Community helps shape ‘park within a park’ for vacant grassy lot in Detroit
A grassy wasteland where an elementary school once stood in a southwestern Detroit neighborhood is about to be turned into a park.
Grassroots community groups recently opened the Eden Park project, a six-acre eco-haven designed for an area of the city that has long struggled with industrial pollution.
At a groundbreaking ceremony recently, Detroit dignitaries like Mayor Mike Duggan and U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, were on hand to mark the start of construction on the project. But Eden Park is the result of a decade-long effort by community members to turn the abandoned school site into a public space.
“You have your faith, you have your vision, and that’s why we’re here today,” Tlaib said, acknowledging local efforts during his speech at the Memorial Day weekend ceremony, reported. WDIV (Channel 4).
The groundbreaking kicked off a weekend of festivities, including a carnival, which offered a preview of what the final version will offer the region, which encompasses the Detroit neighborhood and cities Ecorse and River Rouge.
Construction of Eden Park is expected to be completed by 2024.
Eden Park is seen as a solution to the environmental issues facing the neighborhood and is part of a community effort to take environmental concerns into their own hands after decades of battles over air quality in the area. according to the project website.
“Residents of the community for their own safety and the safety of their neighbors, they have immersed themselves in environmental justice,” said Eden Park Steering Committee Co-Chair Alicia Renee Farris.
“So it’s not what we thought, it’s what the community recommended.”
When planning began in 2011, the idea was to develop a community center inside the closed Mark Twain Elementary School located on Detroit’s Gleason Street. The plans have evolved and with a new direction aimed at designing a green space for the neighborhoods.
One of the catalysts for the idea of green space was the environmental justice work at New Mt. Hermon Missionary Baptist Church, which in recent years has become an air monitoring site for a community-led operation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess the neighborhood’s overall air quality.
The New Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist Church owns the abandoned school property on which Eden Park will be built and is across the street.
The neighborhood surrounding the park is predominantly African American, with a mix of older residents who have remained in the community for years and younger residents with children, many of whom have long-standing family ties to the area.
Large, lush trees surround the perimeter of the property, with a sign out front that reads Future Home of Eden Park. In the immediate vicinity, orderly rows of single-storey family houses line the blocks.
On a recent morning, the residents were mowing their lawns and tending to their gardens. Neighborhood churches were filling up for Sunday service. A boy walked down the street eating ice cream and families sat on their porches.
A few blocks from Eden Park, Tracey Thomas was in her front yard watering the plants in front of her house. The 52-year-old Ecorse resident has been in the neighborhood for decades and lives a few houses away from where she raised her children.
It’s typical of the neighborhood, says Thomas. The neighborhood is a peaceful place where “everyone knows everyone” and where locals tend to stay for a long time, she said. It is a place where people can raise their children and later pass their home on to the next generation.
Thomas, who is not involved in the project, recently heard about Eden Park’s plans through word of mouth. Having a park that will jointly serve Detroit’s southwest neighborhood, as well as the adjacent neighborhoods of Ecorse and River Rouge, is something she’s never seen before, she said.
“Usually it’s all separate, but I think that’s going to be a good thing, it’s a good thing for the community,” Thomas said. “It will be a beautiful thing.”
Thomas hopes the park will provide a safe place for neighborhood youth and she said she would like to see more projects for children.
The age composition of the population played an important role in the planning process, according to Farris.
“It’s a mixed community, but it’s also a tight-knit community,” she said. “We knew we had to consider the aging population and the younger population.”
The space will have a playground, but it will also have a so-called “park within a park”, which is described as a space that will provide a scenic and tranquil setting for residents with Alzheimer’s disease or neurological disorders. .
The project was also spearheaded by the Tri-City Community Development Corp. and in partnership with some of the companies that have historically contributed to air pollution in the region, such as Marathon Oil.
Funding for projects in and around the 48217 zip code neighborhood was recently included in a settlement between the Sierra Club and DTE Energy Co. The neighboring communities of Ecorse and River Rouge are also included in the settlement. Part of the money is intended for the construction of Eden Park.
Entities such as the Wayne County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation also helped fund the project.
Rainy Hamilton, a principal architect who runs Michigan’s largest African-American design firm, and his firm, Hamilton Anderson Associates, are managing the architectural and design aspects of the Eden Park project.
Hamilton also has a special connection to the project and the surrounding community.
He lived in the area as a child and first saw his artwork displayed in the halls of Mark Twain Elementary School, which was then located on the grassy site across from the church.
“I vividly remember holding my mother’s hand standing in the hall of Mark Twain Elementary School and looking at a watercolor that I had displayed in a display case just outside the main entrance,” said said Hamilton.
Seeing the school abandoned in recent years was heartbreaking, he said.
Now, some 60 years later, he is designing a park that will provide the community with six acres of open space.
“It gives the neighborhood a place to come together to celebrate, to play, to relax,” he said.
Hamilton hopes the park will become a much-used community amenity. He is excited to see how the park brings native bird species and flowers to the area.
“It’s so difficult these days, the need is so great,” Hamilton said. “So to see him get to that point where he starts to turn a corner, I think that encourages me.”