Detroit parks

A picture of Viola Liuzzo, in the park that bears her name.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Detroit is launching a two-year investment campaign in some neighborhood parks, starting with a park named for a murdered civil rights activist.

Viola Liuzzo was the Detroit activist and mother killed by Ku Klux Klan members near Selma, Alabama in 1965.

The northwest Detroit park that that honors her was dedicated in 1982, but had fallen into disrepair.

Now, it stands to get almost $1 million in upgrades, from new playscapes and picnic shelters to some functional landscaping.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan
Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

Mayor Mike Duggan announced today his plans to invest $11.7 million to renovate 40 neighborhood parks.

According to the City of Detroit, Duggan worked with City Parks & Recreation Department officials to identify the 40 locations based on several key criteria. This criteria included which parks had the highest concentrations of children and senior citizens living nearby, and the size of the parks. None of the chosen parks are larger than 5.5 acres. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan riveted his town for nearly an hour last night with a state of the city address glowing with infectious, can-do optimism. 

Things are getting better, he insisted, facts and figures rolling off his tongue. The city is selling vacant properties no one thought possible to sell. Police response times are much better. Detroit has twice as many ambulances as it did.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Things didn’t go exactly as planned, but there was still a major celebration at Detroit’s Palmer Park Sunday.

Hundreds of people showed up for the launch of a splash park there—but found conditions were drier than expected because of a broken water main.

But, the city improvised. While workers tackled the problem, Detroit fire trucks came in to spray the kids, who didn’t seem to mind at all.

Detroit Mower Gang / Facebook

These days, services in Detroit are bare-bones—and a lot of the work that does get done is done by volunteers.

The Detroit Mower Gang is just one of the many groups tackling that work.

The group mowed grass, trimmed brush and picked up trash at parks throughout the city during their “Motown Mowdown,” a 24-hour mowing binge that also involved an overnight camp out in one park.

This is from their event announcement on Facebook:

The 313 Project / via facebook

Volunteer groups in Detroit are still absorbing news that the city will stop maintaining about 50 parks in the spring.

It’s especially upsetting for the many neighborhood and volunteer groups that already work hard to help maintain those parks throughout the year.

A group of former Wayne State University law students make up the 313 Project. They semi-adopted Romanowski Park in southwest Detroit last summer for a “Motion to Makeover” last summer.

Director Aisa Berg says the group marshaled volunteers and nearly $30,000 to invest in upgrading the park. They installed trash cans, bike racks, picnic tables, and helped board and clean up houses surrounding the park

Since the makeover, Berg says she’s heard lots of positive feedback about improvements in the area. “It’s been great just driving around the park, seeing the park being used, whole families coming to the park to barbecue,” Berg says.

Romanowski is one of the parks the city plans to stop maintaining in the spring. But Berg says the group will stick with the park because they’ve “come too far to go back.” But she calls the planned closure “a shame.”

“In a lot of ways, it seems that the city has turned its back on these efforts,” Berg says. She says it would be “wonderful” if the group could develop a more formal relationship with the city to maintain the park.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announced the park closures last week, after the Detroit City Council effectively rejected a deal that would have made Belle Isle into a state park.

Bing says that deal would have saved the city $6 million that they had counted on to invest in other parks and rec centers. But since that’s no longer possible, they’re being forced to close parks, and maintain others less frequently.

That includes parts of Rouge Park, Detroit’s largest park at nearly 1200 acres on its far west side. Part of the park will be closed, while another portion will be maintained regularly as a so-called “premier” city park.

That’s upsetting news to the Friends of Rouge Park, a group that’s worked to protect and restore the park since 2002.

Sally Petrella is the group’s President. She says they’ve been working on a master plan for the park—and have been trying to leverage that to get additional money.

“Which is part of what makes us really disappointed to hear that the mayor wants to shut down the park,” Petrella said. “It really puts a damper on efforts like that, where we’re actually working to bring more money to the park.”

Petrella says the park is too large for a volunteer group to maintain on their own—there needs to be at least some small budget allocation just to cut the grass.

Still, Petrella is hopeful they can reach some kind of deal to keep the whole park open.

“We need to come together and say these parks are important,” Petrella said. Like we did with the zoo, like we did with the DIA.

“These are resources, assets that we all benefit from, but we need to find a way to foot the bill.”