Two Unlikely ‘Schmoes’ Rally Community to $500K Park Refresh

Two Unlikely ‘Schmoes’ Rally Community to $500K Park Refresh

‘We were excited; they got excited,’ says champion

John Eby and a neighbour Dan Klare were two of the most unlikely “schmoes,” as John calls them, to drive any major community effort, but that’s what they’ve done over the past nine years, turning a potholed, falling apart park into a revamped space where people of all ages aren’t afraid to hang out, play and keep active.

John recalls the incident that set them on this journey; Dan had called him over to help maneuver a man in a wheelchair across the park’s pitted parking lot. After they’d managed that, they needed to traverse a 15-acre cratered grass field to to the sports field where the man’s son was playing.

All three started asking each other why they had such a “crappy park,” John says.

A call to the City of Cincinnati led to conversations that made it clear revitalizing the park couldn’t be a matter of plugging into city funds; they’d have to involve the community to come up with the funds, about half a million dollars.

For two guys who weren’t very active in the neighbourhood as it was, this wasn’t going to be any small feat.

But John and Dan put a few steps forward — and realized some assets already existed in the neighbourhood for moving the project forward, like an engineer for planning the park and a marketing guru for building energy around it.

By the time the city recreation director had been called in to discuss the vision for the park, a group of about 40 community members was waiting to meet with him, armed with a full-scale plan for the design and use of the park, as well as a fundraising strategy.

Noting that most park refurbishments mean dragging three or four community members “kicking and screaming” in for a planning session, the director went away and bumped Ryan Park, which had been 22nd on the city’s priority list for park revitalizations, to No 1.

There were a couple of other pivot points in the journey; one was catching the attention of Great American Insurance Co. owner and Cincinnati resident Carl Lindner, to donate to the park’s renovation.

“Once we got that first donation, it was amazing how fast people lined up,” John tells Axiom News.

The other hinge point was a four-hour community forum inviting people to share their dreams of what the ideal park would include, “if they had all the money in the world.”

Held during the height of football season, the meeting nonetheless saw about 200 people through, compared to the several that might attend a town council meeting. In sharing their vision, these 200 neighbours got excited, making it clear they were willing to work to make the park better.

“It was such a weird experience,” says John, summing up. “Once it had its own little buzz, it was easy to get people on board. We were excited about it, they got excited about it.”

More than $800,000 has since been poured into the park’s revitalization, with new tennis courts, a new parking lot and new shelter all part of the many changes.

But what’s most exciting is how people, after some intentional programming in the beginning to inspire activity, are actually using the park, which was the objective all along.

“The long-lasting effect is that people use the park, they feel safe in the park and it’s become a focal point for our community again,” says John.

Read an upcoming article on how stories, and drawing on individuals’ passions and gifts, fed the success of this project.

If you have feedback on this article please contact Michelle at 800-294-0051, ext. 27, or email michelle(at)axiomnews.ca.

Writer Bio

Michelle Strutzenberger's picture
Michelle Strutzenberger

Michelle Strutzenberger has been a Generative Journalist and curator with Axiom News for more than 15 years.

She's most grateful for the incredible people she gets to work with every day at Axiom News, as well as the many other amazing folks she's encountered through this work.

"I have always seen the opportunity to do this work as a gift," she says.

Michelle's writing has also been published by a wide variety of other organizations and publications, including the following:
- Abundant Community, an initiative of authors John McKnight and Peter Block to awaken the power of families and neighbourhoods
- PLAN Institute, a network dedicated to enabling families to create a good life for people with disabilities
-.New Scoop YYC, Calgary's news co-op practicing Generative Journalism
- The Canadian Community Economic Development Network
- Nieuwmakers, a Belgian news agency
- Restore Commons, an initiative of Peter Block and friends
- Academy for Systemic Change

Contact Michelle: 705-741-4421 ext. 27 or michelle(at)axiomnews.com.

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