LITTLE VILLAGE — The newly minted La Villita Park in Little Village will offer organized activities and free movies every weekend this summer as the city rolls out a new violence-prevention program, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Thursday.
"No other park in the city of Chicago is going to have this amount of activities," Emanuel told several dozen families and community organizers gathered at the park, 2800 S. Sacramento Ave., on Thursday afternoon.
"We want to prove that when you actually have all these activities, crime goes down, kids are safer," he continued. "And then we can take it all over the city of Chicago."
La Villita is a sprawling 21.5-acre park that, until recently, was nothing more than polluted brownfield. The Chicago Park District procured the land in 2012 and worked closely with locals and activists from the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization to make plans for the park. La Villita was dedicated in December.
La Villita Park will offer sports, activities and movies every Thursday, Friday, Saturday this summer. [All photos by DNAinfo/Erica Demarest]
This summer, the park will offer organized activities, including adult softball and youth soccer on Thursdays, and movie screenings and three-on-three basketball on Fridays.
"This is a wonderful, beautiful addition to Chicago. ... And let's face it, it is a jewel for Little Village," said Michael Kelly, the park district's superintendent and chief executive officer.
According to Emanuel, there are 6,000 children living within a few blocks of La Villita. By offering organized activities and safe space, he said, the city hopes to stem violence in the area.
"This could be your park, your family's park, a place where your kids can be safely playing," Emanuel told the crowd. "Don't ever allow this to go to the gangbangers. If you come here with grandma, grandpa, parents and kids — they will not be here."
If all goes well, the mayor said, similar programs with organized cultural and sporting events will be rolled out across the city.
On Thursday, Emanuel pointed out that La Villita Park is the largest brownfield conversion in the U.S.
Kim Wasserman-Nieto, organizing and strategy director for the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, spoke briefly about the park's history.
Kim Wasserman-Nieto (l). and Mayor Rahm Emanuel (r.).
"You are standing on 20 years of community struggle to make this park happen," she said. "I invite you to come out here every day, every night. Get your run on, get your soccer on. Get your basketball, skating. Whatever it is, we got it. And if we don't, we will figure out how to get it."
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