People, Parks, Power: How South Side in Bloom is more than a typical tour

Editor's note: This is the second 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.

It was a refrain heard time and again at last year’s inaugural South Side in Bloom.

“I had no idea this was here,” Steve Schlather recalls visitors saying as they toured the display of community gardens and neighborhood parks located throughout Springfield’s Southside.

The event returns this year, ready to introduce even more Clark County residents to what the Southside offers, as well as to welcome back those who know of its beauty and renewal.

The free tour will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat. July 29, with 10 locations to visit that often showcase how vacant, abandoned and underused land have turned into something beautiful and productive, says Schlather, the tour’s coordinator.

“We need to keep showing people there are good things happening,” he says.

Many stops will include their own special activities, such as tours, fresh vegetables, gardening lessons, music and children’s activities.

Some sites, like The Gammon House and Hartman Rock Garden, may be familiar to many – although visitors may be surprised by changes since their last visit, Schlather says. But some of the sites are likely new for tourgoers.

Altogether, the event shows that Southside residents “are taking matters into their own hands and improving their area,” Schlather says. South Side in Bloom attendees can see for themselves that there are unique, beautiful places to visit, volunteer and be involved.

The Conscious Connect CDC is one of the sponsors of the event and has been advocating for more local green space for years. It was awarded a national People, Parks, and Power (P3) grant – $500,000 over two years – to promote park equity, with a focus on Springfield’s Southside.

A P3 survey is gathering information from Southside residents and visitors about park accessibility, programming, amenities and safety. Surveys can be completed at 1615 Woodward Ave., and the first 50 people to complete the survey will receive a free T-shirt or free food at Sully Jaymes Memorial Park. 

South Side in Bloom’s tour of gardens and parks helps to highlight the mission, too.

“Residents will have a chance to share their vision for improving green spaces in the community,” says Destinye Arnold, project manager for The Conscious Connect CDC and leader of the P3 effort. “My hope is that residents walk away with a refreshed idea about what their community can become.”

In addition to The Conscious Connect CDC, sponsors of South Side in Bloom include the City of Springfield, Clark County Solid Waste District, Springfield Promise Neighborhood and The Turner Foundation.
The tour also may alter visitors’ views of an area of the city they may know little about.

“I hope this can change or provide a different narrative to people about what it means to live on the Southside,” says Kali Lawrence, executive director of Springfield Promise Neighborhood. The organization also is part of the Unified Collective, a group of local organizations that is working together to revitalize Springfield’s Southside in many ways.

The Springfield Promise Neighborhood Visioning Garden on the tour includes raised beds used to demonstrate gardening techniques, a fruit tree orchard and a native pollinator area, she says. The front of the garden features seating, a sandbox and toys, while the back part has plots to grow vegetables.

“There are still people in Springfield who don’t know it exists,” Lawrence says about the garden, which has endured for almost a decade and is just one part of the organization’s larger goals regarding community partnerships.

In addition to the garden being a site for education about the natural world, Lawrence sees it also as a place to amplify other community resources and opportunities, with signs to inform visitors of upcoming events.

South Side in Bloom provides a way to promote the garden and its benefits, she says. As an annual event, Lawrence also views it as an opportunity for visitors to see how the Southside’s green spaces evolve over time.

She estimated that up to 300 people toured the garden last year, with the vast majority visiting for the first time. Some came from further afield, including Troy, London and Yellow Springs.

Community gardens have been around for many years, and the event honors residents who have poured their time and talent into them, Lawrence says.

“This is Springfield-led,” she says. “This is people wanting to do something right in the neighborhood, right around the corner from where they live.”

Lawrence knows there are stereotypes about the people and families who live in Springfield’s Southside. But she also knows these people and families firsthand, and she has witnessed their dedication to their neighborhoods, whether that is through their involvement in community associations, their churches or another type of volunteering.

“I think it’s important for the wider Springfield and Clark County community that there are people who care about how the Southside looks and how it feels,” Lawrence says.

South Side in Bloom tour stops and what to expect are below, with more complete descriptions and maps of each location available on the event website:

Auburn J. Tolliver Memorial Peace Garden, 1626 S. Limestone St. – This restful spot along a major thoroughfare was created by Brian Keith and his family and is named for Keith’s great-grandfather, a civil rights activist.

Gammon House, 620 Piqua Place – Volunteers will provide tours of this National Historic site that is one of just three Underground Railroad locations still in existence in Ohio that was owned and operated by a free person of color.

Green Environmental Outreach, 724 S. Plum St. – Visit this community garden to see demonstrations on how to grow plants above the soil in an urban environment. Visitors can take self-guided tours, and snacks and water will be provided.

Hartman Rock Garden, 1905 Russell Ave. – Celebrate Tchotchke Palooza, the museum’s annual summer event, with self-guided tours, special tours and programs for kids, and a new flower scavenger hunt.

Innisfallen Inspiration Garden, 1051 S. Yellow Springs St. – This park created by 1159 South Development Corp. includes three patios, a plaque honoring Hattie Moseley, and a Youth Walk of Fame with bricks purchased by Southside residents.

Jefferson Street Oasis, 1027 W. High St. – Its 2.5 acres of garden plots is joined by an herb garden, pastured chickens, a children’s cottage and a greenhouse. The tour coincides with its “Grilling in the Garden” event, and visitors can enjoy cooked vegetables, pizza and sweet corn.

Keep Clark County Beautiful Sunflower Field, 500 W. Grand Ave. – Photo opportunities will be offered at this brownfield-turned-scenic spot. Visitors also can take home a sunflower seed planting activity, and the Community Cleanup Trailer will be displayed.

Melrose Acres Urban Agriculture Project, 1030 McCain Ave. – See where Springfield Ohio Urban Plantfolk grows vegetables to sell at neighborhood farm stands. Learn about no-till methods that support soil health and season extension. Activities include a scavenger hunt with prizes, a children's activity and an on-site neighborhood farm stand. 

Springfield Promise Neighborhood Visioning Garden, 1217 Linden Ave. – Visit the site of free garden plots for neighborhood residents, a community recreation and meeting place, and programming such as food and nutrition classes, a summer nature camp and food distribution. Enjoy self-guided tours, children's crafts and tacos with fresh vegetables.

Sully Jaymes Memorial Park, 1615 Woodward Ave. – At this park developed by The Conscious Connect is a basketball court with a mural, a little library, disc golf and two benches. Visitors on this day can enjoy music, food, face painting and more. Students can receive free books. A neighborhood survey will be circulated in exchange for a free T-shirt or free food.
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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.