Each month, City Parks Alliance names one “Frontline Park” as a standout example of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship from across the country. The program identifies city parks that find innovative ways to meet the unique challenges faced as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures and urban neighborhood decay. In recognition of its partnerships and community capacity building, Max Brandon Park has been named a Frontline Park.
As the city of Flint declined in the 1980s, the 1,800 acres of parkland owned by the city also fell into disrepair. Max Brandon Park is situated between several extremely economically distressed neighborhoods with a large percentage of residents under the age of 18, but because of the severe lack of resources, there was almost no programming in the park, and no neighborhood community group to take on the challenge of stewardship. Trails and playground equipment went unmaintained, and vegetation grew out of control.
The Friends of Max Brandon Park was created as part of The Crim Fitness Foundation’s participation in the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) initiative, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. HKHC aimed to revitalize neighborhood parks by increasing community engagement in policy and environmental advocacy. Because of Max Brandon’s size and ecology, it had potential for investment, and Crim staff began convening Friends meetings in order to inspire leadership within the community. As visible park improvements began to pop up, more residents began to get involved.
Over the past four years, leadership within the Friends of Max Brandon Park has transitioned from Crim staff to members of the local community, and the group continues to grow and take on new challenges. In addition to mobilizing residents to attend public hearings and other community engagement opportunities, the Friends have completed capital improvements like repairing pavilions and playground equipment, restoring the tree canopy, and adding benches and trail signage. The initial investment in the community has paid off significantly, as the Friends group has become a self-sustaining organization that is dedicated to revitalizing neighborhoods by maintaining and improving Max Brandon Park.