Neighbors and TCU professors unite to revitalize long-neglected park on Fort Worth’s historic Southside

After joining the Fort Worth Parks Department last summer, Parks Superintendent Omotayo Ajayi has begun touring the dozens of properties under his supervision. When he arrived at Glenwood Park in the Southside Historic District, he was shocked by the number of homeless people camping outside.

“When I was inspecting the park, I thought: have I lost the address?” said Ajayi. “This can’t be a park because people were cooking at a campfire and camping out.”

Ajayi knew he had limited resources to offer the park. That’s why he believes the Fort Worth Climate Safe Neighborhood Coalition — made up of Texas Christian University faculty, Historic Southside residents and other community groups — was “heaven-sent” to help revitalize the 37-acre park.

The difference between his first experience and the park’s current state is palpable for Ajayi, as he watched as TCU student volunteers and University Christian Church members flocked to Glenwood for an Earth Day cleanup on April 22. information about plant life.

“You don’t know how happy I am,” Ajayi said. “If you look at the pictures from the start, you’d see how much effort it took to bring it to this state. It’s community, it’s people, it’s commitment, because people wanted to get involved. It is that passion that built this park.”

Members of the Historic Southside Neighborhood Association have been pushing for more investment in Glenwood Park since early 2021, according to James Walker, president of the association.

The effort took off that fall when TCU nursing professors Gina Alexander, Vicki Brooks and Tammie Williams partnered with the neighborhood association and the Kids Environmental Education Network Group, which offers educational programs to youth in the Southeast of Fort Worth.

The coalition — which now includes the nonprofit Community Frontline, the local chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists, and the Tarrant County Department of Public Health — became official in May 2022. Since then, the group has achieved one major goal: to persuade city ​​officials to spend $75,000 to develop a master plan for Glenwood Park.

After holding their first community master plan meeting in March, Walker and the other residents already have some big ideas for the park. They want a splash pad for the kids, a new pedestrian bridge, volleyball courts, new basketball hoops, more trash cans and pavilions for community members to congregate.

Residents hope to update Glenwood Park with new basketball hoops, volleyball courts, a splash pad and more to encourage residents to spend time outdoors. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

The city has already purchased new playground equipment that will be installed over the next year, Walker said.

“We just raised hell. How can children come to this park? This is not a playground,” Walker said. “At the end of the day, we want our park to be one of those parks that says, ‘Hey, can we have a family reunion here, or a church event here, or an event in town here, because the park is so beautiful.’ ”

For Alexander, the park updates fit into a larger campaign to raise awareness about climate change and how nature-based solutions, such as preserving open spaces in underserved communities, can improve public health and empower people. to spend time outdoors.

“What can we do that is truly at the intersection of benefiting human health, but also protecting and conserving our natural resources?” Alexander said. “These solutions are bipartisan. It is not necessary for everyone to take a different position. We can see where there are areas of overlap there.

On April 22, 2023, Fort Worth Parks staff pick up garbage bags collected from Glenwood Park in Fort Worth’s historic Southside neighborhood. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

TCU is working with the neighborhood to address park inequality in the 76104 ZIP Code

Alexander and Brooks’ journey to Glenwood Park, which is less than six miles from the TCU campus, began in 2019. Brooks is a family nurse practitioner, while Alexander’s background is in public health. They started thinking about ways to prevent disease by encouraging people to make healthy choices that would reduce their chances of developing disease.

Next they created RxPLORE, a program that gives participants a “prescription” to spend more time outdoors and explore the world around them. In fall 2019, their team distributed 70 prescriptions at the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refugee.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, nursing students lost access to hospitals to complete their clinical rounds, Alexander said. Then, using a toolkit developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Park Service, the professors sent students outdoors to conduct assessments of how health is affected by Fort Worth’s trail systems and parks.

Students completed approximately 50 park audits, which gathered data and perspectives on amenities offered in Fort Worth. After presenting their findings to the City’s Parks Advisory Board, Alexander and Brooks determined that Glenwood Park would be a key target for significant investment and support.

“We didn’t want to stop at that,” said Alexander.

Texas Christian University nursing professor Gina Alexander, right, helps a resident prepare a seed bomb during an Earth Day event April 22, 2023 in Glenwood Park. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

After reaching out to the neighborhood association and other community organizations, Alexander found that everyone, including the parks department, was “equally concerned” about making the park a destination for people living in the 76104 zip code.

The zip code has the lowest life expectancy in Texas, according to a 2019 UT-Southwestern study. Over the past three years, non-profit groups have dedicated significant funding to address racial inequities in the area, according to the previous coverage of the Fort Worth Report.

Ross Haynes Jr., a member of the Historic Southside Neighborhood Association’s economic development team, said the area’s success depends on the four Cs: citizens, chamber of commerce, contractors — including entities like TCU — and city.

“It’s like a chain reaction,” Haynes said. “When we bring these four Cs together, it helps create a stronger coalition to get things done. It’s community.

‘The coalition gave birth’ at Glenwood Park

Walker, who builds and sells homes on the Historic Southside, acknowledged there was pushback from homeless advocates who argued park cleanup efforts were displacing homeless people out of the area without a solution. long-term.

In 2021, a developer proposed a $2 million mental health facility near Glenwood Park. The plan sparked concerns that the area’s homeless population would be displaced, according to previous coverage by the Fort Worth Report.

Paris Scarbrough enters her tent in the woods of Glenwood Park, where she had lived for more than a year, in June 2021. (Neetish Basnet | Fort Worth Report)

Lauren King, executive director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, said at the time she understood why business owners don’t want someone sleeping on their front steps.

“From our perspective, I will say, if we can connect people to services, we can do a lot more for them than if they weren’t,” King said in 2021. “I see neighborhoods around Fort Worth trying to balance that problem of how to revitalize our neighborhood and also not displace everyone who has lived here for generations.I think that’s a difficult balance to strike.

The community is not numb to the plight faced by homeless people, Walker said, but the trash and drug paraphernalia left behind is not conducive to what Southside residents want. The park needs to be usable for homeowners and businesses, who want to enjoy a “live, work, play” lifestyle, she said.

“Our job is not, I guess you could say, to push them out, but we have to do something different with them because the people in the community who pay taxes and pay for this park can’t even use it,” Walker said. .

Alexander envisions a future where the Fort Worth Climate Safe Neighborhood Coalition faces challenges in other parks, such as Sycamore Park and Cobb Park, that could be connected with a bike path. The coalition could also push to expand the city’s tree canopy and preserve wild landscapes in Fort Worth, he said she.

For now, though, they focus on the Glenwood Park master plan. The coalition’s next meeting – and the last event of the spring – is set for 3.30pm on 11 May at Shamblee Library.

The sign outside of Glenwood Park on South Riverside Drive in the historic Southside neighborhood of Fort Worth. The park hasn’t been improved since 2005, but is now ready to receive new playground equipment and a master plan. (Rachel Behrndt | Fort Worth Report)

“The coalition has breathed life and hope into many people because everyone works together,” Alexander said. “The burden does not rest on just one entity. This is what a real coalition should be: everyone helps and has a certain consistency and longevity to that commitment.”

Glenwood Park’s future is bright thanks to the hard work of the residents, said Ajayi, the park superintendent.

“The future is great, because I know that when we finish the master plan and the money goes into this park, this will be one of the (most) beautiful parks in the city of Fort Worth,” Ajayi said.

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact them at [email protected].

At Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial backers. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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