DETROIT—Notorious for its abandoned buildings, industrial warehouses, and gray, dilapidated roads, Detroit's Warrendale neighborhood was miraculously revitalized this week by the installation of a single, three-by-four-foot plot of green space.
The green space, a rectangular patch of crabgrass located on a busy median divider, has by all accounts turned what was once a rundown community into a thriving, picturesque oasis, filled with charming shops, luxury condominiums, and, for the first time ever, hope.
"What we've seen here is amazing," Warrendale Beautification Committee chairman Michael Pulowski said of the $150 city-funded initiative. "Not only do residents feel better about themselves, but our streets are now totally safe, employment is up, and our children's test scores are through the roof. It's hard to believe this is even the same neighborhood anymore."
Warrendale's incredible transformation began early Monday morning when city officials laid down the yard-wide strip of sod. Two days later, dozens of boarded-up businesses were suddenly bustling with customers, and streets once littered with hypodermic needles were instead plastered with colorful murals.
"It all happened so quickly," said resident Jeffrey Huza, who watched the sliver of lawn single-handedly attract tourism, reduce air pollution, and bring a sense of peace and tranquility to the area. "I always knew a little green would do our neighborhood good, but I never thought we'd benefit this much."
"I used to sit all day in the old tire yard getting high with no prospects for any kind of future," Huza continued. "But now that tire yard is a library."
Besides giving children a safe place to play—provided they do so one at a time—the revitalizing green space has also transformed the lives of numerous Warrendale adults.
The ideal spot for short evening strolls, relaxing upright reading, and weekend picnics that don't exceed 12 square feet in total area, the new park has completely changed how many feel about their neighborhood.
In fact, dozens of residents who had given up on this once violent and moribund urban wasteland almost as completely as they'd given up on life itself, have recently chosen to put down roots and start families.
"Sitting in the middle of the park, it's like all of the troubles of city life just melt away," said homeowner Samantha Hodge, who every day gazes at the narrow green space between two lanes of traffic and is filled instantly with calm. "A week ago, I was ready to call it quits and never come back. Nowadays, I couldn't imagine living anywhere else."
Local events, including a Shakespeare in the Park production of Romeo And Juliet, a breast cancer–awareness march, an outdoor concert by the London Symphony Orchestra, and a Fourth of July fireworks display are reportedly also scheduled to take place in the new green space.
The towel-sized band of topsoil—to be dedicated as "Warrendale Park" as soon as enough room is found on its grounds to erect a sign—has brought back more than a sense of community. It has also brought back the sound of laughter.
"I didn't recognize it at first, it had been so long since I'd heard it," said Howard Cochrane, a lifelong resident. "But there it was, ringing out like sunshine from that Heller boy who lives down the way. To see him roll his ball back and forth over the same five inches of grass—it filled my tired heart with joy."
Despite the overwhelmingly positive influence of this simple patch of lawn, a number of Warrendale residents have come to regard its popularity as a double-edged sword.
"Everywhere I look now, well-dressed moms are pushing babies in designer strollers, high-end coffee shops are opening their doors, and fancy galleries are replacing old neighborhood bars," said mechanic Kevin Miles, who was evicted from his tenement apartment after his rent tripled almost overnight. "I used to know everyone who lived here, but now it seems like half the people are college kids or vacationing Europeans."
Added Miles: "I never thought I'd say this, but I miss the old decrepit Warrendale."