In 2018, an anonymous donor gifted a 30 x 100 ft. lot to the city of Hamtramck in hopes that the city would transform it into a neighborhood park. The donor wanted to contribute to the city’s green space, which makes up a mere 2.6% of the city’s 2.2 square miles. The national median is 15%, according to the Trust for Public Land.
Hamtramck is the most densely populated municipality in Michigan, with 10,520 people per square mile. Because of that density, small parks go a long way in the city, where 78% of city residents are within a 10-minute walk of a park, according to ParkScore, a ranking system developed by the Trust for Public Land to help communities determine how they measure up when it comes to greenspace.
That’s even though the city has fewer than 24 acres dedicated to parkland to serve its estimated 21,599 people, who skew younger and are more diverse — with large populations of South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European communities — than most other places in Michigan.
The city’s Veteran’s, Pulaski, and Zussman recreational parks, Pope Park, Holbrook Gardens, and Sarah Garrett Park, comprising four city lots, make up the totality of Hamtramck’s greenspace. Hamtramck ranks among cities with the least amount of green space worldwide — Detroit has 6.4%, while New York has 27%. Hamtramck falls in line with Dubai, Istanbul, and Mumbai, other densely populated cities with little greenery.
But that’s changing. The city recently completed a successful crowdfunding campaign to develop the donated lot as Salam Peace Park, raising $25,606 that will be matched by $22,000 in funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. According to a plan developed by urban planning students from Wayne State University, the city will use the money for landscaping, benches, and playground equipment.
The plan intends to leverage the park as a space to celebrate the city’s multiculturalism, a place “where residents of all ages, religions, and ethnicities are welcome to pass the time harmoniously and in peaceful relaxation,” says Alex Iseri, manager of community & economic development and Hamtramck’s Downtown Development Authority.
Salam Peace Park sits in a part of the city designated as high-need for parks— outside of areas where residents are within a 10-minute walk, with high densities of children and low-income households, according to an analysis by Trust for Public Land.
Claire Nowak-Boyd lives a few blocks away from the proposed park. She agrees the city needs more green space.
“There are only a handful of parks for the whole city… there are so many people in Hamtramck, including lots of kids and seniors, who can benefit from spaces like this,” she says.
Nowak-Boyd says the pandemic has made it especially hard to stay indoors, and she hopes the new Salam Peace Park can provide a safe place to escape and a way for neighbors to get to know one another.
“This time has highlighted how much we need parks and green space, both for safe recreation and simply for something to do,” she says.
When the project first came together, five students from Wayne State Student Urban Planners, an organization for students in the Master of Urban Planning program, were asked to volunteer their skills to the project.
Joe Tangari, a senior planner with engineering firm Giffels Webster, was one of those students.
“It was a chance to use some of the knowledge we’d been building up as we worked on our degrees, to help create something that might bring some joy to a neighborhood,” Tangari says.
The team of five students met with staff from the Hamtramck Planning Department, visited the site, and reviewed public comments regarding what people wanted to see in neighborhood parks. Then they sketched.
Tangari says the volunteers worked with limited resources to put the community’s needs and wants at the forefront of their decision-making process, to make it a gathering place incorporating a play structure, places to sit, and landscaping.
“We also tried to think about ways to keep development costs low, encourage the use of natural materials, and limit the need for a lot of active maintenance,” he added. “It’s been a long road, and I’m happy to see that the park is on its way.”
Tangari hopes the park becomes a boon to the neighborhood. “I’d like the space to be used well, and I’d like it to make someone’s day to be able to walk down the street and enjoy the space.”
Iseri says the city is putting more effort into expanding green space. He’s working with Hamtramck Public Schools to create the new Hamtramck Parks Conservancy to maintain and maximize the use of community parks. That will be “a cooperative effort to build upon our current parks investment and use our greenspace.” He says the city is also planting more trees to recover 500 trees lost during a 1997 tornado and beautify the city.
Salam Peace Park is wedged between two homes on Trowbridge Street, facing the main road and the alley. While the lot is not the first of its kind to be donated and transformed for community purposes, Iseri says he is optimistic the project will be “contagious,” motivating others to take the initiative to convert lots to pocket parks.
“We are grateful to our donor for all his efforts to improve his neighborhood,” says Iseri. “It is because of this kind of effort that Hamtramck has been so successful in maintaining that small-town feel where neighbors know neighbors and children play in safe places in an urban setting.”