Real Michiana: Planting a seed for change in their community
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A South Bend couple's vision for a prettier space planted a seed for change in their community.
The sound of kids playing and laughing now punctuates a lot that's been quiet for some time.
“Just from the first cut...that invited kids to come play in the field," said Maurice McGee, who grew up in the Near West Side neighborhood.
A field along South Bend's Jefferson Boulevard has quite literally blossomed in the last ten years.
"When we moved in, that’s one of the first things we saw were these two lots, and somebody was mowing them, but there was nothing happening with them," said Karl Edmonson.
He and his wife, Megyn, moved into their home in Near West Side neighborhood in 2001.
“Sort of as a passing idea, oh it’d be nice...if we could plant a garden or something like that," he said.
An opportunity sprang up eight years later when the couple bought two abandoned lots in a tax sale.
“Ultimately it‘s about creating the environment that we want to live in," said Karl.
They acquired another lot in 2012, a small corner from the city in 2013, and a dilapidated rental property in the middle in 2015, which they promptly tore down.
“I think I the whole time thought we just need to get rid of that and have this whole space, because this could be a whole park then," said Megyn.
With each muddy boot, potted plant, and pile of bricks, they paved their way to a quaint pocket park.
“When we had the sidewalk done last year, that’s when neighborhood people that we don’t know realized that this is a park. All of a sudden, people were like this is a park!" said Meg.
“This is what happens when you have somebody or some people who want to do more than just talk about it...You have a group of people that actually does that, a group of people with different opinions and different input, because this is the collaboration of a whole bunch of input,you end up having this beautiful park space," said Maurice.
Maurice grew up in his grandmother's home just a block away from the new park.
Click below to learn about the memory that sticks out to him from his childhood.
"I defended it when I was growing up, and I certainly defend it now," he said.
“I thought it was really one of the most profound things that had happened in the neighborhood for years and years. Very impressed by them and what they did...If you’ve got an artist painting in your neighborhood, that’s a positive thing, because they’re not afraid of being shot for instance," said Alan Larkin, who's lived in the neighborhood since the 1980's.
Karl hopes this project can help erase some of the stigma attached to the neighborhood.
"It’s not the bad part of town. It’s really great," he said.
"I sometimes feel powerless to contribute in the grand scheme of things, but if neighborhood kids can enjoy throwing around a ball in a nice space, that’s something I can control...so I think that that’s how we can contribute. It’s pretty small really," said Megyn.
At the end of the day, she says they're just trying to leave it better than they found it.
The group's next goal is make the former alley next to the parks into a pedestrian walkway that leads right up to the Civil Rights Heritage Center.
They're also still working to figure out a name for the park, so if you have suggestions, you can reach out to the Near West Side Neighborhood Group's Facebook page.
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To learn a bit about the psychology behind green spaces, click below.