Believing it's vital to the city's children and will ultimately be a catalyst for tourism, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday announced a bold plan to repair or refurbish 300 city playgrounds over the next five years.
"We are breathing new life into our city, our neighborhoods, with our parks," Emanuel said. "Every child in the city of Chicago, regardless of ZIP code, regardless of neighborhood, will be within a 10-minute walk of a new park or playground."
The endeavor -- called "Chicago Plays" -- will be paid with funds from the Chicago Park District's existing budget. That will leave less money for things like new field houses.
"Two-thirds of our program goes to building rehab; the meat and potatoes things: fixing roofs, windows and doors. That leaves us a little bit of money to put towards innovative new projects," explained Park District Chief of Staff Gia Biaggi.
The first 50 playground projects are expected to be completed by November.
For Emanuel, Chicago Plays is a doubling-down on a strategy that is already in high gear; to invest heavily in quality-of-life improvements like the already-under construction Maggie Daley Park and Northerly Island, to the planned Bloomingdale Trail, a rails to trail project that will convert nearly three miles of unused elevated track to bike trails and parks.
The mayor said he expects tourists to visit the trail -- the largest rails to trails project in the country -- and spend money.
But with tight city finances, can Chicago afford to spend so much money on so many capital intensive projects? Emanuel has a quick answer.
"I don't think you can afford not to, and the best strategy for our city's autonomy is to strengthen our neighborhoods economically," he said.