City Transformation, News

Proposed Detroit park closures an opportunity to think outside of the sandbox

Belle Isle Pond With Flowers

Like me, you’ve probably kept up with the plans to lease Belle Isle to the State of Michigan as a cost saving measure for the city.  After hearing city council members talk about the first offer I agreed that all parties needed to go back to the drawing board and they did.  But the recent announcement that the deal has fallen apart takes us right back to the drawing board.  Not a bad place to be if you don’t mind thinking outside the box.

belleisle-300x220I’m not saying that the deal should die, but I am saying that the fate of 50 or more neighborhood city parks should not be tethered to a state deal with an impatient timeline.   The deal — which would purportedly relieve the city of a $6 million financial burden — could still go forward should the state decide to return it to the table in some agreeable form.  But the millions of dollars that would result in an agreement could be used to address some of the myriad crime and safety issues in the city while the fate of these parks could be left to those of us who value having these spaces in our communities.

Green space and parks are included in Detroit’s Long-Term Plan and we know that any plan — especially one that is going to require up to 50 years to fully implement — has flexibility built into its framework.  So it looks like we need to look at ways to disconnect the Belle Isle deal from out neighborhood parks by implementing some innovative ideas for these spaces ahead of schedule.

The city’s current costs associated with maintaining parks is not the same as it would be for other entities (public, private, and non-profit) taking on the same or part of that responsibility.  Community stakeholders and other entities could likely do more with less and develop innovative uses for these parks that still promote the right sense of place.

I thought of a couple right off the top of my head and more than likely they are being done elsewhere.  We could explore:

Renaming the Parks:

Any historical or honorary designation that exists with these spaces is going to be lost with their closure anyway.  Much like stadiums and other facilities let’s open up these spaces for naming rights, providing an opportunity for companies, organizations or even families to support the space(s) financially through lease or long-term contracts or some sort. If there are ancestors of those whose names are currently attached to these spaces they may wish to maintain that honor and should be given the opportunity to contribute financially to the upkeep of the space in order to do so. 

Providing Innovative Tax Incentives and Credits:

Although the city is cash-strapped the cost of closing more parks could ultimately trump any potential gain in tax revenue if the land is sold for some other use or if they are left to languish and become dangerous spaces.  Maintaining these parks as active community spaces of some sort is preferable, especially since we have had closures in the past that now result in a disproportionate number of public parks to residents.

Offering the space to neighborhood/community organizations, block clubs, companies, and businesses with creative tax and tax credit incentives could result in economic support of the spaces.  Provide tax incentives to residents who partner with entities taking on a substantial responsibility for the space. 

Strategic Partnerships

Partner with those living in proximity to these parks to increase a sense of community ownership and improve upkeep.

Mower Gang

Mower Gang

Partner with organizations like Detroit Mower Gang — “a bunch of do-gooders that refuses to let parkland go to waste” — and help them to replicate their work in park communities.

Partner with entities like Healthy Detroit, an organization that has partnered with the National Prevention Council to implement the National Prevention Strategy to help Detroit focus on prevention and wellness.

Expand beyond just swings, monkey bars, and sandboxes think:

  • Outdoor exercise classes in partnership with local gyms, practitioners, and exercise studios
  • Horticultural and agricultural education in partnership with DPS  and local universities
  • Bike, skate, and skateboard instruction and trails in partnership with local businesses like the The Hub and Shinola
  • Doggie meet-ups and animal care instruction in partnership with companies like Canine to Five
  • Pop-up events for neighborhood micro enterprises

The possibilities are both endless and exciting.

Incidentally, as a resident of Island View Village, Belle Isle is my neighborhood park so I’ve already purchased a state park pass … just in case.

Delphia is the founder of Thrive Detroit, L3C, whose mission is to  provide micro-enterprise opportunities for low-income individuals. She launched  the Thrive Detroit Street Paper in November 2011.  She is also on staff at the Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS) and serves as chair of the Kiva Detroit advisory board.

7 comments on “Proposed Detroit park closures an opportunity to think outside of the sandbox

  1. I think the idea of opening park space to renaming is excellent. Especially as it give the opportunity to raise sponsorships from local businesses.

    Partnering with those living in proximity to these parks to increase a sense of community ownership and improve upkeep will add to this and make these green spaces superb places to visit.

  2. The daffodils, blooming on Belle Isle, were planted by Woman's National Farm and Garden Association, Michigan Division.

    Last April we had over 350 women from across the state at a Daffodil fund raising luncheon on Belle Isle. Many had never been to Belle Isle before. Some had never been to Detroit. It was a great example of people across the state of Michigan working together.

  3. The sad part about this is the park is in peril not because there is a shortage of good ideas, it's in peril because those who are in power have alternative ideas that don't involve we the people. There is nothing the state could offer that we the city couldn't do ourselves.
    Research Atlantic Station in Atlanta.
    A) create housing = tax revenue.
    Subsidize a portion for middle class apartment living, along with brownstone and high rise living. B) build a parking garage on Jefferson and East Grand Blvd. Where visitors pay for parking and rent only golf carts, segways and bicycles. This will ease congestion, and also create another revenue source. C) build a Tom Fazio public golf course, complete with clubhouse, which doubles as a banquet and catering facilities = revenue. D) Bring the Detroit zoo back to Detroit! = revenue. E) reinvest in the botanical gardens = revenue. F) build an aquarium that will rival anything in the Midwest over looking Canada! G) movie theatre, restaurants, nature trials, bike trials etc.

  4. The sad part about this is the park is in peril not because there is a shortage of good ideas, it's in peril because those who are in power have alternative ideas that don't involve we the people. There is nothing the state could offer that we the city couldn't do ourselves.

  5. The Belle Isle park at moment decayed, likewise the city of Detroit's financial condition. Those city council members are a joke, don't know what in the hell they are doing, should all be replaced, Joann Watson and Kwame Kenyatta especially – insist on keeping Belle Isle but can't afford it. It's time, give it up. Belle Isle, should now be awarded to the state, PERMENANTLY.

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