What’s the Fastest Way to Renovate a Park? Let the Neighborhood Take Charge
One of PUSH’s most spectacular campaign victories occurred in October 2011 when West Side activists convinced Mayor Byron Brown, members of the Common Council and Parks Commissioner Andy Rabb to release $350,000 towards the renovation of a neglected park that had been a gaping eyesore on Massachusetts Avenue. The commitment was the city’s largest pledge to this project, increasing the total money that people in the community had won for the Massachusetts Avenue Park to more than a half million dollars.
The Massachusetts Avenue Park Campaign grew out of the GDZ’s Community Planning Congresses. Early on, residents identified the large, empty, seldom-used swath of weeds, pockmarked lawn, unsafe equipment, and buckled basketball courts as a major priority.
The park is the largest publicly-owned green space in Buffalo’s densest neighborhood. More than 5,000 families live within walking distance, including 5,000 youth aged 14 and under. Fifteen agencies serving youth lie within walking distance of the park as well, including the neighboring Butler-Mitchell Boys & Girl’s Club. Its potential as a community meeting place was enormous.
In October 2009, 100 residents of the area gathered to envision ways to create fun, safe and open spaces in the park. The priorities they laid down in this congress inspired a Concept Plan, drawn up by ecoLOGIC Studios, which residents viewed throughout the month of December. Community members presented the resulting Healthy Neighborhood Park Concept Plan to City Hall.
The Campaign: Phase I
PUSH activists and GDZ residents got themselves on the Common Council agenda, and got the attention of Parks Commissioner Rabb. When meetings with him didn’t shake the funds lose, they went directly to the Mayor.
The city first committed over $130,000 for Phase I of the plan, mostly consisting of safety and entrance improvements. Construction began in the Fall of 2011, and in June 2012 residents celebrated the completion of Phase I with a festive Community Luau.
In the meantime, the big news had come through: after pressing the Mayor for a verbal commitment to move the park plan forward, the activists got what they were looking for: a much bigger pot of funding for the more ambitious Phase II of the plan.
The Campaign: Phase II
Construction will start in the Autumn of 2012 and will remake the park into a state-of-the-art recreation facility and crown jewel of the GDZ. A park pavilion will go up, as well as a multipurpose playing field, handball courts, and paths. A new entrance to the park will be built through a vacant lot owned by the City, and the park will also connect with several refurbished garden lots owned by PUSH.
When Phase II is complete in the Spring of 2013, West Side residents will be able to celebrate yet another hard-won victory!
That said, PUSH activists never rest long on their laurels. They will continue to press the City for funding for the next phases of the Concept Plan, and aim to negotiate an agreement with the City that gives GDZ residents a strong voice in future maintenance and planning of their very own Mass Ave Park.
Click for more information about the Park, including maps of the Three-Phase renovation plan.