Oak Park Blossoms with Sunflowers

Summerfest2016 TOPOak Park Blossoms with blumz06Sunflowers

(Cheryl Weiss, Crystal Proxmire, Aug. 4, 2016)

Oak Park, MI – Oak Park is blooming this summer!  If you walk, ride, or drive through almost any area of the city, you are greeted with spectacular sunflowers in what has become a beautiful community project built on hope and happiness.

It started with a seed of an idea by City Manager Erik Tungate.  He grew up in an area of Western Michigan where sunflower fields grow, and he remembered how much everyone in his community enjoyed the sunflowers.

He wanted to bring some of that joy to Oak Park.   Under his leadership, the idea became a project.  At the State of the City address in February, Tungate said, “Starting this spring, we Summerfest2016 TALLwill be planting sunflowers in various locations throughout the city.”

“Sunflowers represent faith, happiness, hope, and unity.  As these wonderful flowers bloom this summer, we will let them represent our better nature and we will surely see the glory that we had dreamed about almost four years ago.”

Not only do the flowers add cheer to the community, research suggests that when communities do things to be distinctive, the reputation helps attract visitors to a city.  The concept of “placemeaking” is becoming more common in the vernacular of elected officials around the country.

A 2014 report by the Michigan Municipal League shares examples of placemaking successes.  “Placemaking capitalizes on assets that connect people and places on a human scale. Both large and small  placemaking projects can have important impact on a community.SaharaAd_03 Not only do these projects improve a  physical public space, but they also strengthen the social fabric of a community,” the document says.  “When communities start  small and build on the assets they have, large-scale transformations can take place: Small landscaping  improvements to enhance a pedestrian experience may lead to a complete overhaul like a road diet, as it did  in Farmington’s downtown. 1  A small, grassroots initiative to promote community pride can spark tourism,  as it did in Muskegon when a group of young professionals started distributing “Love Muskegon” materials. 2 The Michigan Municipal League (the League) has already documented more than 25 placemaking case  studies from across the state that illustrate the small and large-scale impacts of place. Our findings show  that what matters most to communities is that people have an opportunity to lead healthy, engaged, and  connected lives.”

Gary Shermataro, a Foreman with the Oak Park Department of Public Works, was given the Rust Belt Ad late Fridaysresponsibility of researching sunflowers. Shermato had to figure out which varieties would grow best in Oak Park soil, where to obtain the seeds and materials needed, and ironing out the details to make this project happen.  It became almost a second job for him, as he and his team prepared to plant 15,000 sunflower seeds in the city.  They created 44 flower beds, some 25 ft. x 6 ft., and some 50 ft. x 6 ft.  along 696, along major roads around Oak Park, around the City offices, and in parks around the City.

Once the seeds and seed trays arrived, the children of Oak Park took over.

According to Shermetaro, they wanted to involve the school communities in this project.  Nearly every elementary school within Oak Park, public and private, joined in, receiving anywhere from 4 seed trays to 20 seed trays.  Principals were given the seeds and trays to distribute to teachers.  Children were asked to plant two sunflower seeds in each pod in the j and d adseed tray, and water the seeds twice a week.  Hollee Keel, a first grade teacher at Pepper Elementary School in Oak Park, said, “I thought it was a great idea.  It was really cool!”  According to Keel, her students were really excited to watch their seeds grow into plants.  Even better, their classroom has all day sun, which was ideal for sunflower plants.  Her class watched excitedly as the plants grew to about six inches tall in the spring.  Keel shared that plant and animal life cycles are in the curriculum, and they often plant seeds, but this time was special because they were planting seeds for many others to enjoy in the community.

Jonae Bennett, a 6 year-old from Detroit in Keels’s class, was asked to share what she thought about the Oak Park sunflower project.  She said, “Well, I like Pledge_side_blueplanting flowers at home.  I’m really good at it.  I water them, I take good care of them, and make sure to have plants in the sun so that they grow.  Our sunflower seeds grew an inch a day!”

She added, “I like planting  flowers because it helps me get a lot of exercise and focus on what I have to do  later.”

As much as Bennett likes the sun, she knows rain is important too -for plants and for kids.

“I like to watch the rain go by, and jump into puddles!  I love to watch the rain drip!”

Her eyes grew bright and shiny, and a big smile lit up her face.   “Do you know what?” she asked.  “These sunflowers will be taller than Mrs. Keel!  They will be about as tall as Mr. Haley! (Pepper School Principal)  It was really cool planting my sunflowers, and my favorite part is watching them grow.”garden16_congregation bnai teshuvah_AUG

Once the plants were collected from the schools in mid-May, they were planted by school groups, Girl Scout troops, neighborhood groups, residents, city staff members, and even family members of city staff members.  From there, it was the responsibility of the Oak Park Department of Public Works to keep the sunflower plants in all 44 plots growing in what has been a very dry summer.  And they have.

The first sunflower bloomed on July 4, 2016, during the Independence Day Parade.  Throughout July, sunflowers have been in full bloom, bringing smiles, happiness, joy, faith, hope, and unity, as well as pride, to the Oak Park Community.

“I am extremely proud of our DPW staff, in particular Gary Shermatero, for carrying out this project.  It has brightened some of our commercial corridors and brought a sense of renewed life to our city,” Tungate said.

Mayor Marian McClellan is pleased as well.  “Sunflowers put a smile on my face as I drive around the City of Oak Park. They are a cheerful surprise for residents and visitors alike who are delighted to see them.”

For more stories about Oak Park go to https://oaklandcounty115.com/category/news-by-city/oak-park/.

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