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Punks with Lunch is standing its ground at Reutter Park. The picnic tables it dropped in the park this summer in an act of enlightened anarchism will stay — for now.
“We have decided as a group in discussion with everyone in the park that the tables will stay until we have a discussion with city leadership,” said Martin Mashon, a spokesman for the radical charity group, which finds creative grassroots ways to help less fortunate neighbors.
Punks with Lunch installed the freshly varnished picnic tables in the park without warning in late June, hoping to spring a little life into the woebegone Reutter Park, which is centered on a dilapidated fountain that works infrequently. The park takes up an entire city block across Capitol Avenue from the Capital Area District Library’s flagship location.
The Lansing Parks & Recreation Department tolerated the tables for the warm weather months, but the city has threatened to remove the tables by winter if the group does not take them first.
Mayor Andy Schor wants to reinvigorate the park in time for $25 million in new housing to open across the street on the site of the old downtown YMCA, and he worries the picnic tables help retain a rough group of people that makes the park feel unsafe for families and children.
“We want to make sure that park is open and accessible,” he said.” We have a right to for that space to be better utilized for kids who can’t with this activity.”
Reutter Park is known as a hot spot for drug dealing, assault and public intoxication. Some people drinking beer on the tables last week told a reporter to get the hell out of there when he asked them questions about the fate of the lawn ware.
The city provided crime data showing 67 incident reports within a block of Reutter Park since the start of the year. However, about a third of those took place a block away on South Washington Square, which has a liquor store and a number of bars. Also, there were 15 incidents reported in the area in May and another 15 in June, but then only 15 incidents in July and August combined — the two months since the tables were dropped.
Schor has asked citizens for ideas on how to make the park more friendly to all residents. “This park is big enough to have many activities happening,” he said. “We could have playground equipment, provide social services, and potentially do other things as well.”
Punks with Lunch advocates for homeless Lansingites, and of course Mashon and his fellow activists dispute that the tables make the situation worse, arguing that the tables liven up the park and show the city cares.
“It is an age-old problem: drugs, alcohol and prostitution exist — having tables or not having tables,” said the Rev. Bob Higle of Plymouth Congregational Church. Higle ministers with Punks with Lunch.
Higle said the fountain had been operating off and on this summer, greatly improving the atmosphere. “It changed the whole dynamic of the park. There was a cool mist blowing.”
Travis Wichert said other cities, such as Seattle and Portland, have worked with volunteer groups to help maintain parks and greenspace and reduce the burden on city taxpayers. He wants Schor and Lansing to be more open to the same.
“We’re trying to improve our city,” said Cayley Kline. “If it becomes a common place for people to go, the drugs and prositution won’t happen.”
Schor added Monday that he plans to meet with street outreach groups Cardboard Prophets and the Homeless Angels, along with Punks with Lunch later this month to resolve the matter. “We appreciate that we had a group that provided picnic tables and a place for people to sit,” he said. “We’ll leave them till the end of the season.”
Mashon said they had intended to remove the tables before winter anyway to prevent weathering. He just didn’t want to leave them out for autumn if the city was going to take them and lock them in storage for next year.