Grantee Spotlight: Safety
n a recent summer day, Edna Sabucco walked the small neighborhood park she and her neighbors built , telling the story of how they coaxed and cultivated beauty from what once was a mess of blight and ugliness.
That strawberry patch over there—she says, pointing—that used to be a basement filled with garbage.
She points again. In that corner was the dead tree dubbed “The Widowmaker” because of its tendency to drop heavy limbs capable of killing a man. Now, it’s a gently sloping expanse of grass and a raised bed of produce.
It’s just a sampling of the remarkable transformation of nine vacant lots into an eco-friendly pocket park through the sweat equity of the Eastside Franklin Park Neighborhood Association, led by the tenacious Sabucco, 60.
One of Flint’s neighborhoods that has at times suffered streaks of arson, many of the vacant lots on this corner used to contain burned out houses, trees or basements. A charred and blackened electrical pole along Franklin Avenue at the park’s edge still stands as a reminder of what was.
Now, the park features walking paths and a covered pavilion with picnic tables, and grows strawberries, blackberries, grapes and blueberries. A mini orchard of fruit trees grows apples, peaches, pears and cherries and a vegetable garden is flourishing in a lot across the street.
And, perhaps the project’s most important yield: a friendly neighborhood and increased sense of safety.
“Even if you don’t know them now, you get to know them eventually,” Sabucco said of nearby residents who all pitch in to maintain the park. “I think that’s really the important part. You eventually get acquainted with everyone.”
The park is the result of years of work by dedicated neighbors. Along with Sabucco, some of the neighborhood residents began coordinated clean-ups and maintenance of blighted properties in the area in 2010, followed by the official formation of the association in 2015.
One of the key steps in the process was the development and adoption of a neighborhood plan featuring the pocket park, which was done with support from City of Flint planning staff through the Imagine Flint–Neighborhood Planning Initiative funded by the Ruth Mott Foundation. The neighborhood plans detail the strategies for Flint’s residential areas, which align with the city’s overall master plan.
The association received a mini grant in 2016 and then a commitment for a $25,000 transformational grant in 2018 for the park from the Community Foundation of Greater Flint’s Neighborhood Small Grants program, which allows smaller grassroots organizations to receive funds for neighborhood improvement projects without a 501(c)3 nonprofit status. The Ruth Mott Foundation is one of the program’s funders.
The park follows Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) standards, incorporating design features that help discourage crime, while at the same time encouraging legitimate use of the space.
Under the safety priority of its strategic plan, the Ruth Mott Foundation contributed $24,715 to the project in 2018 for the association to carry out the project and offer job skill training and paid employment to north Flint youth who assisted with setting up the park and reducing blight in the neighborhood. The project is distinctive in the way it crosses three of the Ruth Mott Foundation’s four priority areas, aligning with the Foundation’s theories of change for safety, youth and neighborhoods.
The Foundation’s staff based at Applewood Estate also provided significant technical assistance in the areas of horticulture and CPTED. Sabucco credits Foundation staff with developing a rendering of the park that included the features voiced by residents along with a realistic plan for maintenance. Other project partners included Flint BRAND and Genesee County Habitat for Humanity.
Sabucco hopes their process becomes a blueprint for other neighborhoods that are hoping to implement similar plans.
“We can help each other,” she said. “I might not have the answer, but I can point you in the right direction. If we all do that for each other, it’s a wonderful thing.”
It was important to residents that the park be accessible for the elderly and persons with disabilities. (Sabucco’s youngest grandchild uses a wheelchair). The park also incorporates environmentally friendly practices, including a rain barrel, because “we have a responsibility to leave this earth better than we found it,” she said.
Today, she said it’s clear the park is enjoyed by many. The other day, she says, three women brought some macaroni and cheese and enjoyed a game of Yahtzee under the pavilion. As Sabucco walks through the park (after mowing it herself), several neighbors wave hello or shout greetings.
She admits that some of her neighbors thought she was “crazy” when she came to them with the plan, but she knew she would see it through.
“I gave everyone my word,” she said.
Tim Curran, who lives a few blocks away, often rides his bike to the park and helps with the upkeep, watering plants using water collected in the rain barrels or picking weeds. He said Sabucco was definitely “the right girl for the job.”
“This is a really cool idea to get people in the neighborhood to get to know each other,” he said.
“And it’s working.”