Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Detroit Park Closings: Guns and Crack or Baseball Bats?

Detroit Park Closings

Posted by Ron Scott on Mon, Jun 28, 2010 at 9:54 AM

Guns and Crack or Baseball Bats?

The recent statements by the City of Detroit Administration suggesting 77 parks might be closed has shot an arrow at the heart of the city. As I was standing in line at Border's Books in Dearborn yesterday, I had occasion to speak with fellow editorial writer/blogger John O'Neill. He was livid, as was I, at the prospect that these respites in the city would be destroyed by executive edict. He mused, as did I, by the metaphor suggested by this headline. Will children be left to play in the seedy underbelly of challenged neighborhoods? Or will they be able to run free between foul lines and on basketball courts in the oxygen-rich environments of our parks?

Parks are more than spaces to be downsized. They reflect the historical and cultural heritage of a people. They reflect the unique character of neighborhoods and neighbors who share these spaces for walking, running and just "hanging out." And God knows Detroit has far too few of those common areas where we can share some love.

So it's not surprising that a group of tennis players will gather tonight at 5:00 p.m. at the Palmer Park tennis courts located in, by the way, the highest voting district in Detroit, to protest the proposed park closings. Protests are also planned for Rouge and Riverside Parks as well. We should be proud of all of these community-based efforts, and show our pride by joining them in this effort to push back this vision-less decision.

I got the news from a friend of mine who lives in the University District. No doubt others in the high property tax brackets of Sherwood Forest, Palmer Woods and Green Acres will come down and bring their rackets. Politicians should be acutely aware of this burgeoning storm of discontent.

Thus far, in city politics, executive edicts followed by citizen reaction have been the order of the day. In most cases, the hardworking, overtaxed citizens of Detroit have been the last to be a part of determining their future. It is a reflection of the not-so-subtle de-democratization of the will of the people. You can't even speak at the City Council for more than one minute during the public comment section; that's a mockery of the principle of ruling by the consent of the governed.

On Tuesday morning, Councilmember JoAnn Watson, I've been told, will present a proposal to stop the park closings. I would hope that the voters of 48203 and 48221, and all other Detroit residents, will take the time and spend their dime to come to the Council chambers on the 13th Floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. And I hope they get more than one minute to present their plans to save this valuable acreage and heritage of the city.

This whole scenario raises interesting, ironic, challenging and even comical questions that leave us wondering: how visionary are the planners in this process? As my weekly radio co-host, Abayomi Azikiwe, who lives in one of the city's highly-taxed areas, asked: How do you close a park? Do you place a cyclone fence around the circumference of the foliage, only to be taken by the metal predators that will take it down and sell to the highest bidder? Do you place police officers on the perimeter of the confiscated land to keep the citizens out, creating unwelcome confrontations to say the least? Or maybe you place a Star Trek-like force field around the area. But the city doesn't have enough money to do that.

Seriously. The closing of these gems risks even further the health and public safety of the parks' surrounding neighborhoods. I'm sure that Mayor Bing would like to avoid the Frankenstein-reminiscent scenario of citizens marching down Woodward with tennis racquets, baseball bats, basketballs and soccer balls, adamant that the parks be re-opened. And why would you close a park (Palmer) that every year is the site of more than 20,000 people from around the country in the annual "Hotter Than July" celebration? More thought and less headline-grabbing releases need to be put into how these parks can be saved.

Instead of downsizing, the city should be promoting one of its greatest resources for tourism, no less-so that individuals will know about the unique history of these green islands in the city.

A city is defined primarily for the opportunity for humanity it presents, not merely the challenge of austerity. I wonder if any of the planners who launched this plan ever thought about the obvious. Its been done for years at Belle Isle. Let 77 people and/or organizations adopt and maintain their parks of choice. It's called "participatory democracy:" the community-wide maintenance of shared resources.

Mayor Bing, let me issue a challenge: Let's have a Detroit Family Picnic at Belle Isle. Invite the entire citizenry of Detroit and glean their creative ideas in the fresh air around our most famous park. Use your bully pulpit to encourage us as a city to address this challenge with renewed commitment to re-buliding our city.

Because, as Tupac Shakur said in the now-famous road movie "Poetic Justice: "When it comes to barbeque, we're all family."

From The Detroit News: http://apps.detnews.com/apps/blogs/politicsblog/index.php#ixzz0sD9AJHZ6

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