Riot Fest’s Savior Complex and the Fight for Public Parks

The Chicago Park District held their Board of Commissioners meeting at Indian Boundary Park in the West Ridge neighborhood. (Wikipedia)
The Chicago Park District held their Board of Commissioners meeting at Indian Boundary Park in the West Ridge neighborhood. (Wikipedia)

By Lynda Lopez

The Riot Fest saga continues. A few days ago, over a dozen community members against Riot Fest (along with a smaller pro-Riot Fest contingent) turned out for the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners meeting. Several Humboldt Park community members passionately expressed why they feel Riot Fest shouldn’t be allowed back in Humboldt Park. The reasons varied from children being unable to use the park for weeks after the event to the permanent ecological damage it inflicts. Hearing them tell their stories strengthened my resolve in standing by all the community members speaking out for their park.

For me, this effort is less about anti-Riot Fest than pro-public parks. When a private music festival is able to assert so much control over a public park, we have to question whether we have defeated the purpose of public parks for the people. Riot Fest may be apologetic and reaffirms its commitment to fixing up the park after each festival, but why should we let an entity destroy a park so completely that it needs so much fixing?

Riot Fest constantly reiterates the argument of the festival being “revenue-generating” but in the times I’ve heard them speak, they’ve always almost skipped over discussing the park to discussing how much money there is to gain. This is a key difference in the manner this argument is framed by the two sides and it makes it easy for me to know which side is on the right. At the meeting, I heard them say “revenue-generating” and “economic benefit” as a way to avoid truly addressing the concern of Riot Fest being unsustainable to a residential park. We can’t compromise our park for the promise of economic development.

Coupled with Riot Fest’s disregard for the park is their disrespect for the larger Humboldt Park community. While those against Riot Fest used their testimonials to discuss their commitment and love for their park, pro-Riot Festers used their time at the podium to brand the anti-Riot Festers as foolish. As they offered their comments, they looked at us as a teacher looks at a child that has done something wrong. One man stood up and waved all these papers with figures to denounce everything we had brought up, as if stats and figures on a paper somehow delegitimize the testimonials of the residents. He then added, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Yes, because this matter is simply a case of a group of people choosing not to get along with another. According to him, we just need to stop being so stubborn and get along with our neighbors. Pay close attention to that messaging and what that says about their perception of the community. It brands the larger community against Riot Fest as childish. For an all-white group to consistently address a group of mostly people of color in this way tells me there is little respect for long-time residents of color. While Riot Fest works to cast long-time residents as ignorant, it seeks to cast itself as the hero of Humboldt Park.

In Riot Fest’s view, Humboldt Park needs saving from all its ills and Riot Fest is that savior. “Humboldt Park cannot thrive without Riot Fest.” I heard this message again and again. Riot Fest believes it is remaking Humboldt Park for the better, while the long-time residents speaking out against them just aren’t smart enough to understand the economic benefits or are simply too selfish to see beyond their own interests. One Riot Fest staff member said to me, “Before Riot Fest, people were afraid of Humboldt Park. Many people didn’t even know it existed. We opened their eyes to this neighborhood,” he said. Spike Lee would call this a classic case of Christopher Columbus syndrome. I replied, “Humboldt Park existed for a long time before your festival. Is your intention only to bring  new people in?” Part of Riot Fest’s views on economic development rests on the idea of attracting all these new people, while not understanding (and probably not caring) about the implications for residents that can no longer afford to live there. “There are new condos and townhomes, but that’s not gentrification. It’s evolution,” he said as he waved his hands in the air, as if gentrification was a mythical force. That was my cue to leave this conversation. For someone aligned with Riot Fest to have such an ignorant opinion about gentrification, displacement, and neighborhood change just goes to show how little they understand Humboldt Park beyond their music festival.

The few times I have interacted with Riot Fest staff members, I’ve seen the same disrespect and condescending attitude towards the residents expressing concerns for their park. They work so hard to brand us as the uncooperative group, but perhaps they need to evaluate how their behavior perpetuates the disdain the community has for their presence.


3 thoughts on “Riot Fest’s Savior Complex and the Fight for Public Parks

  1. Thank you! For speaking out on your observation. I was 1 of the many speakers against Riot Fest. Although it seems as a spokesperson I can’t write personal feelings, I’m very happy and glad some of my emotional feelings and frustration are been address with your article. Thank you.
    Gloria Burgos
    Our community says Thank you!

    Humboldt Park citizens against Riot Fest!


  2. This comment is so on point about why the community is against Riot Fest in Humboldt Park. I attended the Park District meeting on Wednesday and this is exactly how I felt pro Riot Fest people treat the community. They are arrogant believing that Riot Fest is the best thing that could happen to
    Humboldt Park. One pro riot fest speaker stated that the reason they had so few pro people at the meeting is because they are at work -insulting and disrespectful.

    Good comment about the “Christopher Columbus Syndrome” , like there was nothing good about Humboldt Park until the white people came in. I moved to Humboldt because of its rich diversity. Humboldt Park has a rich, vibrant history with many different groups living here. Yes, the Puerto Rican community takes great pride in their park and should be commended for wanting to protect it from damage and use by people who don’t really appreciate or value our neighborhood park.


  3. Personally, as a Logan Square resident, I think this venue or so called “neighborhood fest” not only out grew it’s welcome, it out grew it’s capacity way too fast!!!!
    This event seems like the size if Lalapalooza in a neighborhood park…..listen to that neighborhood park!!!!
    I reside by Fullerton and Sacramento and hear the Riot Fest music all the way by my house as if Palmer Square was having a neighborhood fest. Could you imagine the folks who live across from the park????!!!! What noise they have to deal with….the senior citizens that live near by….the mom’s who have babies that can’t sleep…..the people who need to sleep because they need to work the next day. All for the sake of revenue!!!! If that’s the case I think it is time to take this venue to Grant Park or somewhere downtown like Lollapalooza because that is what this Riot is reminding me of and has become !!!!


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