From Crime Magnet to Neighborhood Gathering Space

What does it take to turn a hotbed for drugs and crime into a beloved community gathering space? In the case of Mildred Helms Park in the Upper Clinton Hill neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, it took a group of concerned neighbors committed to reclaiming and revitalizing the property.

The only community open space in Upper Clinton Hill neighborhood, Mildred Helms Park was once a haven for drugs and prostitution. Fearing for their safety, parents and teachers of the children who attend the school adjacent to the park discouraged students from using the park, which compounded the problem

But all that changed in 2002, when The Trust for Public Land began working with a group of concerned neighbors. Together with the Mildred Helms Park Resurrection Committee and the city of Newark, TPL raiseed $1.5 million in federal, state, and private funding to renovate Mildred Helms. We involved residents and students in the participatory design process and the result was a community sense of ownership.

That feeling of pride is loud and clear among the high-school kids that attend the Mildred Helms Resurrection Committee’s Park Rangers program, a summer work camp. Park rangers are involved in the daily cleanup of the park, maintenance, and landscaping, as well as participating in yoga classes, and other educational activities throughout the summer. Summer ranger, Shakilah, enjoyed learning about the environment. "You get to interact with other things,” she says. “And you get to understand nature and what's in the world beyond yourself."

Highlights of the summer program included a field trip to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge with The Trust for Public Land’s New Jersey staff, pulling zucchinis from the park’s garden, and an inspiring presentation by a local businessman about the importance of acquiring the skills needed to do the work they enjoy.

We love to see a park we conserved put to good use!