At the corner of Seventh Street and NW Fifth Avenue, young black men in baggy shorts and wife-beaters were scanning slow-moving cars for the next deal. It was Friday morning and, unbeknownst to the street corner hustlers, a renaissance was unfolding two blocks away.
In a shaded quarter-acre lot behind the Overtown YWCA, kids wearing yellow hard hats and wielding shovels were breaking ground on an unorthodox new playground and park, a symbol of hope for a community with little to spare. A group of 4-year-olds sang "What a Wonderful World" gleefully out of tune.
Unlike most small-scale civic projects, local input was key to the project, set to open in January. Almost 200 children and parents presented ideas for the park during a May 20 charette at the YWCA. With the sketches as a guide, an architect presented two design options. Residents voted to divide the park into a lawn area and a rubberized playground, with benches, a shelter and a sculpture garden scattered throughought.
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The idea, said Lavinia Freeman of the Trust for Public Land, was "to foster a sense of ownership and pride." Without those ingredients the park might easily wind up like so many well-intentioned urban open spaces that become trash-strewn wastelands.
Looking to foster green space in Overtown's concrete expanse, TPL purchased the land for $187,500 in 2002 and offered it to the city. The city declined, according to Williams. Apparently, the parks department couldn't handle another property. So the YWCA stepped up, offering to maintain the park.
While the MetLife Foundation, the John S and James L. Knight Foundation and the county have chipped in $371,500 for the project, there is still a $151,000 shortfall. The $523,000 total price tag includes land purchase, design construction and management.