Neighbors help rejuvenate Fairview Park
by Dustin Brady

(Plain Press, September 2006) What did neighbors do at Fairview Park this summer? They met people for the first time that they had lived next to for years. They watched their children work up a sweat playing kickball, and then cool off in the splash park. They exchanged dishes at a block party. They took walks, rode bikes, walked dogs, played catch, and caught up with old friends.

 What did neighbors do at Fairview Park before this summer? Not much.

 Fairview Park, at the corner of West 38th Street and Franklin Boulevard, is the largest green space in Ohio City. Before this summer, it consisted only of a baseball field and a toddler playground - not enough to tempt most people to spend time there. In 2000, neighbors finally decided to do something special with the property. They came together to start a five-year renovation program that would help bring the community together.

 It began in October 2000, with a simple question: How should Ohio City residents spend the $100,000 allotted to them for the Fairview Park restoration? Two mothers, Laura Fratus and Rachelle Coyne, helped organize a group called Friends of Fairview Park. The group felt that renovating the park was vital to the community. “Ohio City is known for restaurants and cool urban living,” said Coyne. “I think this park is a symbol that says Ohio City is also for families.”

 According to Coyne, the project took some time to get going. The small group tried to contact park personnel and politicians regarding their cause with few returned phone calls and fewer results. Then, in spring 2001, Mayor Jane Campbell appointed a new associate director of parks and recreation – Natalie Ronayne.

 Ronayne instantly took an interest in the renovation. Coyne said that this is when things really took off; perhaps a little too fast. “I don’t think we had any idea what we were getting ourselves into,” she said.

 Ronayne was able to organize neighbors who had little experience with politics. “She asked us if we had a charrette,” said Coyne. “We asked, ‘what’s a charrette?’”

 Over the next several months, neighbors began to decide what they wanted in the park. Friends of Fairview Park held forums, meetings, and even a charrette (an urban planning meeting with stakeholders). They distributed surveys to seniors, parents, teenagers, and school children. According to Fratus, this was the hardest part of the process. “When a community truly loves a space, it is hard to imagine changing it,” she said.

 It seemed like everybody had a different idea for the park. One group wanted to simply leave the park alone. Some wanted tennis and basketball courts. Others lobbied for drinking fountains and a bathroom. There was even a motion to flip-flop the entire park with the adjacent Kentucky Gardens, or, as Councilman Joe Cimperman put it, they wanted to “put a corn field in the middle of the ball field.”

 Finally, by March 2003, residents were able to propose a plan for their dream park. The only problem was that the plan would have cost $1 million. The project was contracted to architect Jim McKnight who was able to lower the price to $500,000. According to Fratus, Councilman Cimperman doggedly pushed the project along over the next several years as it gained approval by the city and county.

 On August 18, 2006, neighbors were finally able to cut the ribbon for their new park. For only half of the original price, the community was able to include a state-of-the-art splash park, pavilion, play area, and ball field. At the ceremony, Councilman Cimperman dedicated the park to residents. “This is your park,” he said. “It wouldn’t have happened without you.”

 Coyne feels that people have really begun to take ownership of the new park. “You catch people picking up stuff all the time,” she said. Nora Romanoff, project director of ParkWorks, the organization that handles programming at Fairview Park, said that neighbors are always willing to help in any way they can. “It’s very easy to get feedback from residents,” she said.

 Residents have helped ParkWorks put on a full schedule of programming this year. Almost 75 children attended the kickball and pizza party that started the summer’s events. The party was followed by more children’s events, block parties, a movie screening, and even a Cleveland Public Theatre production. Response for all of these events has been very positive. “I am shocked at the number of people at the park,” said Coyne. “I never dreamed it would be like this.”

 After almost six years of labor, neighbors are finally seeing their hard work pay off. Fratus said the payoff for her came earlier this summer. “On a regular weekday night, when I walked to the park and I saw 150 people playing together that I didn’t know, it just brought tears to my eyes,” she said.

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