After a campaign of public pressure coming from longtime community residents and Aldermen, as well as some rather veiled and not-so-veiled smearing of said activists on the part of some supporters, Riot Fest has announced it won't be held this year in Chicago's Humboldt Park. Instead, they have moved it to Douglas Park on the city's west side.
Just to reiterate (because there has been a rather unyielding effort coming from Riot Fest to paint residents opposing the festival as unreasonable if not downright childish): the damage to Humboldt as a result of last year's Riot Fest was pretty severe. The grass was virtually eliminated; a rainstorm on the first night of the event plus tens of thousands of boots essentially turned the park into one big mud-pile. Did Riot Fest clean this up? Most of it, yes. But many of the sports fields were never fully repaired, and that which was repaired took months. This is to say nothing the inaccessibility of the park during set up and breakdown.
Some may retort "So they couldn't use their park for a few weeks... So what?" But the point is that these parks are public property, designed, built and conceived of (at least at one time) as manifestation of the right to leisure. (Naturally this raises all sorts of inconsistencies having to do with racism, segregation, the state's control of public space and so on, which go beyond the purview of a short blog post.) Pulling out all the stops to make the park accessible for a privately-run event while thinking nothing of the community that uses said park is, on a very basic level, a violation of "the public trust" so to speak.
So, the decision to pull Riot Fest out of Humboldt is a big victory for those who organized against it. But it's not exactly without its darker linings. Douglas Park is in the North Lawndale neighborhood, which is heavily working class/poor and majority non-white. It is nowhere near as gentrified as the Humboldt Park area. This doesn't mean that it's somehow safe from the scourge, though. That UIC was proposing it as the site of the Obama Presidential Library may be a sign of bad things to come. So, unfortunately, may Riot Fest.
We should ask why massive, privately-run festivals have public property handed over to them so glibly (particularly in the city of the notorious TIF). We should also be asking why it is the poorer, "underdeveloped" neighborhoods that are the site for these deals. We should ask whether art and music that purports to be rebellious or righteous is actually using that appearance for the sake of something else. I'll be writing an article that takes up some of these questions more in depth, but in the meantime, they deserve to be asked. Many already are of course, but we could always use more.