The Illinois PRC at the 2018 PAC Conference

In early February, the UIC Parks Team attended the 2018 Park Advisory Council Conference at Malcolm X College. This was the 4th  year that we participated in this networking and learning event hosted by the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Parks Foundation. In addition to attending the conference’s six sessions, our team also participated in the “Lunch with th e Experts” event. Here, we hosted the Kick-Off meeting of our Park Advisory Council Capacity Building Intervention (PAC-CBI) designed to further support the valuable work of Chicago’s park advocates.

This year’s conference theme “PACs Make it Happen” was reinforced as Park Advisory Council members overcame a winter snowstorm to attend the conference. The snow continued to fall as Guddi Kapadia, Mike Yen, and I made our way to Malcolm X. We were concerned about the weather’s impact on attendance; however, shortly after check-in began, the lobby was bustling with dozens of attendees in sturdy winter gear.  While the rough weather slightly lowered the overall turnout, the fact that so many braved the elements on a Saturday morning shows how committed Park Advisory Council members are to helping enhance their parks and communities.

I attended a “Creative Brainstorming” session, which further showcased the PAC members’ commitment to embrace opportunities and overcome challenges. Hosts Sean Ortiz and Anita Gilkey of the Chicago Park District teamed-up participants to brainstorm potential strategies for developing a teen center in an imaginary park fieldhouse. The catch: no details about budget or any existing community or park resources were provided. The lack of context was intimidating at first, however, my teammates and I were soon rushing to record all of our ideas. Each team ended up presenting lists of creative, yet thoughtful strategies. Discussing new, innovative ways to look at a complex challenge was inspiring.

At the conference, my team was surrounded by real-life examples of the creativity that PACs bring to their work. For PACs working to enhance small neighborhood parks, ingenuity often stems from having to consider basic limitations of space and infrastructure. While touring the Resource Fair, we learned about some of the innovative strategies that allow PACs to bring programs and events into smaller parks, such as the Craftmobile and the new mobile generator program.

We included many small parks renovated during the Chicago Plays! program in our sample for the PAC-CBI. When Guddi and I met with a small group of potential participants during our “Lunch with the Experts” KickOff, the conversations touched on how our proposed initiative could further support PACs from parks that lack traditional, permanent infrastructure for programs and community engagement events. Attendees suggested that we include efforts to foster virtual and face-to-face networking and collaboration amongst PACs from parks of comparable size. Additional opportunities for PACs from similar parks to navigate shared challenges could complement the main PAC Conference and the Park District’s regional conferences.

The conference featured another great day of learning and networking that highlighted the determined and creative spirit of Chicago’s Park Advisory Councils. Our Parks Team looks forward to supporting Chicago’s PACs as they make great things happen in our city’s many amazing parks.

Read a recap of the 2018 PAC Conference here on the Chicago Parks Foundation’s “Seeing Green” blog.


About the image. This photo was taken at the 2018 Park Advisory Council Conference by the Chicago Parks Foundation.


Through her work on the Parks Project, Leah has enjoyed spending time in Chicago’s expansive system of wonderful parks and interacting with the dedicated volunteers who improve and maintain them for all to enjoy.