Illustration by Bushra Kabir
A park isn’t too much to ask for.
In Little Village, we have just one park, the 11-acre Piotrowski Park at 31st Street and Keeler Avenue, to serve more than 100,000 people, half under the age of 21.
I am a youth organizer at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and I am in the open-space campaign. I am currently pushing for a park in my community since we have a lack of open space.
In 2000, Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) promised us a park. Father Foley from St. Agnes of Bohemia, our local church, was willing to buy a site at Central Park and 31 Street for a youth center, but the city said the price would be too high. We later found out the city had sold the site to the owners of MRC Polymers for 50 cents per square yard. My community members were very upset and decided to protest in front of the site by using it for cookouts, soccer tournaments and other activities. The city responded by putting a gate up to prevent people from gaining access.
“For too many years, the only green space available in Little Village has been Piotrowski Park at 31st Street and Keeler Avenue,” said Jaime Seoane, president of the South Lawndale/Little Village Community Park Council. “Now this new park will provide a multitude of recreational and social programs that will impact the greater Southwest Side.”
Seoane is referring to the 24-acre property (bounded by 27th and 31 Streets and Sacramento and Albany Streets) the city has promised to the community. Once the Celotex Superfund site, it was remediated by the Environmental Protection Agency last year. Now it is private property, and the city is negotiating with the property owner, Joanne Urso, who is renting it to truck parking businesses without a permit.
“Every time I go to apply for a permit, they tell me about something else I need to do,” Urso told the Chicago Tribune in July.
“We would not be able to give the special use permit for parking trucks because it’s not what the community wants for the land,” Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said.
The city is offering her $7.1million but she says she wants a fair price.“ Urso has never objected to selling the property; she just wants to get a fair price," Urso's attorney, Stephen Helm said. “All the appraisals I have say it's worth in excess of $10 million; some are substantially more. The sale has stalled because the city has yet to disclose the appraisal that it is going to use in court in the eminent domain case.”
The city and the Chicago Park District have each pledged $4 million for the project and the state $8 million, according to Cardenas.
So we the people of Little Village carry on, waiting for the sale, the cleanup and a park we can enjoy. Maybe by next summer.