Parks summit convenes coalition to band together for a greener city

Attendees shared knowledge and lessons learned from projects to activate public spaces across the city.

More than 150 Detroit parks enthusiasts attended Tuesday’s first in-person Detroit Parks Coalition Park Summit at Marygrove College.

The summit featured longtime stewards of well-known parks and also residents who activated public spaces in vacant lots or took action to clean up and maintain their neighborhood parks themselves. 

Interest in the event was so high that organizers had to close registrations a few days before the summit and move the gathering into a larger room. 

Sigal Hemy, executive director of the Detroit Parks Coalition, said the summit resulted from a desire for peer-to-peer learning among partners. 

Hemy and others formed the coalition in 2018 to increase city parks’ programming, activation, and funding. The initial alliance of 10 organizations now wants to help other neighborhood groups and organizations make their own programming and park improvements and find funding. 

Photo by Ian Solomon, courtesy Detroit Parks Coalition.

The first seeds for the idea of a Detroit Parks Coalition were planted in 2010 when park organizers first banded together during and after Detroit’s bankruptcy. It was a time of scarce city resources for city parks, and local neighborhood groups stepped in to fill gaps. By 2018, the Coalition’s ten founding organizations were actively programming events and coordinating maintenance in parks across the city.

The Coalition’s founding members include the Belle Isle Conservancy, Chandler Park Conservancy, Clark Park Coalition, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Downtown Detroit Partnership, Friends of Patton Park, Friends of Rouge Park, Midtown Detroit, Inc., People for Palmer Park, and Sidewalk Detroit (which stewards Eliza Howell Park). 

The summit started with an opening plenary for attendees to learn how to adopt parks through the city’s Adopt-a-Park Stewardship Program. Groups complete an application and must meet several requirements, including committing to holding at least two scheduled park clean-ups per year and two park-appropriate free or low-cost events open to the public. The city pledged to work with groups to provide cleaning supplies.

Larger events require permits and fees. Applications for special events will open on Monday, Jan. 16.

Two tracks during the summit included programming and park improvements. Topics covered planning, permitting, and implementation.

Panelists included the who’s who of Detroit’s park and neighborhood leadership, including representatives from People for Palmer Park, Friends of the Rouge, Littlefield Community Association, City of Detroit Parks and Recreation, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Sidewalk Detroit, Chandler Park Conservancy, Belle Isle Conservancy, and Woodbridge Neighborhood Development.

The summit’s final session was led by funders, who discussed how to acquire support for improvements, maintenance, and activities. Panel representatives included the Detroit Pistons Foundation, Project Play Southeast Michigan, and the Kresge Foundation. Additional funders present included the Gilbert Family Foundation, Ralph C. Wilson Foundation, Southeast Michigan Community Foundation and The Conservation Fund. 

Last summer, the Detroit Parks Coalition regranted $450,000 it received from a state budget allocation to its members for capital improvements, amenities, and operating expenses. These funds went to convert the lighting at the Clark Park ice rink to LED and install additional lighting, improve landscaping and signage at the Chandler Park Skatepark, and install benches, trash cans, wayfinding signs, and community kiosks in Palmer Park, among other projects.

Young Detroiters enjoy a new skate park at Chandler Park. The project was made possible by funds regranted from the Detroit Parks Coalition. Photo by Ian Solomon, courtesy Detroit Parks Coalition.

One of the summit’s main goals was to get more park stewards to join the Coalition, Hemy said.

“It was great to see everyone sharing learnings and making connections,” Hemy said. “I left the event inspired by all of the amazing park stewards in the city and hope everyone attending did as well. We also hope that everyone in attendance left with practical takeaways that they can put to use in making their parks more beautiful and useful.”

You can learn more about the Detroit Parks Coalition here.


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