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Park District aims to chase out bad guys, attract families

Updated: December 28, 2012 6:28AM



Beyond live theater, the circus and movies, officials plan to expand programming in city parks in hopes of uprooting bad guys and attracting more families to take advantage of the outdoors.

“We believe that when communities own the park, when communities are active in the park, it’s a good place for families and community and it’s not a good place for bad guys — bad guys don’t want to be around good activity,” Chicago Park District Supt. Mike Kelly said.

Right now he’s working to expand programming. There will be more spaces for kids to enjoy Northerly Island’s camping events. And Shakespeare in the Park — which will expand next year thanks to the $500,000 NATO surplus money that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has dedicated to celebrating the bard under the stars.

In addition, Kelly is trying to get the word out to churches and community groups: If you want to plan evening events at a local park, the city will waive the fees.

Kelly said he had to strike a delicate balance in crafting his proposed $411 million budget for 2013: Erase a years-old problem of spending more money than is coming in while making sure his agency plays a role in curbing the violence that has turned some neighborhoods into shooting galleries. Already the city’s homicide count has surpassed 2011 totals.

If programs expand in neighborhoods hardest hit by the violence, the park district will think about bumping up security and police presence “if necessary,” Kelly said.

“We just want to promote a lot of activity in the parks once it starts getting warm next summer . . . after the kids get out of school,” Kelly said.

While he’s got big plans, Kelly said his budget proposal holds the line on property taxes and freezes fees for everything from kids summer camps to golfing. Golfing is free for kids 17 and under at the park district; check for times and locations. Discounts continue for families with more than one child in programs and families of active military personnel. And park program fees will be waived for active members of the military.



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