Last year, a large group of volunteers used a $16,500 grant, as well as several thousand hours of planning and work, to transform a park in Southwest Detroit. Now, Romanowski Park -- with new bike racks, trash cans, basketball nets, swings, picnic tables and many more improvements to its 26 acres -- is slated to close.
Mayor Dave Bing announced Friday that Romanowski and 49 other parks would close after a deal fell through that could have saved the cash-strapped city over $6 million annually. An offer for the state to lease and operate Belle Isle, Detroit's island park, was rescinded after City Council failed to vote on the plan by the January deadline.
The parks are located throughout the city and were selected for closure in alignment with the Detroit Future City framework, a document that will shape the city's development in the next decades. The City also looked at use, amenities, size and proximity to parks that will stay open, identifying 38 parks that would begin receiving limited maintenance. 19 received the designation of Premier Parks and will be serviced fully by maintenance teams.
"Romanowski Park was chosen because although a lot of programming goes on there, Patton Park, which is no more than a half-mile away, is a Premier park," General Services Department Director Brad Dick said in an email. "We're trying to encourage people in the area to use Patton Park.
Dick added that the park's "sheer acreage" weighed against it.
Romanowski Park became a pet project of The 313 Project, a pro-bono legal aid group, in 2012. Despite its neglect -- the park was often littered with garbage after its trash cans were stolen -- the members saw potential in the park.
"Every time we came the park was crawling with kids," 313 Project co-founder Aisa Villarosa Berg said in July. "We wanted a place that was already embraced by the community."
The group received the $16,500 grant from the Home Depot Foundation to carry out their planned improvements. Around 400 volunteers from the 313 Project, Home Depot, Motor City Blight Busters (who boarded up abandoned homes alongside the park) and the community came together in July to clean up the park as groups of children helped and played.
"We are saddened by today's news because of what this means for Detroit's families and children," the 313 Project said Friday in a statement. "While we are mindful of the budget crisis that the City is facing, cutting funds used to maintain safe and clean parks for our children poses greater harms to our community and is not worth the short-term financial gains the City receives."
"We do not plan to stop volunteering at Romanowski Park because we simply cannot risk losing the proactive developments stemming from its rejuvenation," they added.
Over in Corktown, the tiny Murphy Playlot has suffered the same indignation as Romanowski and the other 48 parks. But it, too, will only be closed on paper. Mudgie's Deli owner Greg Mudge applied to adopt the small playground across from his restaurant last year, as reported by The Huffington Post. He has already taken over care of the park, which is used by kids in the neighborhood.
Mudge said he only heard of the playground's closure when a TV news crew appeared Friday.
"It doesn't make any sense to me," he said. "What are they going to do, put a gate around it?"
Some of the parks on the list to be closed are tiny, some large, and many surely resemble Romanowski Park before its adoption -- that is, overgrown and neglected. But there are also many parks that, despite flaws, have served Detroit families and children for decades.
Is a park up for closure important to you, your family or community? Let us know in the comments or email HuffPost Detroit your story.
Read the 313 Project's full statement on Romanowski's closure below:
We are saddened by today's news because of what this means for Detroit's families and children.
As an organization whose volunteers have spent over 3,000 combined hours in 2012 repairing and beautifying Romanowski Park, we have seen the importance of providing a clean and safe space for our children to play -- a place for cultivating a sense of community. Like many of the city's parks, Romanowski is both a historical beacon, honoring Southwest Detroit U.S. veterans killed in combat, and a crucial meeting point for diverse groups of neighborhood residents, sports teams, and service organizations.
The 313 Project's mission is to connect the legal community to Detroit's underserved communities through pro bono, educational, and service efforts -- and, in a larger sense, to empower and encourage others to enact positive, lasting change. We do not plan to stop volunteering at Romanowski Park because we simply cannot risk losing the proactive developments stemming from its rejuvenation: Maintaining Detroit's parks helps to build community connections, increases volunteerism and youth involvement, and decreases crime and gang activity.
While we are mindful of the budget crisis that the City is facing, cutting funds used to maintain safe and clean parks for our children poses greater harms to our community and is not worth the short-term financial gains the City receives. In the coming months, The 313 Project hopes to mobilize its volunteers to keep Romanowski Park, its legacy, and its community spirit intact.