Thursday, June 24, 2010

We have to save our parks

I spent the day at the U.S. Social Forum and it was pretty enlightening. It was also incredibly diverse, full of people from all over the nation who came to Detroit to talk about ways to improve our conditions here and in other needy locales. People I talked to were more knowledgable about our issues than I assumed, and were genuinely interested in seeking solutions to our problems.

Then I read a story about nearly all of the Detroit's parks facing possible closure, including some of my favorites. Hackett Park, at Avon and Outer Drive, is particularly close to me because that is where, as a child, I met and hung out with many people who are friends to this day. Back then we met at the park every day in the summer, planned our day, or played and generally had a great time. We had park supervisors who organized activities every day, a softball team that traveled around the city playing other park teams. We even won the city championship one year.

So to hear that the city is now considering mothballs for Hackett, and 76 other parks is disheartening. On the list are Palmer and Erma Henderson. I remember riding a bike with my friends to the those parks -- from Northwest Detroit -- with my friends, because they were like basketball Meccas back in the day. We always held our own, and continue to carry the memories of those days of competition in those parks with us as adults.

The potential closing of these green spaces is something that was once unfathomable. Now I worry about what it will mean for the children who will not have the same recreation options.

I get the fact that the city isn't what it once was, and that we don't have the revenue to support the services at the capacity that we once could. My frustration comes from the fact that tough times not only call for tough measures but for innovation. What is lacking in the discussions of budget cuts and reductions in services is opportunities to explore different ways to do things. One colleague, for instance, suggested using a Civilian Conservation Corp model to provide services for our parks. Not a bad idea, it would provide a youth/community engagement vehicle that could be hugely beneficial.

I say we give funds to community organizations to support residents interested in saving their parks. All the city would need to do is find a way to cut the grass. A lot of Detroiters are already taking care of maintenance anyway. Residents, with guidance from arts and other community groups, could take responsibility for programming at the parks as well, keeping them vibrant. Just an idea, and I'm sure others will many more.

Our children are running out of options. I hope the plan to close parks on July 1 never comes to fruition. Mayor Dave Bing said people have a point, that they shoud be outraged about what he suggests is City Council's forcing of his hand. I say instead of resorting to desperate measures, city leadership needs to pump the brakes and think first, -- what haven't we tried?

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