New on Nine Mile: Oak Park Invests in Playgrounds, People Power, & Placemaking

New on Nine Mile: Oak Park Invests in Playgrounds, People Power, and Placemaking

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Jan. 8, 2022)

Oak Park, MI -Along 9 Mile Road between Scotia and Rosewood in Oak Park there are brightly colored features that stand out boldly in the snow.

There are artistic features as well as a new linear park, where playground and fitness equipment give those walking along the once long and generally dull stretch of road a chance to stop and stretch or play.  Adults and kids of a range of ages can find something to hold their interest, including balance beams, monkey bars, and other toys that wobble or spin.  There is even a place where the pedestrian pathway splits, and those on foot or on bike can opt for an intentionally bumpy stretch with waves set into the pavement.  Another noticeable feature is the gigantic plastic flowers that add color and cheer to an area near one of the crosswalks.

Plus there’s the new lime green archway that has been capturing people’s attention. It’s an interactive The Yalp Sona is, according to their website,  “an interactive game arch that challenges the players again and again. The Sona is developed for indoor and outdoor, and new games are continuously being developed, so the device remains interesting. It works intuitively: if you walk under the bow, it will immediately ask you if you want to play a game! Different games can be selected at the touch of a button.”

Less noticeable, but just as intentional, has been the fencing behind the public space.  Prior to the installation, 9 Mlle was lined with the back fences of homes on the neighboring street.  “We had this patchwork of fences, like a mismatched quilt,” said Oak Park Mayor Marian McClellan.  “Now there’s a clean, uniform look.  You almost don’t even notice it, but those who remember how it looked before notice the difference.  And it’s helping the property values go up.”

Features such as playgrounds and public art also are part of creating an environment where drivers naturally slow down and pay more attention.  The features are part of overall efforts to slow traffic, improve safety, and welcome those on foot, bicycle, wheelchair, stroller etc. Nine Mile is already regularly used by pedestrians – including those who use the SMART Bus and children walking to and from schools and day care centers in the area. The bright new features help drivers to be more aware there could be people nearby.  Slower speeds also mean that when there are crashes they tend to be less severe.

Complete Streets is the philosophy that roadways are for everyone, and Placemaking is the idea of using features like public art and amenities to create an engaging community environment.  Both are concepts coming to life in the Oak Park streetscape.

Some residents have questioned the safety of having children playing on a main street.  Oakland County Times asked City Manager Erik Tungate about that concern.

“I want to assure our residents that a great deal of research and review was conducted by City officials and industry professionals to ensure the park is safe for use by children, families and the community as a whole,” said City Manger Erik Tungate. “In the spring landscaping will be installed to serve as an additional buffer between the equipment and the road, and fencing will soon be placed around the sensory station. The City will also be installing additional traffic calming measures on Nine Mile, in addition to the ones that were installed at the beginning the Nine Mile Redesign project. We look forward to providing another safe, and fun, place for our community to utilize.”

Other traffic calming measures have already been implemented. The city gave 9 Mile a road diet, meaning that it reduced the lanes of travel in order to slow people down to the speed limit. The road diet also included adding bike lanes, more visible crosswalks, and back-in angled parking.  MOGO Bike stations give people the opportunity to rent bicycles, and SMART bus stops have electronic signs to give updates on routes and delays.

Also adding to the increased activity are two pocket parks, where residential streets – Sherman and Seneca – were closed where they meet 9 Mile and small community spaces were added. The parks feature play equipment including a tall cylindrical climbing tower and a giant chess board. There are also benches.  Large signs with yellow letters announce the spaces, and the color matches the city’s theme of planting sunflowers in public spaces each year.

Another highly visible feature is the community trailhead, which has a covered pavilion, a bike repair station, a water fountain with a faucet designed to fill water bottles, and information about the SMART bus.

In the spring there will be more landscaping added along 9 Mile, with some strategically placed features to help add a buffer between visitors and the street.  There are also plans for more benches and accessible picnic tables.  The linear park and connector park cost about $1.2 million, with $250,000 of that coming from a $100k DNR Grant, $100K from the Patronicity Campaign, and $50K from the CFSEM Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Fund.  The Patronicity Campaign was an online collection drive where residents and others with an interest in improving Oak Park chipped in.

Mayor McClellan is excited about the changes. “Oak Park has always been a place for families, and this will help bring families out to 9 Mile, and show people this isn’t just a place to drive through, it’s a community to live in, shop in, and visit,” she said.

Learn more about the City of Oak Park at https://www.oakparkmi.gov/.

For more local news visit our Oak Park News Page.

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