Williamson Park, an elongated 4.5 acres of greenspace with few amenities, is the latest slice of Memphis slated for an upgrade.
It's a quiet neighborhood park tucked between Williamson and North Willett in the Evergreen Historic District, hidden from major Midtown arteries. It's a city-owned park, but the residents of Evergreen, rather than the city, have been spearheading the park's revitalization.
Currently, the park has a small playground and a large, empty grassy area. The neighbors want to see additional trees, playground improvements, and picnic tables.
"Youth soccer teams practice there. Dog owners congregate every evening, and our kids play on the playground. We even hunt Easter eggs and host picnics there," said Bethany Spiller, an Evergreen resident. "The park fosters relationships among people, and anything [we] can do to make it more enjoyable and safe, the stronger our Midtown community becomes."
Sarah Newstok, a special projects coordinator for Livable Memphis, is excited about the possibility of using this project as a blueprint for communities across Memphis that want to revitalize their own neighborhood greenspaces.
"We want to create a how-to guide," Newstok said. "We want this to be a pilot for other projects, so that other neighborhoods that might not have the same resources can follow these steps."
Newstok said that it makes more sense to tackle greenspace improvements as a whole plan, rather than piecemeal. The partnership that formed between Evergreen residents and community space planners "gave us an opportunity to see what a public/private partnership would really look like."
Livable Memphis and the crowd-funding website ioby (which stands for "in our backyards") partnered with Evergreen residents to implement upgrades to the park.
With help from the Hyde Family Foundations, the planning project for Williamson Park was funded in less than 24 hours after it was announced through Livable Memphis. The planning process was led by landscape architects at Ritchie Smith Associates.
Some of the Hyde funds will also cover the cost of planting trees. Newstok is hopeful that some of the funds for other improvements will come from the city.
Tentative plans for the park were unveiled during Livable Memphis' annual Summit for Neighborhood Leaders, which took place this past Saturday.
The presentation of the Williamson Park Mini-Master Plan was but one segment of the summit. The larger focus — "Engaging in Your Parks and Green Spaces in Memphis" — drew residents from all over the city who have a similar desire to create community spaces in their own neighborhoods.
Janet Hooks, the city's director of Parks and Neighborhoods, was encouraged by the support for the Williamson Park project and noted that small projects could be a watershed moment for neighborhoods.
"If you see a park that's run-down, the mindset is that the people living in the area don't care or are not involved," said Hooks, adding that, "Private ownership has a domino-effect on a neighborhood. When people are engaged, that suggests to me that we're on the right track."