Number 13 Night Editor: Jim Neubacher
October 19, 1969
Ann Arbor's poor people's park
may be a new overpass by 1970
The political system, traditionally an
important vehicle for minorities to participate
effectively in decisions affecting the distri-
r bution of public resources, has not worked for
the Negro as it has for other groups. The
reasons are fairly obvious .. .
From the report of the
National Advisory Committee
on Civil Disorders
"There just ain't
enough room for
one boy says.
-Daily- Jerry Weehsler
ANN ARBOR has plush parks and play-
grounds, sprawling out in green acreage.
For special efects, the city has the conch band
shell of West Park and the horse racetrack-
turned-bicycle path of Burns Park.
But these parks service the picture window,
expansive lawn areas of the white m i d d i 1e
class. They are enjoyed and apreciated - but
they are "city parks."
Summit Playground is an 'exception' and
could become a "peoples' park."
Summit is the only playground for school-
age kids of the First Ward, the city's black
ghetto. Summit is a 1 s o the smallest of the
city's 18 playgrounds, though the area has one
of the highest needs.
Summit's disadvantage is that the people
- as well as the city - do not want to claim
A mottled plot of untended crab grass, Sum-
mit can brag of only two teeter-totters a n d
swing sets and an asphalt basketball court-
plus an indoor shelter which is never open.
PHYLLIS BIRD, who is 10 years old, used to
play there. "I don't anymore 'cause there's
nothing to play with," she explains. "I'd rath-
er ride my bike or just play on the sidewalk."
Her sister, Patty, who is eight, still g o e s
there sometimes to use the swings. B u t she
prefers tagging along with Phyllis.
So instead, they and their friends play on
dewalks or squat in the narrow drives be-
tween the close woodframe houses, and more
often chase each other into the streets in tat;
eanes with 3,000-1b. cars.
A smattering of boys occupy the p 1 a y-
ground, either for soccer matches or basketball
,.rimmages. 'They're tough kids," Phyllis says.
"I don't like them."
The boys have chased other kids off the
play area. "There just ain't 'nough room for
everybody here," one boy says.
And there isn't.
Summit falls beneath even the minimum
standards set by federal agencies. Instead of
the recommended four acres, it has only one
The facilities are unattended and uncared
The shelter and the restrooms need paint-
ing. The lot needs landscaping. Litter needs
J )EOPLE SAY the city recreation department
doesnt care about the playground, except
when individuals try to do something on their
A Tniversitv stuident helninv out last sum-
of Summit seeded with grass. About half the
playground was seeded, but t h e grass isn't
coming up very well and no one seems to care.
"Unfortunately, the city isn't even using
that pitifully small space in the best way it
could," Stapp criticizes. "Planners seem de-
termined to use the same old ideas, no mat-
ter what. I wonder if some of them even un-
He points to chicken - wire fences which
limit t h e aesthetic appeal of a playground.
And he notes that the only capital improve-
ment at Summit in the past two years has been
the new fence.
X DMITTEDLY, the city is embarrassed about
Summit Playground. George Owers, w h o
butchered its pigs in traditional style, filling
the air with dying squeals and the smell of in-
nards being boiled for glue,
Still it was the only open s p a c e in the
neighborhood, so Sproull installed playground
equipment there 10 years ago.
After more bickering with the black resi-
dents, the city gave in and bought out Peter's
Sausage three years ago. That doubled Sum-
mit's size to its present one acre.
"It looked like the city was committed to
improving Summit when it got the land from
the slaughterhouse,' Stapp recalls. "But that
hasn't been the case."
The indoor shelter, for instance, is open
only during periods when there are supervised
activities. "The truth is we've had a lot of
willing to move, they say, but the c i t y has
balked at rezoning land elsewhere for them to
The city explains it doesn't want to solve
one area's problems by creating problems in
Critics say this is doubletalk. They accuse
the city of stalling.
Two years ago a few University students set
down a proposal for changing the scope of
Summit Playground. Their plan requested
closing off Summit St. and adding more land.
But it also called for digging a pond, shaping a
slope for tobogganning and soapbox derbies,
installing a ramp for working on cars, etc.
"We've got several outlines like that in
our files for Summit," Owers admits. "But we
city determine improvement of Summit is
a top priority.
Ann Arbor's electorate passed a $2% mil-
lion bond for recreation in 1966. Most of that
went to sink three municipal swimming pools
--a gesture which infuriated blacks when all
of the pools were located outside the black
But about one half million dollars is left.
'I'd like to know exactly where our priori-
ties are," Prof. Stapp challenges. "Sure, it's
great to have big parks and swimming pools.
But you need a car to use them and inner-city
people don't have cars."
Harris has promised new parks along the
Huron River. But he isn't guaranteeing exact-
ly where they'll be.
BLACKS ARE skeptical. Somehow m a J o r
parks like West, Island, Hunt and River-
side have been placed out of comfortable
walking distance-just like the swimming
"I'm tired of hearing about how they're
gonna do this and that," comments Tom Har-
rison, First Ward businessman and resident.
"Either do it or keep quiet."
Harrison suggests shutting down Summit
Playground and starting over. "They might
as well," he explains. "It's not at all adequate."
His two children are grown now, but he's
Summit Playground is a beleaguered topic
among Harrison's neighbors. Their petitions to
city hall have been ignored. They're tired and
frustrated. They can't take pride in Sum-
mit, and yet they must put up with it because
it's the only playground they've got.
The Gillnet gang has swept Summit and
the Fifth St. playlot (a living room-size ar-
rangement for pre-schoolers in the First
Ward) free of broken glass and other trash.
The Gillnet gang, named after New Testa-
ment nets which entrapped fish by the gills,
is an anonymous bunch of teenagers who
avoid administrative red tape by going under-
cover and pursuing a Robin Hood-styled
course of direct action. Last year, for example,
the gang chopped off part of a hedge at a
busy intersection late one night. The owner
had refused to do so, and the city was.reluc-
tant to make him. They've been doing "good
deeds," some of them extra-legal, for four
Gillnet members, including a few from the
First Ward, have tried to call attention to the
replaced Sheldon Sproull this spring as city
recreation director, inherited the problem.
Sproull was forced out after citizen groups
complained he was ignoring their complaints
and advice. When Sproull refused to s t o p
spraying DDT, for instance, old ladies sent him
trouble with vandalism, and we can't afford
to keep it open," Owers explains.
UPON PRODDING, though, O w e r s admits
other reasons why the city is reluctant to
invest money and personnel in Summit.
can't do anything until we get word from
MAYOR ROBERT HARRIS, who began his
administration six months ago, has side-
stepped the issue so far. "I can't say T've given