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Friday, January 4, 2008

City of Detroit Should Sell Under Utilized Small Parks

The Detroit City Council will be considering a proposal from the its Parks and Recreation Department to sell about 90 small city owed parks. The proposal seeks to condense and consolidate park space and resources in thriving areas. Recreation officials are endorsing it as a sensible way to look at needed downsizing, a way to reconcile surplus park space with the significant demographic shifts over the last half-century in Detroit, which has lost about a million people since 1950. If sold, the city estimates it can raise $8.1 million from selling the land. The cash strapped city would use the money earned from any sales to maintain and possibly expand parks in parts of the city that are more densely populated.

Is it worth it to do this? I think it is. Without question, parks do serve immensely important benefits and functions to urban/city life. Parks are set aside for people to enjoy--to relieve some of the stress of life. Normally, I would tend to agree with them that selling park land is a bad idea. But in the case of Detroit, I have to say that the city's recreation department proposal seems logical in terms of fiscal demands. By concentrating parks and recreation in neighborhoods that are more likely to utilize them makes sense to me. The city should take any funds made from land sales and reinvest in good or mediocre city parks and make them GREAT parks. I would rather have a dozen great parks than 100 crappy ones.

Opponents are calling the plan short-sighted and wrong, pointing out that once gone, it's gone forever. Colleagues of mine have said to me with all the land available for redevelopment in Detroit, who is going to buy these parks, for what reason, and at what price? Also, it could encourage a developer who has the money to purchase the parks, and the time to wait for the opportunity for resale or development. Still not an optimal use for parkland. Some would likely argue that keeping and maintaining the pocket parks can be used in revitalizing neighborhoods and attracting new residents, small businesses, etc.

Granted, if given a choice between developing a greenfield vs. a gray-field, I would certainly prefer to redevelop the gray-field. No argument here. But, in the case of Detroit neighborhood resurgence, I think that the city needs to attract new neighborhood mixed-income dwellers from outside of the downtrodden neighborhoods. As well as outside of the city limits. Barely satisfactory/poorly maintained pocket parks are not enough to attract these people in order to bring up neighborhoods.

But I’m not letting the city off that easy though. It will take a lot more than selling off currently under-used parks to revitalize Detroit. Detroit still has to do a much better job in maintaining and investing in existing open spaces. They also need to spend more time and effort in planning for quality urban greenspace. Detroit should consider planning for permanent nature preserves, larger urban parks connected to other greenspaces, urban farming, and even restoring wetlands or daylighting some historical watercourses. Such uses would have practical benefits such as increasing property values in nearby neighborhoods and creating educational and tourism opportunities, and would greatly add to the quality of life in Detroit. Fix what’s broken. I’m referring to the parks as well as decisions made in city hall.

NY Times
Detroit considers sale of City's small parks