Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has said for the city to prosper it must become a place where people want to live.
That includes having a vibrant parks and recreation system.
WDET is examining the state of parks in Detroit, including one area of the city where the community has helped rebuild a park – one that visitors there say is helping return the favor to surrounding neighborhoods.
There’s a softball game underway at Clark Park in southwest Detroit.
The Park’s youth activities supervisor, Heriberto Gallegos, says there’s always softball or baseball or soccer — or something — in the late summer afternoons here at Clark.
At least, he says, now that renewed investment in the park has created everything from playing fields to a hockey rink.
Gallegos said, “That field over there used to be grass and now we have an infield. Now we’re trying to do lacrosse and tennis for the past few years, which is going great. We do ice hockey in the wintertime. A lotta sports that inner-city youth aren’t privileged to play.”
Gallegos says he’s been coming to Clark Park since he was age 4.
But the 20-year-old says the park almost disappeared before he was born.
“We were going to be closed down in 1991 (because of cutbacks,” Gallegos said. “And then in that time we became the Clark Park Coalition. It was a group of community members that said we have to keep this place open. And voluntarily they did that. We have to pay different utilities that the city once took care of. But private funders, different grants from the government, we just try our best to kind of stay afloat,” he said.
In recent years Gallegos says he’s noticed the neighborhoods around the park undergoing an economic revitalization. He says there’s more jobs, newly-refurbished stores and homes.
Gallegos says he sees a connection between that and Clark Park.
“I think they kind of go hand-in-hand. Once people see that others are going to work they kind of hop on the bandwagon. So now when these people are starting to come back or help build the community they realize there are things like this. They see the growth, they see the improvement, they see the optimism, I guess, that we have in this community,” Gallegos said.
There’s certainly plenty of youthful exuberance at the park’s playground area. A young father is there, sitting on the edge of a large sandbox, his feet planted inside it, next to his frolicking two-and-a-half year old son. The toddler haltingly says how much he likes the park.
And so does Dad. Joe McGuire says he lives in Dearborn, works in Detroit, and brings his son to Clark Park at least once a week after picking him up from day care.
McGuire says concerns about crime and blight used to make him a bit cautious when he traveled through southwest Detroit.
Now he says the neighborhood has become a magnet for him, in part because of the resurgence of Clark Park.
McGuire said, “I know some people that lived in this neighborhood for a long time. Maybe they have more resources than they used to, since there’s more economic development. But I definitely think having a nice park in a neighborhood encourages especially people with families to move here, which I imagine helps the economic development of a neighborhood.”
Across the country a number of city planners say parks can lure new investment.
The personal finance web site WalletHub recently anointed the city of Cincinnati as the best spot in the nation for parks and recreation.
Cincinnati officials wasted little time in promoting that fact, even to telephone callers waiting on hold.
The Director Cincinnati’s parks, Willie Carden, says the city uses its public spaces as a marketing tool.
He says they draw tourists and new development to the city and new funding for the park system itself.
“The park system of yesterday won’t work without parknerships. And I didn’t say partner, I said PARK-nerships,” Carden said. “And that’s going out and getting private dollars, corporate dollars, time. It doesn’t have to always be treasure. Just last year we had a 100,000 hours of volunteer time. That’s when you’re able to really string together a really nice system that leads into an experience that when people come to your city, they want to come back.”
That kind of experience brought Detroiter Deontae Coates back to Clark Park, where he says he jogs and works out every day.
He says the park is not the reason he moved to southwest Detroit, but it is part of the reason why he’s stayed here.
Coates said, “I was kind of forced to move here ’cause I didn’t have another place that was as convenient. And it became more convenient because there was a park across the street. First park I hung out in in Detroit, I got jumped. I was about 10 years old. This park, you don’t have to worry about that. I can let my son run around here, not have to worry about him getting hurt.”
Coates says that security should convince his fellow Detroiters to live, and work, near Clark Park.
Eventually, Coates says, that kind of rising financial tide will lift all boats – and parks – in the city.
You can find more about WDET’s parks project at detroitparkswatch.org