PILSEN — Mayor Rahm Emanuel Thursday announced an ambitious five-year plan to renovate 300 playgrounds across the city over the next five years.
Emanuel said "Chicago Plays" will enable the Chicago Park District to rebuild, repair or refurbish 300 playgrounds citywide.
"We are breathing new life into our city, our neighborhoods, with our parks," Emanuel said. "Every child in the city of Chicago, regardless of ZIP code, regardless of neighborhood, will be within a 10-minute walk of a new park or playground."
According to Chicago Park District Supt. Michael Kelly, the program will be paid for with capital funds, budgeted at about $30 million a year, diverted from new field houses, which cost more and serve a smaller percentage of residents.
"We are prioritizing our funds," Kelly said. "Playgrounds, over the next five years, are going to be a priority for us."
As it is, the city will complete five new parks, two new field houses and 50 renovated playgrounds this year, as well as completing projects to rebuild 100 basketball courts and introduce 47 artificial-turf fields citywide.
Kelly said the rehab projects would be stretched by equipping some playgrounds with a spongy soft rubber surface, but most with a mulch surface. Chief of Staff Gia Biagi said the mulch is safe, cheaper and "more resilient over time."
Kelly said communities that desire the rubber surface playground and can find a way to pay the increased cost can opt for that, but most will receive mulch, which he said is equally safe.
Erma Tranter, president of Friends of the Parks, cheered the renovation program and embraced the use of mulch surfaces to expand its reach, saying, "the cost per playground is dramatically less."
Communities that organized to push for individual playground rehab projects would see results first, Tranter said.
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), who attended the mayor's speech at the Harrison Park Field House in Pilsen, said he was not concerned about any racial or status divide between playgrounds getting the soft surface and those getting mulch. He called both safe, adding, "As a kid, you want to have those bumps. It builds character."
The mayor also trumpeted five larger park projects previously announced: Maggie Daley Park adjacent to Millennium Park; Northerly Island; Little Village Park being built on a landfill; West Ridge Nature Preserve, to be carved out of 20 unused acres at Rosehill Cemetery on the Northwest Side; and Bloomingdale Trail, which he called a "rails-to-trails conversion."
Emanuel said he initially won funding for the Rosehill project while a congressman 10 years ago, adding, "Today, we finally deliver on that vision."
The city put out a map showing possible playground equipment renovations and targeting locations throughout Chicago.