Neighbors work together to take back their local park
Community members volunteering to create positive change
A community park can be many things. A green, peaceful escape from a concrete jungle. A place for children to play outdoors. A gathering place to enjoy time with family and friends.
“At their best, parks are places for communities to come together,” said Amanda Timm, Houston Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Executive Director. “Unfortunately, many neighborhood parks do not live up to this ideal and are not safe places.”
One such place is Clark Park, a 12.74-acre park in a neighborhood north of downtown Houston. “Clark Park has seen robberies, illegal drug sales, and other criminal activity. It’s also the only park serving the neighborhood’s 17,800 residents,” Amanda explained.
Coming together to take action
In 2015, Clark Park residents decided to take back their park, but they weren’t sure where to start. They found a program that had transformed other neighborhood parks: “Great Opportunities (GO) Neighborhoods,” a Houston LISC program funded in part by State Farm. The program produces diverse, vibrant, and safe communities by engaging members of neighborhood.
In May 2016, community leaders hosted a safety audit and visioning session for Clark Park. More than 50 residents, city and University of Houston staff attended the daylong event. Together they observed and recorded any hazard to safety (blocked visibility, lighting problems, maintenance issues, etc.).
Alejandro Perez, a 23 year resident with a goal of becoming a homeowner, got involved in the safety audit. “I wanted to be a part of shaping the neighborhood I will live in with my kids, when I finally buy a house here.”
That day during the visioning session, residents discussed their thoughts and dreams about the future of Clark Park.
“This was fun because other people come up with ideas you don’t think about,” Alejandro remembered. “One neighbor thought of a pavilion. It surprised me how many different age groups were using the walking trails. It’s a small park, but neighbors connect to it in many ways.”
Residents said they would like an updated jogging trail, more family-friendly areas, and more police patrols.
The Clark Park day was one of the largest attended events of its kind in Houston. It was clear, the community was ready to create positive change in their neighborhood.
Two months later, local residents reviewed a rendering of potential Clark Park improvements. They shared feedback with the city entities and nonprofits. Avenue Community Development Corporation (Avenue CDC) leads the on-going improvement work in Clark Park.
“Clark Park has so much potential,” Avenue CDC’s Community Coordinator Maria Aguirre-Borrero said. “With the help of elected officials and community member engagement, the park will be a shining light in the community.”
In March 2017, leaders added Clark Park to the city’s Capital Improvement Project plans. Now the park will receive improvement funds.
“Clark Park is a fine example of how positive actions can result in neighborhood improvements,” Amanda said. “With determination and hard work, the neighborhood will soon have a park to be proud of.”
What can you do to improve your neighborhood? Visit Neighborhood of Good to find volunteer opportunities in your neck of the woods.