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Curtis Park neighbors help grow Stout Street Children's Park

While the city contemplates what to do with Triangle Park, the sliver of land at Broadway and Park Avenue West that was officially renamed Eddie Maestas Park and is now a mess known as the Bumuda Triangle, the Stout Street Children's Park just a few blocks away makes urban planning look like child's play.

It wasn't that easy, of course. It took a village -- of Curtis Park neighbors -- to resurrect this park, originally a gift to the city from nearby landowners who thought the area needed a children's playground.

For decades, Curtis Park -- officially part of the Five Points portion of the city -- has been touted as the next hot neighborhood. And now, finally, its promise is being realized. John Hayden, who chairs a community group working on options for Triangle Park, has lived in the neighborhood for eighteen years, and sold it as a realtor for more than a decade. He watched as the little park at 25th and Stout streets "sat neglected," with many of the same problems as at Triangle Park -- including drug deals.

But then a group of neighbors banded together and joined the city's park stewardship program, taking responsibility for watching over the park. They planted flowers and added signage noting that this was a children's park and alcohol was banned. Most important, they kept a vigilant eye on the park, reporting any problems immediately.

That helped clean up the park, but to make it vibrant, they needed to bring people back. So they started programming events, six a year, including bike rides, barbecues and pumpkin festivals. And the people definitely came. "The real things that have made the difference is getting lots of different people in to use it," Hayden says.

All kinds of people. One of the major charms of Curtis Park/Five Points is its diversity. Not just in terms of housing stock -- although that ranges from public housing to affordable housing to little bungalows to Victorian mansions to new, high-priced townhouse projects. But also in terms of class and ethnic groups: The area's Latino/black/white percentage almost mirrors that of the city overall, and there's a wide spectrum of economic backgrounds, too. More important, the neighbors embrace everyone who's part of this neighborhood. At weekly meetings, those discussing future plans for Triangle Park and the 24th Avenue corridor express as much concern for the homeless as the well-healed residents; they want to make sure that this area is not just hot with white families, but middle-class black and Latino families.

Sitting in the park yesterday, we watched four kids playing -- while one man on a nearby bench -- maybe homeless, maybe not -- enjoyed the sun. Beyond that, we saw people of all colors, all creeds, walking by the sidewalk, riding by on bikes. "You have to value the diversity in order for this to be the right community," Hayden says.

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"I'm a realtor and I focus on this neighborhood," he adds. "I've spent ten years hearing people at open houses ask if it's safe. It's not only safe, this is the strongest community I've seen."

And you can see for yourself on Sunday, when the neighbors will be out in force to plant flowers in the park from 3 to 5 p.m., then stick around to celebrate.

It's a neighborhood worth celebrating.

The city had the best intentions when it renamed Triangle Park "Eddie Maestas Park" -- but the spot became such a mess that his family asked that the sign be taken down. Read more about the many-sided issue of Triangle Park in Patricia Calhoun's "The Lot."

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