The City of Detroit announced two years ago it would close about 50 parks due to lack of funding. Then it started a limited maintenance list where certain parks would be taken care of when the city could find time and resources. Pingree Park, near Mack and Gratiot on Detroit’s east side, made the list. WDET’s Bre’Anna Tinsley visited the neighborhood around the park and has this report.
Pingree Park avoided the chopping block in 2013, securing a place on the “limited maintenance” list with the city of Detroit.
Now the park has been added to the city’s “Premier Park” list. That means crews are supposed to cut the grass at least twice a month. And the city says it plans to install new basketball hoops and a new baseball diamond at Pingree this summer.
Some of the credit for the improvements goes to the Pingree Park Community Association. Neighborhood block clubs came together to create a single group with one goal: to build a stronger community.
The leader of the group is Deacon Chris Rabaut of Saint Augustine and Saint Monica Catholic Church. He says bringing the separate block clubs together was a struggle.
“At first there was a lot of resistance to leaving the safety of the block club. But now the block clubs have almost disbanded, they’re still there but now it’s more of the community,” Rabaut says. “And I think they feel that there is a stronger voice with all of us and we can address issues more.”
Though they don’t live in the neighborhood, Rabout and his wife, Colleen, became active in helping the Pingree Park Community four years ago.
He says crime, blight, and tall grass were problems then.
“As a community we started boarding up houses, we started to cut vacant lots. At that time the park itself the grass wasn’t being cut,” Rabaut says.
Now, he says the grass is cut about every three weeks. That allows his group to interact with neighborhood seniors at the park. Another group is more in tune with young people.
MACC (Mack) Development is an off-shoot of Mack Avenue Community Church.
Executive Director Jonathan Demers has lived in the Pingree Park community for three years.
He coaches soccer for elementary school aged kids who play all their games at the park.
“Reaching youth is kind of the next big challenge in the city of Detroit,” Demers says. “Even the youth that we, I think really effectively reach through our literacy program and through sports, those youth are generally in the elementary age, which is a crucial age. And so now I think as an organization and a neighborhood, it’s on us to figure out how we make that bridge between the 10, 11, 12-year-olds who have had the benefit of going through these programs and being part of a strong community continue to feel connected to this neighborhood.”
Groups like MACC Development are nothing new to the area. Veta Didlake has lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years. She says there was a similar community organization when she first moved in.
“They played hockey down there. They had basketball courts, in junior leagues they played football down there. This used to be a vibrant community. And the people worked together,” Didlake says.
And though Didlake believes the Pingree Park community seems to be on the right path again, she says crime still needs to be addressed.
“I have not been to the park in a couple of years,” Didlake says. “I used to walk down and just walk around for exercise. But no, I don’t visit the park. I’ll be frank with you. I’m afraid.”
But Deacon Chris Rabaut says police presence has improved since Pingree Park made the city’s “premier list”. And he encourages neighbors to watch for anything suspicious.
“So many times that’s such a huge crime deterrence itself just to get a couple of seniors to walk around,” Rabaut says. “You may think it’s dangerous, but it’s not, and when you get them out then more people come out, more people are watching, more people will open up their doors. And they see that so it’s just trying to change the mindset from fear to hope and change. Cause so much of it is fear.”
Rabaut and his wife don’t live in the neighborhood, but he says it’s hard not to leave their East English village home of 29 years.
He says he’ll continue his work with the community, helping others to place their own roots around Pingree Park.