July 6, 2010; Source: Wall Street Jounal | If this trend continues, Detroit may be better known as the “do-it-yourself city” rather than its former moniker, “Motor City.” In the face of a shrinking city budget, individual volunteers as well as nonprofit organizations are taking on the responsibility for everything from maintaining public parks to boarding up vacant homes. In fact, if Detroit didn’t have an army of volunteers ready to take on some responsibilities, park spaces alone would be in serious jeopardy.
As the Wall Street Journal notes, earlier this year the Detroit City Council considered closing a large number of parks. But the funds to keep them open were restored only because the city knows it can count on individuals and groups to do most of the maintenance. One example of a community- and city-maintained public space is the 30-acre Clark Park, located on Detroit’s Southwest Side. A nonprofit, community group, the Clark Park Coalition—one of many in Detroit—partners with the city on the park’s upkeep.
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The Journal reports that, as a result, “Clark Park has playgrounds, fencing, baseball and softball fields, an ice hockey rink, and a recreation center.” While the city is responsible for utilities—cutting grass and collecting the garbage—the Clark Park Coalition “pours hundreds of dollars in donations” into play ground maintenance, and providing activities for youth ranging from summer camps to recreational sports leagues. This outpouring of public spirit seems the best antidote to avoiding the fate in Joni Mitchell’s famous lyric: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”— Bruce Trachtenberg