Park District Board Moves to Change Rules Surrounding How Park Names Are Changed

A movement to change the name of Douglas Park has sparked changes to the Park District's code. (WTTW News)A movement to change the name of Douglas Park has sparked changes to the Park District's code. (WTTW News)

In a move prompted by the controversy surrounding Douglas(s) Park, the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday at its annual meeting to begin the process of amending the district’s code in order to establish a clearer two-step policy for renaming parks.

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The issue came to a head in July when, at a hastily scheduled emergency meeting, the board unanimously agreed to initiate the process of stripping the name Stephen Douglas from Douglas Park and replacing it with Douglass Park in honor of abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass. (Activists are advocating for Douglass to also reference Frederick’s wife, Anna.) The July vote in turn kicked off a 45-day public comment period that is still underway and allows people to chime in with their support for or opposition to the name change before it’s officially adopted, likely at the board’s September meeting.

The code amendment proposed Wednesday is itself now subject to the same 45-day notice period. Assuming it’s ultimately approved, the amendment would separate the name-change policy into two parts: Stripping a park of its existing name would be the first step, and selecting a new name would be a separate, second step, as opposed to a two-for-one action. The rule change wouldn’t apply to naming new parks.

In the example of Douglas(s) Park, decisions surrounding the removal of one name and its replacement with another were considered in tandem. Moving forward, under the proposed amendment to the code, commissioners would first consider removal of the existing name. After the obligatory 45-day waiting period, if support outweighed objection, the name would be stripped. The process would then start anew to give the park a new name.

“We need to be deliberative how we approach this and how we go forward,” board President Avis LaVelle said in July, given the historic nature of many of the city's parks. 

Even though the amendment to the code hasn’t been approved, it’s already having an effect on name changes in the pipeline.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, three name changes were brought up for a vote. Two involved swapping out parks’ numbered designations: Park #543 would become Printers Row Park, and Park #568 would become the West Ridge Nature Preserve (something participants in the public comment portion said they were surprised to learn wasn’t already the case). In both of these instances, commissioners voted to move forward with the changes.

In the case of a proposal to rename Catalpa Park in the Archer Heights community as Chester Frank Kujawa Park in honor of a WWII veteran, commissioners pumped the brakes. The measure, which was brought forward via a City Council resolution, tested the as-yet-adopted amendment, which commissioners opted to apply preemptively.

The request to remove the name Catalpa Park will now move forward, with the public having 45 days to comment. The choice of Chester Frank Kujawa Park as Catalpa’s replacement will then require a second request.

Also considered at the meeting:

— Commissioners approved an ordinance authorizing the issuance of $4 million in general obligation bonds to fund harbor and marina improvements

— Commissioners authorized $1.3 million toward emergency shoreline repairs at Juneway, Rogers and Howard beaches.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

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