Charles Cross

Denby’s new Skinner Park exists because of a long list of caring people. The Denby High School High students whose concept for the park grew out of curriculum that led them to tackle issues in the community, are most often mentioned. But even before the students cut out pictures from magazines to visualize what the playfield could become, Charles Cross was part of a team that brought together residents, foundations and organizations that would lay the groundwork before Life Remodeled found donors for the new amenities.

Charles, an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture and director of Landscape Architecture for the school’s Detroit Collaborative Design, marvels at what has happened in recent months to Skinner Playfield.

“I had faith it would happen. I just didn’t know how,” Charles said. “Somehow, some way, I knew we could piece it together. There was a lot of faith behind this, a lot of collaboration with the community as an equal partner.”

Without the Detroit Collaborative Design Center working with Detroit Future City process leaders who developed tactics and engaged different groups – city residents, community leaders, faith-based organizations and, yes, high school students – Skinner may have missed its transformation. Today, the Impact Detroit pilot project is proof of what can happen when groups with access to resources listen to what communities want instead of telling them what they need.

Charles met with four different student classes and the student government at Denby, watching them successfully bring about the razing of an abandoned apartment building across from the school.

Their sense of empowerment led to more blight busting and eventually the creation of the Denby Neighborhood Alliance.
Word got around. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation and The Kresge Foundation supported the Skinner project in its early stages. The Design Center team developed the design with input from the community and more students. Life Remodeled signed on in 2015 to invest this year – not in the school building, which was in good shape, but in making Skinner Park a reality.

The park meets the Denby students’ desire for “a safe place to hang out,” but it also can become a catalyst for new development.

Join the celebration of the completion of Skinner Park from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 7. All are invited.