Annual Chicago Park District Conference | Illinois Prevention Research Center | University of Illinois at Chicago

Exchanging Ideas and Connecting with Advocates

Annual Chicago Park District Conference: Exchanging Ideas and Connecting with Advocates

In February, we presented the Chicago Plays! parks research project during the “Lunch with the Experts” session at the annual Parks Advisory Council (PAC) Conference. Conference attendees had the unique opportunity to interact one-on-one with presenters from the parks and recreation field, local businesses and community organizations. Presenters covered a wide range of topics, from “Night Out in the Parks” events and community gardens to security and permits.

The focus of our presentation, titled Chicago Plays! Tools to Increase Park Use, was to:

  • introduce the Illinois PRC and our project to PAC members and other community organizations;
  • listen and learn more about the work individuals and groups are currently doing to improve their parks; and
  • gain insight into how to tailor our intervention so that it helps PACs build the capacity to accomplish their goals.

During the event, attendees selected a box lunch before settling in to join the discussion at the table of their choice. At our table, we were joined by four PAC members representing three parks located on the city’s west and south sides. After introductions, we listened to members describing their experiences in their neighborhoods and parks. It was inspiring to hear them explore the important role that parks play as spaces of togetherness in each of their communities. The members agreed that while parks are valuable for providing space for physical activity, they also benefit a community by providing an environment for people to connect and interact. “Ideally,” one PAC member said, “the park environment serves as an extension of the family [environment].”

Photo from Illinois PRC table at Parks Advisory Council (PAC) Conference 2017. Photographed (from left to right): Caldwell Myrick Jr., J. Connie McClendon, Geneva Porter and Yvette Moyo.

The PAC members strongly believed that their organizations play an important role in creating positive park environments. They emphasized that these efforts are especially important in neighborhoods where poverty and community violence often make positive spaces appear few and far between. As a result, the members expressed their desire to direct their respective PACs’ efforts and resources toward planning and implementing community engagement activities that welcomed youth and families into their parks. These kinds of activities had been well-received by communities in the past.

One PAC member hoped that hosting these events on a more consistent basis would send the message that the parks exist for the benefit of the whole community, particularly its young members, and that park advocates are there to do their part by reaching out.

“Lunch with the Experts” presented a critical opportunity for the Chicago Plays! research team to connect with PAC members and learn about their experiences and goals. Our conversation reaffirmed the importance of an intervention focused on supporting PACs’ efforts to enhance programming, improve safety, and ultimately advance towards a vision of local parks as spaces for positive human connection that can then lead to overall health improvement.

About the image. The photo was taken by the Illinois PRC of Kilbourn Park at the 2016 Advisory Council Workshop.



Geneva M. Porter, MPH, has held many organizational learning and leadership positions, including the management of programs that use asset-based approaches to address health and social inequities impacting communities. She holds joint appointments as a Visiting Research Specialist at the School of Public Health MidAmerica Center for Public Health Practice, as well as the Institute for Health and Research Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She experiences great joy spending time with her husband and their two young daughters.

Leah Givhan received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health in 2016. She’s currently working as a Research Assistant at the Institute for Health Research and Policy. Her interests include environmental justice work and initiatives to reduce health disparities impacting women of color.