People, Parks, Power: Patrons say accessibility, amenities, programs, safety are important to them

Editor's note: This is the seventh in a series of articles - People, Parks & Power - that dives into the commitment of local people working to make long-term, systemic changes to positively affect greenspaces and - in turn - the overall health and well-being of Springfield's Southside and beyond.

When Crystal Lloyd wants to take her young nieces to a park, she generally doesn’t visit one located in the 45506 area code where she lives on the southside of Springfield.

“It just looks not safe, not somewhere I would want to bring my nieces,” she says of the nearby parks.

Instead, the 26-year-old hops in the car and drives to the northside, or she plays with the two-year-olds at Perrin Woods Elementary – not ideal, since there isn’t always access because it is a school.

Lloyd would prefer someplace closer, where she wouldn’t have to drive. A place where she could visit spur-of-the-moment, with benches and tables and equipment for the kids. A place where visitors feel safe and maybe even can read a book. A place that can be for everyone.

What her side of Springfield could use, she says, is a park that can be a gathering space to host events, have a cookout or just hang out. 

“I know going outside and having something to do is really good for your mind and body,” says Lloyd, a behavior coach for the Miami Valley Child Development Centers.

The inner southwest quadrant of Springfield – the area bounded by Pleasant, South Limestone, West John and South Yellow Springs streets – has no multi-amenity park, says Karlos L. Marshall, co-founder and president of The Conscious Connect, the nonprofit organization that received a $500,000 People, Parks, and Power national grant to promote park equity.

“Parks are critical infrastructure for vibrant communities, as they spark economic development and social cohesion across generations,” Marshall says.

A recent P3 survey focusing on park accessibility, amenities, programming and safety showed what locals want most, according to The Conscious Connect. That includes playgrounds, walking paths, water recreation, gathering spaces, botanical gardens, food gardens, an amphitheater or music area and more.

Many respondents also said that different or improved amenities would convince them to use nearby parks more often. Increased safety, as well as access or proximity, was important to many, too.

What’s more, research shows that “greening vacant lots” results in a drop in gun violence, Marshall says.

“As a community, we need to make a concerted investment in park infrastructure and recreational activities that are of interest to our most vulnerable teen and young adult populations,” Marshall says.

He also points to discussions about a possible pickleball court on the southwest side, at 521 W. Grand Ave. While pickleball is becoming more popular for older adults across the country and the addition could benefit the neighborhood, survey feedback shows that the park infrastructure that southside residents and visitors want most remains unaddressed by the project.

“This survey has the most feedback that southside residents have provided regarding parks in recent history—if ever,” Marshall says. “So it's incumbent upon the city and park leaders to work with neighborhood-based organizations to find solutions that amplify their voices.”

Dr. Keshee’ Harris grew up just outside of Springfield and has spent a lot of time in the city’s southside – her mother lives there now, and her father’s business, Kes Harris Trucking, has been based on Yellow Springs Street for more than three decades.

She praises organizations like The Conscious Connect for their efforts and endeavors to give more people access to park space.

Harris, who moved to Columbus to finish medical school but frequently returns to Springfield, has noticed an increasing number of pocket parks, as well as empty lots being revitalized by The Conscious Connect and other grassroots organizations.

The health benefits to those who live near parks are many, she says, including lower hospitalization rates for people with asthma, lower frequencies of some types of medications and improved air quality.

“They translate into lives and into livelihoods,” she says.

That increase in wellness can likewise decrease hospital admissions, saving on medical care throughout the community, she says. Funds then can be reallocated to focus on preventive care.

Harris, 29, would like to see not only an increase in the number of greenspaces on the southside of Springfield, but also a brighter spotlight on the ones that already exist. If greenspaces aren’t known or aren’t within a reasonable distance, then they aren’t really accessible, she says.

“We need to make these spaces more of a norm and standard rather than something we have to search for and be shocked to find,” says Harris, who also is Marshall’s stepsister.

She has been pleasantly surprised to see pocket parks and vacant lots revitalized. However, southside parks like Davey Moore Park seem forgotten, she says, and it has a certain reputation because it is an unsustainable space.

“Springfield unfortunately seems to have forgotten the people of the southside, and it’s evident to the community members,” she says.

Harris says it is “uplifting” to see the efforts of grassroots organizations to improve and beautify the community. She is proud of their work, and seeing additional changes shows that the community wants more for future generations.

“It would mean that we as a community are coming together to right historic wrongs and that as a community we have unified to actually empower ourselves and create change from the bottom up,” Harris says.

Many southside residents think that nothing will change and there isn’t use in trying, Lloyd says. She is more optimistic and also hopes that naysayers will understand its importance for mental health and wellness.

Lloyd encourages local residents to research the benefits of additional parks, support the efforts and talk to others about it.

“It all starts with a conversation,” she says. “Change can be made with a talk.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Diane Erwin.

Diane Erwin is a freelance writer and former reporter for the Springfield News-Sun. A graduate of Ohio State University, her articles have appeared in a number of publications in Springfield and Dayton. In addition to her journalism background, she has worked in marketing and written copy for businesses throughout the country. In her spare time, she likes to read, dream about Schuler’s donuts, and travel near and far with her husband and two children.