Connecting in Detroit’s Fitzgerald Park

Noah Stephens
4 min readJan 3, 2021
Simal [Andrew (l), EB, Bernadette, Jeremy]

Parks are powerful. Greenspaces help people feel more connected to nature and other members of their community. If we are seduced by cynicism, this claim will feel a bit hard to believe. Naive. There is comfort in cynicism. When we are convinced nothing we do matters, we give ourselves permission to do nothing. But what if sour grapes are sweet after all?

Data Favor the Optimist

“[Our analysis] showed that all themes identified were related to parks fulfilling a basic human need for connection to family, loved ones, and friends; community and neighborhood; self; and nature.”

Source: An Exploration of Psychosocial Pathways of Parks’ Effects on Health, The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2018)

But What About People in The Real World?

Near the end of 2020, Reimagining the Civic Commons commissioned The People Of Detroit founder Noah Stephens to photograph and interview people who visit Ella Fitzgerald Park (the park was created in 2018 atop a series of vacant lots).

The series explores how the park united the west side Detroit community – even as the novel coronavirus forced the world apart.

This work was completed in partnership with the Live6 Alliance and the City of Detroit Planning & Development Department — two organizations spearheading work in the Fitzgerald neighborhood in collaboration with local residents. Here what’s members of the community had to say:

Bernadette [Andrew (l), Simal, EB, Jeremy]

“[The park] has made a big difference. There was nowhere to go before Fitzgerald Park. And when they built the park, it just opened up everything.”

Bernadette is a Fitzgerald resident who makes her own hula hoops. She is often found hula hooping with others outdoors, encouraging health and wellness amongst neighbors all while blowing bubbles.

EB [Andrew (l), Simal, Bernadette, Jeremy]

“I take on leadership roles in my community because I see all that is happening around me and I need to be a part of it”

EB is a Martin Park resident, vegan chef and block club president

Jeremy [Bernadette (l), Simal, EB]

“I love coming to the park and seeing the diversity of the community represented”

Jeremy is a University District resident, bicyclist and small business advocate.

Andrew [EB (l), Bernadette, KeKe & Chloe]

“[Fitzgerald Park] has brought the community together. […] We’ve got so much lively stuff going on right now, […] and it’s making everybody have unity with each other.”

Andrew is a Fitzgerald resident and Vice President of the San Juan Block Club.

Sherell [KeKe & Chloe (l), Andrew, Jessica]

“It’s a lot going on in this neighborhood. I help out where I can”

Sherell is a Fitzgerald resident and recent high school graduate. She and her friends have attended and hosted many events at Ella Fitzgerald Park.

Simal [Andrew (l), EB, Bernadette, Jeremy]

“The park lets me make new friends.”

- Simal is a Green Acres resident and avid skateboarder.

Comment from the Photographer

“I grew up a few miles from the Fitzgerald neighborhood. I know how a vacant lot makes it hard to smile,” Stephens said. “Lips tethered by the lot’s brown-gray gravity. As I listened to Andrew and Bernadette and everyone describe the positive impact of Fitzgerald Park, I was recommitted to the belief we can build a better day.”

To learn more about the Civic Commons Project in Detroit, visit: civiccommons.us. For more on the Live6 Alliance, visit: live6detroit.org.

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