Detroit's City Council nixed a plan to lease Belle Isle to the State of Michigan last week. In response, Mayor Dave Bing announced plans to close 51 area parks, cut maintenance at others, and greatly reduce recreation center budgets overall, says the Detroit Free Press.
Parks Closing, Upkeep Limited
Parks on the chopping block include, among others: Biraga, Chandler, Cook, Cross, Fitzpatrick, Howarth, Phelps, Russell Woods, parts of Rouge Park, Sasser, and Sherwood. Grand Circus, Harmonie, Erma Henderson, Butzel Playground, and others will have only limited custodial care. In the spring, only 57 of Detroit's 300-plus parks will be available for use.
The Detroit Free Press reports that revenue lost from the collapsed Belle Isle deal means that groundskeeping on Belle Isle will be limited. The Belle Isle Conservancy was able to get the island's historical aquarium reopened in 2012 after being shut down for several years. With less money, it may be difficult for Belle Isle attractions to remain open.
Rev. D. Alexander Bullock, pastor of Greater Saint Matthew Baptist Church and executive director of Rainbow PUSH Detroit, said, "I think it's ironic that park closures came on the heels of the Belle Isle deal collapse. The closures make no sense if the point was to provide quality park service in Detroit. It seems that because the flagship park, Belle Isle, couldn't be leased to the state, the city was punished with multiple closures. There was no discussion of linking that lease to other recreation services. In the end, citizens lose twice -- no improvements at Belle Isle and fewer recreation options. It appears to be an assault on the quality of life on the people of Detroit."
Effects on Residents
How will park closures affect local residents? Depending upon each individual park's offerings, young and old will have fewer recreation options. Closures will likely limit or cancel activities. Closing playgrounds mean fewer after-school activities for kids. Resources at parks that remain open will be stretched. Parks with companion family centers or marinas may see drop-offs in usage. With no outdoor park access, rentals may decrease, too. This affects revenue.
Detroit resident Syed Mohiuddin of the Michigan Muslim Community Council is very concerned about park closures. He said, "My wife and I live downtown, and we are definitely affected by the announcement. Park closures are not an option. To the contrary, we need to invest more in parks to make our neighborhoods safer and community healthy. How do we do that given the state of our budget? Partnerships. Corporations, suburban religious groups, and others can and should partner with city government and community organizations and find solutions for each and every park. They are just too important to sacrifice, not in the name of politics, not in the name of budgets."
One local park group came up with such a solution: the Clark Park Coalition. Clark Park, at 1130 Clark St. in Detroit's Southwest-Mexicantown neighborhood, was forced to close over 20 years ago due to financial troubles in Detroit. Concerned neighbors, activists, organizations, and youth programs put their heads together to preserve Clark Park. They formed a nonprofit partnership with the city recreation department.
Currently, Clark Park's collective provides year-round programs to over 1,200 youths in the area. It maintains a regulation-size outdoor ice hockey rink (the only one in Metro Detroit). Free daily summer lunches are served to over 100 youth. Activities at Clark Park include baseball, arts and crafts, field trips, soccer, golf, fitness training, softball, tennis, roller hockey, gardening, and ice skating. Kids can come to the park center for homework help, mentoring, and computer assistance. There are community service activities for school projects and even opportunities for kids to find jobs.
A Michigan native, Marilisa Sachteleben writes about people, places, events, and issues in her home state's most pivotal city of Detroit.