Advocacy in the Parks with Juanita Irizarry
Juanita Irizarry, Executive Director of Friends of the Parks, joined the Policy Research Collaborative for the third installment of our Speakers Series Initiative. For Irizarry, Friends of the Parks works towards the goal of preserving, improving, and promoting the usage of Chicago’s parks and open spaces under its commitment to the ideal of “open, clear and free.” A non-profit organization, Friends of the Parks strives to increase public participation in activities related to the parks. The issues Friends of the Parks grapples with a daily basis are complex; for this reason, she considers community engagement in policy conversations to be a win in itself.
In pursuit of this mission, Friends of the Parks engages the public through four types of programming: park advisory councils (PACs), environmental stewardship, environmental education, and its largest initiative, advocacy. PACs are leveraged to engage communities across Chicago regarding the use of local spaces, examining key concerns about building community, safety, and identifying community challenges. Irizarry utilizes on-the-ground community issues to identify systemic problems across Chicago. Environmental stewardship involves community efforts such as an annual Earth Day clean up and community service days. While environmental education brings Chicago’s youths out of the classroom and onto the Lakefront to learn hands-on about the environment, nature, and seasonal differences. Most of Friends of the Parks’ programming is dedicated to advocacy rooted in knowledge of local history, familiarity with current community concerns and legal precedent. Through these efforts, Friends of the Parks works to ensure the future of Chicago’s treasured parks and open spaces.
Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts – Chicago (Juanita Irizarry)
Notably, Friends of the Parks has a storied legacy of conserving Chicago’s celebrated Lakefront area. Signature projects include the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts, the Obama Presidential Library, and the Last Four Miles. Each project is unique and fraught with local and political intricacies. Irizarry treats each project individually, determining the best approach with the same core principle in mind: public interest. For example, Friends of the Parks employed a legal approach with the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts project, arguing that Lucas’ proposed museum violated the Public Trust Doctrine, which prohibits proposals for private benefit rather than public interest on public land. Moreover, Irizarry contemplates not only the issue at hand but the ramifications for future efforts to preserve public land. In the case of the Lucas Museum, FOTP foresaw a dangerous precedent for the proposals of other private constructions on public land. For other projects like DuSable Park, Irizarry finds intersections where Mayor Emanuel’s vision of a revitalized Chicago Riverwalk meets public interests in developing the 3.3 acre peninsula park along the Riverwalk.
For the PRC, Irizarry recognized the wide scope of public policy and the varying policy needs across different Chicago communities. Our mission at the PRC is to use data and research to help community partners effectuate policy solutions and inform advocacy efforts. Irizarry emphasized an individualized approach based on the project and key goals as well as patience, because public policy and community engaged conversations take time. Moreover, the emphasis of retaining public land for the public entails a focus on equity—ensuring that all of Chicago has access to parks.
For anyone considering getting involved in their local community and public policy for the future of Chicago’s parks and open spaces, Friends of the Parks is an inspiring organization eager to include all community members in these conversations. To learn more about Irizarry and the work she and Friends of the Parks are doing, check out the Friends of the Parks website or volunteer. Friends of the Parks will also be holding a conference from June 8-9, 2018 at Roosevelt University to examine the question “Parks as Democracy?” and to revisit the history of Friends of the Parks work in Chicago.