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Stunted Growth
Chicago gains open space, but less than thought.
A new park in Logan Square.
Micah Maidenberg

Chicago has added more than 500 acres of publicly accessible open space since 1998, boosting total acreage to just more than 12,000, a new city inventory calculates.

The data hints at both some of the open space successes realized during former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s tenure, and the unresolved issues the city faces on this front. The Daley years saw places like Millennium Park, full of artistic eye candy, and new frontage along the Chicago River make their debut. But places to gather and play still remain limited in a number of densely settled neighborhoods far from downtown and the lakefront.

A community like Brighton Park, on the Southwest Side, has just under 11 acres of open space, the inventory shows. A few miles to the east, along Lake Michigan, the Oakland area has 129 acres.

A new park in Logan Square.

“We still have work to do. We’re a built up city, so it gets more challenging,” said Erma Tranter, president of Friends of the Parks, an advocacy organization.

The inventory includes everything from Chicago Park District land to green ribbons along the city’s boulevard system. The park district accounts for the bulk of the city’s open spaces, offering more than 7,400 acres in all.

City planners used geographic information systems to scope Chicago’s 77 community areas for the inventory, resulting in what a spokesman said was more precise count than the 11,499 open space acres the 1998 CitySpace Plan found. Roadways and parking lots located inside of parks were counted as open space in that plan, a move that wasn’t repeated this time.

The new inventory is likely the first step in updating the CitySpace document, which a city spokesman said was “still very much a viable document in terms of priorities.” CitySpace set a goal of creating 90 to 100 acres of open space per year.

Achieving such a pace won’t easy during an era defined by tight budgets. Tranter, from Friends of the Parks, wants public agencies to scour their inventories for land that could be banked for future parks. City planners, meanwhile, are looking for ways to make routes to existing open spaces more convenient and accessible.

A few large new open spaces are coming around the bend, however, including a 24-acre park slated for Little Village, another Southwest Side neighborhood. And earlier this year the city transferred 653 acres of land on Chicago’s Far South Side to the park district for the Calumet Open Space Reserve project.

Micah Maidenberg