The health of an inner-city community can be measured in many ways, but one of the most telling is to look at a shared community space: a city park. If you stop for a moment to look more closely, a city park can tell the story of the grit and tenacity of a community. Upon occasion, public spaces are worthy of much more attention and recognition than they receive.

This January, Project EverGreen, the nonprofit that revitalizes community recreational spaces to help create a greener, healthier, cooler Earth while supporting more connected, safer and more prosperous neighborhoods will spotlight the nearly half-a-century old Lindo Park in South Phoenix, Arizona and give the 22-acre park something it has always wanted: a real ballpark.

Project EverGreen is bringing neighbors, local businesses and groups interested in making a difference together to invest in the future of Lindo Park and the community.

But Project EverGreen and its partners’ efforts are not just about a new ballfield. It’s about recognizing people who have dedicated themselves to reclaiming a shared space that can represent opportunity rather than despair. It’s about demonstrating that people notice and care, and that the kids who play there have a future worth working hard for.

“Neighborhoods deserve a healthy park or community green space that they can call their own,” says Cindy Code, executive director of Project EverGreen. “Thriving parks create a community hub for neighbors – young and old – to gather and helps to instill pride in their community and confidence in area residents.”

A huge field of fresh green turf, a state-of-the-art sprinkler system, shiny new bleachers and an official MLB home plate have a way of saying “we want you to swing for the fences” kids.

To make it happen, Project EverGreen along with partner the Sports Turf Managers Association; the nonprofit, professional association for the men and women who manage outdoor sports fields across the United States, will spend three days prepping the field for the stunning ballpark renovation.

The project will spotlight the nearly half-a-century old Lindo Park in South Phoenix, and give the 22-acre park something it has always wanted: a real ballpark.

Volunteers including sports field managers, lawn care professionals, landscape contractors, groundskeepers and neighborhood youth will assist with the transformation. The project will include:

• Surveying the field to determine existing and proposed elevations for the playing surface.
• Laying out new grass edges along 1st and 3rd base lines.
• Re-inspecting and adjusting the irrigation system to insure proper coverage in the outfield.
• Fertilizing and silting seed for the outfield turf – nearly 60,000-square-feet.
• Laying out and rebuilding the pitcher’s mound and installing a new pitching rubber.
• Laying out and rebuilding the batter’s boxes/catcher’s box and installing a new home plate.
• Grading the infield surface to cut high areas and fill low areas.
• Installing sod to repair areas of damaged turf.

“We are thrilled to be a part of this important project and bring a well-managed and playable ballpark to a deserving community,” says Kim Heck, CAE, CEO of the STMA. “To use our professional expertise and know-how and bring a plan like this to life is a win-win for everyone.”

It took a long time to get to this point. Just ask community leader Muriel Smith (72) who has lived in the community surrounding Lindo Park for four decades. She has raised three children, 13 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren; many of whom grew up playing in Lindo Park, until one frightening day in 2009.

“There was a gang-related shooting in the neighborhood, and everything changed after that. Overnight, the park became a place to be wary of and kids stopped playing there,” says Muriel. Then gangs started “tagging” the park, claiming it as their own.

Neighborhood children enjoy the Muriel Smith Recreation Center at Phoenix’s Lindo Park.

But Muriel wouldn’t have it, she got involved. She began to work with a young community activist named Adolpho Maldonado who had started a Block Watch group. Together they increased capacity with the city of Phoenix Neighborhood Services and Parks and Recreation Department, the South Mountain Police Department and District 7’s Councilperson Michael Nowakosk who eventually passed the torch to Councilwoman Kate Gallego.

“This is an exciting project for the community,” said Councilwoman Felicita Mendoza, who represents District 8 in which the park is located. “We’re grateful that Lindo Park was selected by Project EverGreen and for the volunteer service and financial support of STMA and local businesses to make it possible. The new ballpark will enhance the recreation center and other amenity upgrades made to the park in recent years. “

It was a huge community-wide undertaking to take the park back. They held monthly community meetings and invited speakers to talk about different aspects of what was happening in the community, from drug-dealing to juvenile delinquency.

Muriel patrolled the community on foot every day with a friend from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. to see if there were neighborhood kids skipping school. She worked with local high schools and hosted graffiti clean-ups on the weekends and slowly but surely, things started to turn around and the park became a place to gather again.

Since then, a brand-new community center named after Muriel Smith has been built in Lindo Park along with a huge ramada with picnic tables for gatherings outside. Now, neighborhood groups hold meetings, host tree plantings, put on special events and kids even read and study there.

“People can be a product of their environment,” says Juan Rodriguez, City of Phoenix Manager of Parks and Recreation. “This park and the new ballpark will be something that people can be proud of, a respite for the community. The park is no longer something that you just drive by – it’s a place that you stop and enjoy- it’s a destination.”

In 2018, Juan and his supervisor Esther Avila, deputy director for parks and recreation, nominated Lindo Park for the ballpark renovation from Project EverGreen and the Sports Turf Managers Association. They selected the parks in the city that needed the most attention. “We were thrilled when we were selected, and we met with Cindy and her team. They match the passion we have for what we do and bring unique expertise and a love of what they do.”

“No one can do it alone. Project EverGreen brings neighbors, local businesses and groups interested in making a difference together to invest in the future of the community,” Code says. “The passion, energy and effort garnered through this collaboration are transformative for both the environment and the neighborhood residents.”

Muriel can hardly wait to see the finished ballpark. “The neighborhood kids and adults just love baseball and they are so excited about the idea of having a real ballpark to play in. It’s a vote of confidence for them, someone telling them, ‘there’s more out there for you and you can do it.’”