By Elizabeth McGuire
There was a time that residents of a Southeast Austin community wouldn’t dare walk through the lush, 5-acre green space tucked into a cul-de-sac in their neighborhood. Franklin Park, even in the daytime, was considered off limits. One neighbor had a policy of walking her dog only as far as a railing that stands 20 feet from the perimeter, out of fear for her safety once she hit park grounds.
Despite the walking path, playground and picnic tables, the park was best known for its graffiti, trash and high crime rate. Today, thanks to dedicated patrons Brenda and Pastor Edward Craig, Franklin Park is a source of pride instead of fear and frustration.
The Craigs were motivated to improve the park after the church Pastor Craig leads purchased nearby land to build a permanent home.
“We wanted to support the neighborhood and to focus on not just the spiritual needs, but the material ones as well,” Edward said.
In 2013 the Craigs worked with representatives from the resident-led coalition Go Austin/Vamos Austin (GAVA) and a committee of citizens to secure a $13,000 grant from Austin Parks Foundation. Their goal: to make Franklin Park a safer and healthier place for the neighborhood.
With the APF grant money, the team upgraded and added picnic tables, barbecue pits and a volleyball court. They installed lighting, flower beds, port-o-lets and a ping-pong table. Their team of volunteers logged 1,933 hours.
“Getting the APF grant was incredible–somebody believed in us!” Brenda said. “But in addition to the funding, APF also helped us set realistic goals and stay on track.”
When Franklin Park began transforming, many residents noticed and began pitching in. A neighbor who owns a landscaping company donated his staff to help mulch the trees and maintain the flower beds. More homeowners began taking care of their yards, removing abandoned vehicles and participating in Neighborhood Watch Groups. Residents started to call authorities when they saw graffiti or suspicious activities at the park. According to Austin Police Department reports, the area’s crime rate decreased 38 percent in 2014 after the park improvements were made.
The Craigs have even more plans for Franklin Park. Their team meets monthly to discuss ongoing maintenance, as well as other improvements on their wish list – including adult fitness equipment, water fountains, a splash pad, a permanent restroom and more lighting.
“After the success we’ve had, I’m more determined than ever to make these other improvements happen,” Brenda said.
Of all the ways the neighborhood is showing its support, perhaps the most powerful is that they are returning to the park and using it just the way the Craigs envisioned: playing and exercising outside, picnicking with family and gathering with friends.
“The greatest thing is to see how the residents are getting involved and taking ownership,” said Brenda. “There is a real sense of pride here now.”
People Plus Parks is a new series featuring the people behind the work we’re doing in Austin’s parks. Check out the “People + Parks” category for more.