Blair Kamin: Half of Chicago’s 2.7 Million Residents Live in Park-Poor Areas

Chicago has some of the most high-profile city parks in the United States, including Millennium Park, Grant Park, and Jackson Park.  But as Tribune architecture columnist Blair Kamin reports, access to those parks is not equally distributed.

Despite former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s much-ballyhooed push for new parks and playgrounds, one-half of Chicago’s 2.7 million people still live in community areas that fail to meet the city’s own modest standard: For every 1,000 people, there should be 2 acres of open space, an area roughly the size of Soldier Field’s entire playing surface.

Many of these areas have so little parkland that it is no exaggeration to call them “park deserts,” a name that suggests a similarity to “food deserts,” where healthy, affordable food is hard to obtain.

Indeed, the park deserts extract a comparable human toll, denying children and adults a place to exercise, cutting them off from contact with nature, and robbing them of a chance to form bonds of community.

In Brighton Park, just south of the industrial corridor along the Stevenson Expressway, 45,368 people share just 10.6 acres of open space. By comparison, northwest suburban Buffalo Grove, population 41,496, has more than 400 acres of parks, playgrounds, sports fields, bicycle trails and picnic areas.

Kamin then suggests several steps the city can take to improve the situation, including making better use of existing parks, as well as transforming disused areas (such as the proposed Bloomingdale Trail) into new parks and city farms.

These issues are explored in Roosevelt’s SUST 210 The Sustainable Future and SUST 320 Sprawl, Transportation and Planning seminar (offered online in Spring 2012).  For information on enrolling in future semesters of these or any other of our courses, visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email

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