The Chicago Park District Consent Decree

On May 13, 1983 the Chicago Park District (CPD) entered into a consent decree with the federal government, the result of a three year investigation and 1982 federal lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in the allocation of resources within the park district. The consent decree allowed the powerful CPD superintendent Ed Kelly to avoid an admission of guilt while providing a framework to address the supply, distribution, and maintenance of recreational services, programs and facilities of the park district. The decree sought to promote equal and non-discriminatory treatment of black and Latino communities through the establishment of rigorous and detailed systems, procedures and schedules that could assure equity for these neighborhoods and their parks.

For an initial three year period from 1983 through 1985, an Implementation Committee, separate from the CPD Superintendent and Board of Commissioners, was created to meet quarterly and implement the consent decree on the side of the park district. Parks were divided into eight priority rankings depending on facilities and needs (ex. swimming pools, size of fieldhouse, condition of playgrounds, etc.). Recreational personnel hours throughout these parks were maintained and increased as necessary. Depending on the type of park, staff were assigned to devise, promote, and direct recreational and instructional programming that met the interests of the community. When attendance of these programs failed to meet expectations, responsibility fell on the park district, rather than the community, which then determined the causes of the low attendance and took corrective action. This renewed commitment to communication, transparency, and community engagement energized the emerging park advisory councils, which would maintain the push for accountability and local oversight over the coming decades.

The consent decree also called for rigorously scheduled landscaping and maintenance, with a baseline set of keeping the parks clean, safe, and well-maintained. CPD was responsible for a daily patrol of the grounds within one hundred yards of buildings, removing all litter and trash. Furthermore, detailed capital improvement plans were laid out, with an annual minimum of $10 million ($24.5 million in 2017 dollars) in capital improvement funds to be directed at the replacement, rehabilitation, and improvement of fieldhouses, playgrounds, pools, etc. in under-resourced parks. Priority was placed on the rehabilitation and replacement of fieldhouses, followed by the rehabilitation of athletic fields and other equipment.

The decree was amended in 1988 due to the appointment of new CPD Board of Commissioners members in 1986 and new policies on fieldhouses and capital improvements in 1987, and its duration was extended to November 1990. However, a new five year capital improvement plan was developed in 1989 that was based on objective criteria for determining priorities. This plan led to a reconsideration of the extended decree and its dismissal on May 14, 1989 due to an agreement that structural inequities had been rectified.


Download the Consent Decree documents:

Consent Decree

Amendment No. 2 of Consent Decree

Dismissal of Consent Decree