Detroit Bird City

A meadow movement: Detroit Audubon partnered with the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department and General Services Department to establish the Detroit Bird City project. We are transforming unmaintained city parks and their neighboring vacant lots into Detroit Bird City parks, beautiful community greenspaces with natural habitat beneficial to wildlife such as birds and pollinators.

At each park we apply:

1) community engagement and planning;

2) restoration through planting native flower meadows;

3) installation of signs, benches, and pathways; and

4) educational programs and conservation events.

Each meadow takes around three years to establish, after which they need very minimal maintenance. Once fully established the meadows require far less maintenance than a turf grass lawn, saving Detroit city parks and community members significant time and money. These meadows show an alternative understanding of natural habitat as an aesthetic resource that provides ecological functions such as pollination, stormwater capture, carbon sequestration as well as air and water pollution mitigation. Pathways, benches, and informative signage ensure that the parks appear purposeful, safe, and welcoming. Each Detroit Bird City park is an example of natural habitat as intentional, and inviting, rather than neglected and inaccessible.

The Detroit General Services Department and Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for 308 parks. However, 52 of these parks are not maintained as conventional parks due to budget constraints, and many are indistinguishable from vacant lots. To Detroit residents, these vacant lots and empty parks reinforce feelings of neglect and provide sites for crime such as trash dumping, arson, and illicit drug use. Residents often spend considerable amounts of their own time and money to maintain these spaces. Of the few studies which have looked at greening efforts and improved safety, all have found that these efforts resulted in fewer gun assaults and total crimes as well as increased feelings of safety. Increased safety can lead to increased usage of the green space, lower levels of stress, and increased community cohesion.

It is our intention that these parks serve as a replicable model for sustainable use of land Detroit and many other post-industrial cities throughout the USA.

In 2019, we planted the first park, Callahan Park, with our native flower seed mix for tall prairie flowers and grasses. We planted the Palmer Park meadow in 2020, and in 2021 planted meadows at Bryant-Vermont, McKinley-Merrick and Lifsitz Park. In the spring of 2022, we expanded Callahan Park by two acres and in the summer of 2022 planted three acres of meadow at Riverside Park. Detroit Audubon and our partners have successfully planted meadows at six Detroit parks totaling 13 acres of native flower meadows. And the City of Detroit Parks and Recreation Department has 37 more acres of park land selected for possible meadow development in the next phase!

Detroit Bird City Park Locations and Acres

Callahan Park: 3356 E Ferry St (2 acres) Planted in 2019. Expansion (2 acres) planted in 2022.

Palmer Park: 19013 Woodward Ave (2 acres) Planted in 2020. To be expanded in 2023.

Bryant-Vermont Park: 5170 Vermont St (.70 acres) Planted in 2021.

Lifsitz Park: 2670 Gladstone St (2.8 acres) Planted in 2021.

McKinley-Merrick Park: 5200 McKinley St (.63 acres) Planted in 2021.

Riverside Park: 3801 W Jefferson Ave (2 acres) Planted in 2022.

Detroit Bird City Partners and Funders Include: City of Detroit-Department of General Services, Michigan State University, National Audubon, National Geographic, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Urban Neighborhood Initiative and many local community organizations.