Opinion: When residents fight for their public spaces, they can win

By Charlie Billups

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]everal weeks ago, Humboldt Park residents won an important victory that shed light on a private-public partnership that locked out local the community’s access to public spaces created as resources for the community.

City officials and the Chicago Park District heard the voices of thousands of diverse residents in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, that Riot Fest’s incredible growth had taken away their beautiful park in the fall. The park district agreed, and Riot Fest was denied their festival’s return to Humboldt Park.

Now consider the following: In 2014, the festival grew to over four times its original size. This represented the first time since the park’s creation in 1869 that community residents were denied access to the entire park. Not only were residents, sports groups and local park vendors denied access, but also the set-up and breakdown of the festival caused major disruption of traditional events and a lack of park access for residents for weeks. Damage to the park and lack of response by festival organizers left a major part of the park unusable for the rest of the year.

In comparison, the area of the traditional annual Puerto Rican Festival was less than 20 percent the size of last year’s Riot Fest festival.

The Humboldt Park community lost their park for the fall, and they had enough. Over 3,000 community residents signed various petition to remove the festival from the park. Unlike the change.org petition that Riot Fest organizers promoted, over 90 percent of the signatures to remove the festival came from actual Humboldt Park residents.

Recently, an opinion piece appeared in EXTRA written by one of its reporters. Many residents who read the piece were hurt to see that they were being called radicals and part of a vocal minority who are a fear mongering, anti-gentrification hate group. Although he tries to accuse those who were against Riot Fest as race baiters, he goes on to remind Latino’s that they were not the first settlers in the neighborhood.

I guess these will be the new tactics used to attack those who wish to fight for their communities. This is very divisive. Shaming, name calling and marginalizing a community that has struggled for decades to call Humboldt Park their home is wrong. And it’s all because a major festival has outgrown its space. We have a long way to go to bring our residents together, a dialog where we see all of us as equals. Hopefully this will be a good start.

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