traces back to times of utter urban filth and stench and the respite from such conditions that urban green and blue spaces could represent. Yet we acknowledge that many Chicagoans aren’t familiar with the metaphor or are too consumed with keeping their children fed, educated, and safe from gunshots to be able to prioritize the role of parks in public health, environmental health, community health, or even individual health. And yet others have endured green and blue spaces that are subject to so many in-ground or in-water toxins or ambient environmental pollution that those spaces are no true escape at all.
And at this year’s Parks as Democracy? conference, we had a plenary panel at which we discussed the North Branch Parks and Preserves vision, thanks to a very informative presentation by Richard Wilson (who is here with us today) and moderation by one of our newest board members, Anton Seals, (who is here with us today.) As Friends of the Parks and the other members of the North Branch Parks and Preserves coalition resist the plan we’ve seen so far coming from Mayor Emanuel and Sterling Bay as the North Branch Industrial Corridor redevelopment is planned—as we seek much more parkland than is currently conceived of—the panel generated energetic feedback from the audience and a very important conversation. A concern about a lack of equity was noted, as some asked why anyone would put so much money into a huge new north side park when Chicago’s west and south side are so underinvested. And others noted that the industries displaced from the area to make way for the parks we so desire are probably headed to south side communities that have long been dumping grounds for dirty industry.
Next year is the 110th anniversary of Daniel Burnham’s “Plan of Chicago,” and our mayor has been evoking the Burnham Plan quite a lot—talking about “Building on Burnham” in referencing his plans for our park system and in casting his vision for the transformation of former industrial sites along the Chicago River.
With these contexts and conversations in mind, Friends of the Parks’ extended environmental scan and strategic planning process has given birth to a new mission statement as well as a new vision and values statement. I’m going to read them for you, but you also have a copy of them in your bag to take home with you—and memorize! J
Mission: Friends of the Parks inspires, equips, and mobilizes a diverse Chicago to ensure an equitable park system for a healthy Chicago.
Vision: Friends of the Parks envisions a well-balanced Chicago park system, protected by Chicagoans for Chicagoans, to advance the individual, community, public, ecological, and economic health and well-being of our city.
Values: Friends of the Parks believes that a healthy park system:
It was already a new “Daniel Burnham” moment, and then we heard that Chicago will have a new mayor. Together, we have an extra-special opportunity for change in Chicago.
How will we live into this moment, and what will our legacy be?
Will you join us we resist injustice and fight for resilience? As we support and promote one another and every community while also resisting bad park policy and ensuring the resilience of Mother Earth?
We sure hope that our time together tonight will serve to inspire, to equip, and mobilize you to strive with us for “Healthy Parks for a Healthy Chicago!”
As we tackle the next iteration of our work according to our new mission, vision, and values, we are so glad to be doing it under the leadership of our executive director. And it is our pleasure to share with you a big secret. The official public announcement should be made next week, but we got special permission to share this news with you today.
Juanita Irizarry has been chosen to be among the 2019 cohort of the Chicago United for Equity fellows!
Chicago United for Equity takes a systems approach for racial equity by cultivating a 9-month civic activation program for individuals across government, organizing, media, business, union, and non-profit organizations. The fellowship trains Chicago leaders to reimagine structures, policies, and practices through a racial equity lens to building a more just, equitable, and inclusive Chicago. The program offers the opportunity to learn from change movements across the country, meet people with different types of power in Chicago, and practice making change with a supportive team.
The work of the 2019 CUE cohort will be featured as a playbook of equity strategies for our region, and individual Fellows and their host organizations will be recognized for their work as equity leaders in our region.
We are so excited for this learning and leadership opportunity for Juanita and Friends of the Parks as we strive for Healthy Parks for a Healthy Chicago!