After a three-and-a-half-year campaign, the Richmond-based Pogo Park organization received nearly $1.95 million yesterday for an ambitious renovation of Elm Playlot.
“I am ecstatic,” said the organization’s founder Toody Maher. “We can make this park in a radically new way that truly works for children of the Iron Triangle neighborhood.” The funds come from California Proposition 84, passed in 2006 to finance state and local park improvements, among other projects.
Located in the heart of the Iron Triangle at 8th Street and Elm Avenue, the Elm Playlot, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, serves 3,400 neighborhood children, over a quarter of the neighborhood’s population. But when the Pogo Park organization conducted a door-to-door community survey, residents said they rarely see children in the park. Instead, residents told of seeing liquor bottles, used condoms, profane graffiti, and damaged playground structures.
The movement to rebuild the park began with Richmond resident Toody Maher, a self-described “176-pound white girl from uptown.” Maher, who lives 16 blocks from Elm Playlot, saw a need to bring the park back to life.
“If this park was a good park, it could have so much impact on the neighborhood,” she said. “They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I just thought, ‘Let’s take this little piece of land and really transform it into this green oasis for little kids and by doing that we can really change people’s lives.’”
Maher has no previous experience restructuring parks. But seeing the rundown state of many parks in Richmond helped galvanize her determination to act.
The Pogo Park organization—a volunteer network of Iron Triangle residents and outside professionals—wants the park to meet the needs of the community. So group members posted 800 fliers and reached out to residents of the neighborhood through door-to-door surveys. The organization also held workshops for children asking them to draw anything they’d like to see in the new park. Additionally, Pogo Park hired community members and trained them to create architectural plans, scout the 54 parks in Richmond, and research others worldwide. All this input helped shape plans for the new park.
“This has been like an 18-month journey of going deep into the community, figuring out what the needs were and then creating a model,” Maher said.
The scale model shows the park as larger than it is today, because it includes the land beneath a nearby foreclosed house that the organization bought and intends to tear down. Along with this expansion, Maher says the park will feature a zip-line, a snack bar, and a bike path that wraps around its perimeter.
The Pogo Park organization identifies on its website five key elements to incorporate into the new park. These include: safety, consistent park supervision, basic amenities such as bathrooms and water fountains, the potential to serve as a hub for community services, and high quality play opportunities for children.
“Research has found that play is like the mother’s milk of child activity,” Maher said. “It’s where kids learn their social skills, their physical skills, and their linguistic skills.”
Individuals and companies such as Sun Power and Chevron have donated to the project. Early on, the city of Richmond awarded Pogo Park $37,500 for the design. With the funds from Proposition 84, Pogo Park will become a reality.
“You have a dream and you’re a resident of that neighborhood and nothing has ever really worked,” said Maher. “For people from the neighborhood to sit down and say, ‘This is what would work,’ and then now have the money to actually do what the residents are saying is needed, that is very empowering.”
The Pogo Park team intends to implement the plans as soon as possible.