Flint, Michigan

2016

Excerpt from Communities in Action:

In a city striving for revitalization, one key asset had been long neglected: an extensive park system. Partners in Flint, MI, set out to make parks a local priority again by building residents’ capacity through facilitative leadership.

For more information, read the full story.


2014

Excerpt from Lessons for Leaders:

The Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities partnership in Flint integrated many forms of evaluation into its project from the outset to improve access to quality parks. Results informed priorities and selection of pilot projects, validated effectiveness, guided implementation and informed multiple local plans for the future.

For more information, read the full story.


July 2014

Like many industrial mid-western cities, Flint, MI, located just 70 miles northwest of Detroit, is familiar with hardship. Since the decline of the auto industry, this distressed community has experienced a poor economy, population loss and an overall negative perception. People here continue to grapple with high unemployment, acute poverty and vacant, blighted properties.

In addition, diminished resources means the city has almost no capacity for the caretaking of parks or to advance innovative park policies and initiatives, making it difficult for children to find safe places to play. One-third of Flint’s youth participate infrequently in physical activity.

Therefore, revitalizing parks is a key element of efforts to improve the health of all Flint residents. Historically, the city’s parks system has been both an exceptional asset and a heavy burden. With more than 1,800 acres, inclusive of more than five dozen parks, public green space is within walking distance of most households in Flint. However, at least 60% of parks are in poor or mediocre condition with limited parks department staff to care for them all.

Despite these challenges, Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) partners are not only making progress, they are seeing residents become actively involved as well. Led by the Flint-based Crim Fitness Foundation and the Michigan Fitness Foundation, the HKHC partnership has focused on policy and environmental changes to improve park conditions and equitable access to them.

To lay the groundwork for their efforts, prioritize improvements and evaluate change, partners started by assessing current park conditions. A comprehensive baseline study, conducted by the University of Michigan, Flint, included an amenity inventory of 62 city parks, the first in many years.

In addition, a park needs assessment helped partners better understand demographics near parks and surrounding neighborhood environments. Afterward, and with a multi-pronged community engagement process to select focus parks, the HKHC partnership successfully worked with residents near two parks to test various strategies for possible scaling across the city. Within four years, the HKHC partnership has seen much progress.

Accomplishments include:

  • Physical improvements have occurred in focus parks. For example, Max Brandon Park has new benches, improved playground equipment and surfaces, new signage, bollards and painted sharrows on their park trail. Brennan Park has a new baseball field.
  • Neighbors are assuming leadership related to park improvement and maintenance. New resident-led park champions are managing “friends” groups. And, in partnership with Keep Genesee County Beautiful, adopt-a-park groups are keeping parks cleaner and safer.
  • An update of the five-year Parks and Recreation Master Plan, with strong resident engagement, kept Flint eligible for federal funds and provided a new community-driven vision and goals for the entire parks system.
  • HKHC partners and advocates actively contributed to the update of a comprehensive master plan, the first since 1960. The Parks and Recreation Master Plan served as the basis for the parks section of the overall plan. The Plan is expected to be approved in 2013.
  • Strong evaluation has also accompanied their work. Results from a recent park observation study indicated the effectiveness of their efforts. Parks with investments had more youth and adults participating in moderate and vigorous physical activity and fewer sedentary people than parks with no investment.

The momentum is hard to ignore. In fact, residents have even identified a stronger sense of community as a result. “The Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities grant has helped reinvigorate parks work in the city of Flint. Engaging residents in planning and caring for their parks has built their capacity to advance a resident-led parks movement,” said project director Lauren Holaly, active living director for the Crim Fitness Foundation. “Partners and advocates are now energized about revitalizing Flint’s jewel park system and restoring safe places for children to play. In addition, stronger relationships between the city and residents are keeping parks a priority for the foreseeable future.”

For more information, view a short film about their work.