A few weeks ago, I watched the unveiling of “Mother Tree” in Hunter Park. This magnificent sculpture is the work of Ivan Iler, a Michigan artist with a national reputation.
So, you may ask, how did placement of a commissioned art piece in Hunter Park come about? “The small but mighty neighborhood of Prospect Place” is responsible, Yasmina Bouraoui explained. Yasmina is an active member of Lansing’s Prospect Place neighborhood, and she leads its effort to increase public art along the Kalamazoo corridor on the east side. She mobilized her immediate neighbors, engaged the Allen Neighborhood Center to serve as the fiduciary and then was part of a team that wrote grants and made pitches to funders such as the City of Lansing and the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, or LEAP. Once funded, Yasmina and her cadre of eastsiders worked with the artist on the concept and planned, with ANC, a festive, all-neighborhood unveiling.
“Mother Tree” is the latest addition to the corridor that includes several colorful and fabulous Ivan Iler-designed bike racks in front of Allen Neighborhood Center and in the park. And the 1600 block also proudly features the work of local artists in the Allen Community Health Center and Eastside Lansing Food Co-op. And, of course, there is the ever-growing Brian Whitfield mural on the east wall of the complex.
Yasmina and her neighborhood allies, working with ANC, are determined to turn Kalamazoo Street into an art-filled corridor. Of course, they also have a number of other issues they are addressing as a neighborhood group: affordable, well maintained housing, tree planting and gardening in the public domain, and working with the city and other collaborators on safety and health issues. This mobilized bunch has a broad and ambitious agenda that supports life and growth in their neighborhood.
Moores Park and Pool
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, residents of the Moores Park neighborhood, as well as several historic preservation advocates and groups, were coming together, determined to repair and preserve the historic Moores Park Pool. The pool, closed in 2019, had been a centerpiece of the heavily utilized and beloved Moores Park. As reported by local historian Bill Castanier, the pool was designed in 1923 by Lansing city engineer Wesley Bintz, who described its unique shape as “an upside down derby hat with amenities under the brim.” Bill notes that for decades the pool has been a destination, an historic structure, and a major draw of people to this vibrant park.
An emerging collaboration resulted in the creation of Friends of Moores Park Pool, which went on to raise $40,000 toward a city assessment of the cost of repairs. While there were a couple of larger donors, 315 neighbors and friends raised fully $35,000 of the total.
The assessment of repair costs came in high: up to $6.2 million in repairs. Undaunted, the group engaged political allies, including Mayor Andy Schor (who had been involved from the git), state Sen. Sarah Anthony and Rep. Emily Dievendorf, who managed to get the project into the state budget. Word has it that Anthony vows she will finally learn to swim, once Moore’s Park Pool re-opens!
Referring to the friends group’s successful effort to secure funding, Dale Schraeder of Preservation Lansing declares, “It’s a miracle! But we haven’t stopped. We recently scheduled a clean-up to get leaves out of the pool and drew 50 people.”
Parks and neighborhoods
Parks are huge neighborhood assets, critical components of livable and lively neighborhoods. Former U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit once noted, “City parks serve, day in and day out, as the primary green spaces for the majority of Americans.”
Neighbors have a major role to play in creating parks that are attractive and inviting for many users and uses, as preached by urban activist Jane Jacobs, author of the clarion work “Death and Life of Great American Cities,” published in 1961.
Taking Jacobs’ advice to heart, the Friends of Hunter Park, back in 2004, worked with ANC to create an 11-point improvement plan that created many reasons for people to come to the park. Within a decade, a walking path, greenhouse-based gardening education center, picnic pavilion, repaired pool and splash pad, benches, playgrounds and more resulted in Hunter becoming one of the most heavily utilized Lansing parks.
Moores Park residents and its allies are very likely to continue to identify improvements that will grow the number of citizens making use of Moores Park’s many assets.
Moreover, there are over 20 friends of parks’ groups in Lansing — envisioning, driving and shaping the creative and varied uses of their parks. Brett Kashinski, Lansing’s parks and recreation drector, oversees the 111 parks and 2,000 acres of parkland — unusual for a city our size. He notes that his department supports an Adopt-a Park-Program that gives Lansingites “the opportunity to become involved with the growth of city parks and neighborhoods.” As Brett points out, sharing stewardship of the commons and creating community begins with initiative and contributions from Lansing residents who understand the importance of parks in creating loved and vibrant neighborhoods.
So, whether you organize (or are already a part of) a neighborhood group or another civic group, consider what you and your associates might do to create the inviting, safe, jam-packed-with-options and neighbor-friendly park you want to enjoy. There are people with resources who are eager to help you, including the aforementioned Adopt-A-Park Program as well as Lansing’s Department of Neighborhoods, Art, and Citizen Engagement. (Call Robin Anderson-King at (517) 483-4293 to get started.) You might also engage with a place-based nonprofit or a neighborhood center that can act as a fiduciary for those aspirations that involve raising significant funds for your project.
As the ever-pertinent Jane Jacobs would remind us, our work to improve our parks will “give back grace and delight” to our neighborhoods.
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