"It is easier to build a strong child than to repair a broken man." - Frederick Douglass

North Lawndale Against Disruptive Events Like Riot Fest

North Lawndale
Courtesy of Chris Dwalker (Flickr CC0)

There has been a common sentiment forming recently in the North Lawndale community; that the big concerts and shows here are becoming harmful to the community. A good example of this phenomenon is the anticipation of what is called “Riot Fest.” This is a multi-day concert/show with multiple performing artists from across the city. Normally this would be a good thing; something good for the community to enjoy. However, it has in the past proved itself to be a hindrance to the community. The event doesn’t just involve the 3-4 odd days when it happens. There are major preparations which include locking away the park in which it takes place. This means that the greater Lawndale community can’t access the park for multiple weeks on end for something that many of the residents may not even enjoy.

These concerts have not only become a public nuisance but a reminder that gentrification is always a few blocks away. North Lawndale is a Black and brown working-class area. The people that are going to these concerts are not the ones that live here. They are white suburbanites and white city people go to these events and with their very presence, they harm North Lawndale. This isn’t because of their skin color, but rather the power their skin color holds. Historically speaking, white people in large groups don’t go well for working-class Black and brown people. With a sustained effort, all it takes is these sorts of events happening over and over again for a community to be primed for gentrification. Gentrification is the process in which a colonizer displaces and replaces a colonized communities’ space.

North Lawndale
Courtesy of Swimfinfan (Flickr CC0)

Some may believe that to call this gentrification is hyperbole or at least a stretch of the imagination. They are unfortunately wrong. Gentrification doesn’t just happen by raising rent prices and pricing people that have lived here for decades. It happens in a multitude of ways. This happens to be one of them.

The concerts are not just concerts, it is a passive but hostile takeover of a Black and brown neighborhood. According to Block Club Chicago, ”In addition to residents’ frustrations over the noise, damage to the park, crowds and parking issues, they said it is unfair their youth programs and sports leagues are displaced from Douglass Park so private companies can profit.” These corporations simply don’t care about the community they impact with their businesses. If it doesn’t hurt or boost the bottom line, it doesn’t matter.

The impact these concerts have on communities like these cannot be understated. Instead of a concert, a few members of the community will go. Maybe there could have been a cultural celebration, a cultural film festival, or a block party. Anything but this, something that barely benefits the community and if analyzed critically can be seen as dangerous. Many people feel it takes up space that isn’t theirs; it isn’t their North Lawndale.

It’s the people who live here every day, the folks that take walks outside and smell the flowers, the older people in the community, the young people, and everyone in between. The individuals that live here know what North Lawndale is, and it isn’t something one can learn on a 3-4 day trip or from a few headlines. The residents of North Lawndale deserve a home and community that is undisturbed by the city folk and by forces that wish to disrupt and disturb the community. North Lawndale is a home for the families that live there and the city of Chicago needs to do better when it comes to protecting this community.

What can be done? Well, the concerts can simply be moved somewhere else. However, that is easier said than done. Residents feel these concerts are actively harming the Greater North Lawndale community. So the end all be all is that they leave this community. However, radical change isn’t America’s strong suit so there are smaller steps that can be made beforehand. Smaller reforms could look like giving a section of the profits back to the community through an experienced non-profit. Or working through the aldermen to fund public projects like fixing the roads and getting the trash out of the grass. They don’t have to be here but if they are, the people of North Lawndale should benefit in some way.

Written by Kenneth Mazerat


Chicago Sun-Times: Residents in Little Village, Lawndale push for Riot Fest to leave Douglass Park by Elvia Malagón

Block Club Chicago: West Siders Petition To Boot Riot Fest, Lyrical Lemonade And Heatwave From Douglass Park by Pascal Sabino

Chicago Reader: Riot Fest meeting leaves residents worried about the fate of their park by Kelly Garcia

Featured and Top Courtesy of Chris Dwalker’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Inset Courtesy of Swimfinfan’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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