ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Maya Goldman and Ben Ratner spent almost 3 months visiting 148 of Ann Arbor’s parks.
After over a month of compiling their field notes, the couple finally released their 59-page “From Burns to Belize” report, a compilation of their hard work, pictures, history and recommendations for Tree Town’s numerous parks.
Since Goldman and Ratner don’t live in the same household, they had to think of a way to meet up during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic while staying outside and socially distant from others.
Having already met at the Arb a few times, Goldman said the two wanted to explore other places. The idea of visiting the parks started after a good recommendation to visit West Park.
“We went there [West Park] and were like, ‘how many parks are there in the city? We should visit all of them,’” Goldman said, adding that they looked up the number of parks and decided that they had the time during the pandemic. The idea for the project was born.
Ratner said that, like many other people, the two wanted to break from their COVID-19-induced routines. Visiting the different parks allowed them to do that in a way that was fun but constantly changing.
While the report contains a subjective list of the Top 25 Ann Arbor parks, each park the pair visited received a rating out of ten based on how they felt about the park during the visit. A park was a “good park” if it performed strongly in at least two of their criteria, including amenities, public access, green space and shade among other things.
The pair visited between three to five parks per trip and explored parks two out of every three days, with the occasional small break between visits.
Their favorite park was Hunt Park, at 1035 Daniel St. in Ann Arbor’s Water Hill neighborhood.
“Neither of us had ever been there before. And it’s this gorgeous field, like rolling hills and a border of trees, so we were really taken by that park,” Goldman said.
“The fact that we were able to discover really great parks that we had just never heard of made those some of the most memorable,” said Ratner, adding that they were still very impressed when visiting Ann Arbor staples like Wheeler Park and Gallup Park, even when armed with their report criteria.
There were also some memorably bad parks. Namely, Rose White Park, an elongated park that straddles East Stadium Boulevard.
“It’s very confusing. You think that you’ve arrived at one part of the park, and you think that that’s the park, and then you have to cross the street,” said Ratner. “We discovered upon entering the other section of the park, that the sign was the same.”
Although one of the field notes about Rose White is “If you squint + plug your ears, location is nice,” Goldman and Ratner’s report indicates that the park still has potential.
Ratner said that they have been in contact with members of GIVE365 and the Park Advisory Commission who were interested in the report.
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The two have also engaged with community members and city leaders through a Facebook post they made on the Ann Arbor Townies Facebook group. Through these community members, Goldman and Ratner learned a lot of history and park details, both good and bad, that they incorporated into their report.
Ratner said the report has sparked a variety of responses. Some community members have engaged in “respectful debate” as to the number of parks in the city. Others have shared childhood stories or reached out asking for specific recommendations.
“From Burns to Belize” also discusses five recommendations that the authors hope are considered by decisionmakers who see the report.
Ratner said he was most interested in the report’s final two recommendations: An oral history project and an equity audit of the parks.
Goldman and Ratner want to see a collection of stories and oral history relating to Tree Town’s parks, similar to something they saw in the Ann Arbor District Library’s “Old News” archive. They also want decisionmakers and city leaders to audit the equity of the park system.
“We kind of left it open as to what that would entail, but we thought that creating some kind of framework for how new parks are placed, how they’re maintained, and making sure that that matches up with race and class [equity] and access to the parks, so that inclusivity is actually a value that we’re living in Ann Arbor and not just talking about,” Ratner said.
Through their report, Goldman and Ratner also touch on the necessity and usefulness of Ann Arbor parks as social infrastructure and their role as a place for social action and protest.
Goldman said that the project was very fitting for the time and is something that she and Ratner wouldn’t have been able to do had they been in school or at work full time.
The couple wants their report to be useful for park visitors and hope that it inspires Ann Arborites to visit parks they have never seen.