By Zachary Gorchow
Detroit, MI (October 26, 2007)- One-quarter of Detroit’s 367 parks could be sold under a proposal designed to help the city shed dozens of its smallest and most worn-down parks in an effort to aid others and position the land for redevelopment. The plan to sell off city parkland has generated relief among some neighbors hoping to see the lots improve and anger among those who say the city is getting rid of precious assets.
More than half of the 92 parks are less than an acre in size-so-called pocket parks-tucked in neighborhoods. Some have swing sets, jungle gyms, slides and benches. They make up 124 acres of the city’s roughly 6,000 acres of parkland. Many of those neighborhoods are no longer dense in population and are dominated by urban prairies as the result of demolished homes, conditions Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s administration cites in its proposal.
The city already has sold other assets this year-including Camp Brighton and Rogell Golf Course-to ease budget problems. But money from selling the parks would be put back into the park system, either by acquiring land for new parks or by rehabilitating others, said Vincent Anwunah, general manager of the Recreation Department’s planning, design and construction management division. The city estimates it could get $8.1 million from selling the land, and $5.4 million per year from new tax revenue, while saving $540,000 annually by discontinuing maintenance at those parks. The goal would be to have no net change in parkland, Anwunah said.
Some residents near the targeted parks said they would prefer to keep them, but others said that if the city cannot afford to fix them, they would support selling the land for housing development. “That would be wonderful if they want to build houses over here, because there’s a lot of empty lots around,” said April Hallums, 29, who lives in one of the few remaining homes near Dabrowski Park, a bleak 1.6-acre park at the corner of East Forest and St. Aubin. Hallums said she couldn’t recall seeing anyone use the par, which is full of dilapidated play equipment and basketball poles missing backboards and rims, and is surrounded by empty lots and light industry. But Drake Sparks, 29, who lives a couple of houses from the Benson-Elmwood park, a lot measuring a fifth of an acre near Gratiot and Mack, said he opposes the park sale proposal. “There’s a lot of kids that go to that park,” he said, citing the nearby Ross Hill Academy, a K-6 charter school.
The scope of the proposal has alarmed members of the City Council, which must approve land sales. “It looks like every park in the city, every small park, is on here,” Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. said at a meeting last week as he examined the city’s list. “If we sell everything, we’ll look up one day, and there won’t be any place for kids to play for recreation.”
Anwunah said an analysis of the city’s parkland and population density shows some areas with more parks than necessary and others that are underserved. Even if the city were to shed the 92 parks, there would still be enough nearby parks to serve residents, he said. “It is based on a full understanding of conditions and capacity, national standards, best practices and the overall interest of the city, considering the areas that each park will serve,” he said. “Why do we hang onto something that doesn’t produce nothing? It consumes the resources available to the city.” Several of those parks have become eyesores. Anwunah cited the Stone Memorial Pool, the long-shuttered pool near the Lodge Freeway and West Forest that is on the list for possible sale. If the city could sell it, the funds could be spent on the nearby Wigle Recreation Center and playfield, he said. And not all of the parks would be sold, Anwunah said. Some, like those abutting schools, could be transferred to school districts.
Among the parks proposed for sale are the 15-acre Dingeman playfield in southwest Detroit and the 0.75-acre Hyde Park in the Green Acres neighborhood on the city’s west side. But the city’s best-known parks, like Rouge Park, are not on the list. The city proposed selling 115 acres of Rouge Park in 2006 but dropped the plan after a public outcry.
It’s unclear what market exists for the land, and no developers are lined up yet, Anwunah said. The leader of an architectural and planning firm with experience in residential in-fill development in Detroit said it is better to have a surplus of parkland than not enough. “My initial impression is there’s enough vacant land without hitting the publicly owned parkland” to build new housing, said Abe Kadushin, principal of Kadushin Architects Planners Inc., which worked on the Woodbridge Estates development east of the Lodge Freeway near Warren. “Parkland is a very important and necessary resource in a revitalized neighborhood.”
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The Greening of Detroit