Photos by Brooke Collins

Ensuring Every Child, Family And Community Have Access To Parks And Quality Recreational Programming

Michael P. Kelly, General Superintendent and CEO of the Chicago Park District

Earlier this week, Mayor Emanuel shared “Building on Burnham,” his vision for the future of our city’s parks, waterfronts and neighborhoods.

On behalf of every employee of the Chicago Park District, it is a pleasure to have the support of a Mayor and a Board that recognizes and appreciates the importance of parks.

These resources are vital to the overall health of all communities — without exception.

Building on Burnham outlines a bright future for Chicago park space, but under Mayor Emanuel’s leadership, we have already witnessed dramatic expansion of Chicago’s park system.

We’ve added over 750 acres of new parkland, 256 new playgrounds and more than $800 million in capital investment from public and private sources.

As a park district, we welcome over 40 million visitors annually to our parks, zoo and museums.

In addition to those accomplishments, the Chicago Park District has become a nation-wide model in the park field where we’ve earned state and national accreditation — which is extremely rare for an urban park district; and was awarded the Gold Medal of Excellence for excellence in park and recreation management.

Also, our Night out in the Parks program is a great success and brings over a thousand free cultural events to Chicago’s neighborhoods each year. In fact, the program is so popular that — what was once a summer-only program — has now expanded to year-round.

Believe it or not, we even made a dent in the app industry.

The “My Chi Parks” App, launched just one year ago, carries the distinction of being the most downloaded municipal app — 75,000 and growing!

We see all of these milestones as a sign that our residents view our parks as an essential part of their lives and because of that we make sure to hear from Chicagoans on what they want and need from their neighborhood parks.

We’ve implemented neighborhood visioning meetings and bring our entire team, along with representatives of Chicago Public Schools and the police department, to a different neighborhood park each week to discuss facilities, programming, outreach, concerns and other issues that impact that park.

Together, we create a customized vision for each park and implement a plan that also takes future developments and changes in the surrounding community into consideration.

By implementing a strategic plan, we put children first, not revenue.

Last year we gave nearly $2.1 million in discounts and financial aid because NO child gets turned away for the inability to pay.

I often say, our success is measured by the number of people that come through our doors. Our goal is to see every park brimming with children, families and seniors; and every program filled to capacity. In order for that to happen, we must continue to take a thoughtful approach to the decisions and investments that we make in all communities.

As General Superintendent and CEO of the Chicago Park District, I have the awesome responsibility of ensuring every child, family and community have access to parks and quality recreational programming — “Building on Burnham” will help ensure just that.