They have met with some of the usual resistance from state authorities reluctant to finance city improvements and from some aldermen who want money now allocated for parks, trees and after-school programs redirected toward violence-prevention. The mayor has testily noted that after-school programs and parks, like La Villita, provide exactly the sort of safe spaces for young people that help reduce crime.
From Philadelphia to Seattle, other American cities are also banking on parks and public spaces to drive social and economic progress. Parks may not seem particularly urgent compared with the latest gangland murder epidemic; but the effort in Chicago to improve and expand them has, neighborhood by neighborhood, delivered long-term rewards. A few downtown showpieces, like the urbane Riverwalk and glamorous Millennium Park, have reaped immense financial windfalls for the city. Barack Obama’s presidential library in Jackson Park promises to become a major new attraction and help rejuvenate that part of the South Side.