Just weeks before Riot Fest, West Siders are ramping up opposition to major music festivals in Douglass Park, which they’ve said bar them from using the park and disrupt their daily lives.
North Lawndale residents have for months talked about their concerns with three major music festivals being held in Douglass Park over the summer and early fall. The Park District hosted a community meeting on Aug. 24 to discuss the events and the park’s future — and dozens of attendees reiterated called for the removal of the festivals, while some people who spoke in favor of the festivals were booed.
Douglass Park, 1401 S. Sacramento Drive, has hosted Riot Fest in mid-September since 2015. In more recent years, it became the grounds for Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash and Heatwave, two summer music festivals.
At last week’s meeting, neighbors told parks CEO Rosa Escareno private corporations should not be profiting at the expense of the people who live there. They said the festivals disrupt their lives by creating intense traffic, obstructing access to hospitals and disrupting youth programs.
Lifelong resident Denise Ferguson said the neighborhood’s children should not be displaced because of major corporations.
“We use the park every single day. We use the park for the purpose of walking. We eat in the park. We play in the park,” Ferguson said. “That’s our only green space. And when the park is locked down for 47 days in the summer, our kids have no place to go.”
The meeting marked the latest clash as neighbors, officials and festival organizers debate what to do next. Some residents have said the events bring revenue to local businesses and help neighbors, while others have said they create headaches for residents and damage the popular park.
Even when the festivals are gone, Douglass Park is often left in poor condition, neighbors said. Members of a local soccer team had to move to other parks after a player was injured by glass left in the grass after Summer Smash.
“The festivals have dominated everything,” neighbor Katherine Sullivan said at the meeting. “We lose access to our homes; we can’t come and go freely. … Ambulances just blow their sirens and nobody moves because there’s no place to move to. It’s not working. And I just really hope that it’s going to change.”
Resident Sandra Castille said it took her two hours to get to the hospital and visit her son when Riot Fest was taking place.
“People are coming into this community and acting very disrespectfully to the people of this community,” Castille said.
Several residents voiced support for the festival — saying it brings jobs, money and tourism to the neighborhood — but they were often met with loud boos from others in the room.
A spokesperson for Riot Fest said the organizers appreciate that residents came out to talk.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to making a positive impact in the community, it was important to hear the concerns and questions of resident’s and local businesses,” the spokesperson said. “We look forward to continuing these types of gatherings so that we can have an open and positive dialogue on how to make our community better, together.”
Festival organizers host cleanup events and offer perks, like free tickets, to the park neighbors. Riot Fest also recruits residents for temporary festival jobs and organizes beautification events, and Lyrical Lemonade hosts park cleanups.
The companies behind the festivals must also pay to repair the parks after their events.
But neighbors have said the festivals, including the time to put them up, tear-down and clean up after, block them from accessing the park for weeks.
Resident Karina Solano said the neighborhood “is not only disinvested, but it is disrespected by the fest organizers themselves.”
One longtime resident who spoke at the forum said she’s not opposed to the festivals, but officials are neglecting Douglass Park neighbors.
“It’s so essential to ask us what we need,” she said. “Give money back to this community. Give money back to this park. Give money back to the programs.”