Parks Become The Latest Casualty In The Incredible Shrinking City

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Police precincts and cops. Fire stations and firefighters. EMS ambulances and paramedics. Recreation centers. Swimming pools. Skating rinks. Neighborhood city halls.

Now parks.

Closed. Trimmed. Cut back.

Even Belle Isle, already in distress, is going to get worse, Mayor Dave Bing said Friday as he announced the latest chapter in Detroit’s 60-year slide toward nothingness.

When does a city stop being a city? Detroit is rapidly closing in on that point.

The announcement Friday by Bing was sad.

Blaming the city council for its refusal to even consider the state’s offer to make Belle Isle a state park -- which would have meant a $6.2 million savings for the city -- Bing said because of costs the city must close 50 parks and cut back operations, including maintenance and grass cutting, at recreation centers and 38 other parks.

“If you don’t have the money, you’re not going to get the job done,” Bing said.

Friday’s announcement comes on top of the city’s closing of 14 of 30 rec centers over the past few years, and the quiet abandonment of other parks, most of them small.

But the closings are just the latest in a long series of actions that has shriveled Detroit to a community whose infrastructure become increasingly less recognizable as that of a real city with each passing day.

Detroit looks like a city, with tall buildings and streets and an iconic bridge.

Yet scratch the surface anywhere and you’ll find only the remnants of institutions and services that have disappeared.

The parks’ situation is a shame, but it pales besides what has happened to police, fire and EMS.

People are going to look at the closed parks this summer and shake their heads.

But what about those two little kids on Tarnow Street in southwest Detroit on Monday?

After their house caught fire and they were found unconscious on the second floor, it became clear EMS had no rigs available nearby.

So the kids had to be rushed to the hospital in the worn interior of a Detroit fire truck that smells of carbon and is designed to carry firefighters and soiled equipment.

Despite the best efforts of fire crews, the 6-year-old died. The 4-year-old was fighting for his life.

How about the 10-month-old on Promenade who died early last Saturday morning when all the nearby fire hydrants were broken or frozen? The city can’t afford enough water department employees to keep all the hydrants working.

Bing blamed the parks cutbacks on the failure of the city council to approve the plan to make Belle Isle a state park.

“That was the best plan,” Bing said Friday. He said he wasn’t angry but he sounded angry.

“Why they did that I don’t know. We looked a gift horse in the mouth.”

Bing is correct that the failure even to vote on the state-park plan – a situation engineered by council members JoAnn Watson and Kwame Kenyatta – is ridiculous. And, as he noted, a reputable poll showed nearly 70 percent of Detroit residents favor the state operating Belle Isle.

But Belle Isle and the parks are only a side issue in Detroit these days. The velocity of the shrinking is accelerating. When you accept the fact that people are dying and suffering injuries because there aren’t enough public safety employees, then closing parks seems like an ear ache in a patient dying of lung cancer.

Closing a park means halting maintenance. By early summer, the weedy grass in those parks will be waist high. Litter will gather. Playground equipment will get scrapped, and ruins will remain.

Closing a city means halting maintenance, too. As the money dries up, more of the landscape grows weedy and the valuable stuff gets scrapped. Ruins remain.

That’s what’s happening to Detroit. It’s still uncertain when all this will end.

And it’s still remarkable that officials from Bing to City Council to Gov. Rick Snyder are letting it happen.

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