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  • Green for the Greater Good

How We Got Here: The Last Ten Years of Expanding Public Use at Rodney Reservoir

The Rodney Reservoir is a greenspace the size of a city block on a large hill in the middle of the West Side. The Rodney Reservoir has historically served as part of the city’s water infrastructure as well as a public park. After 2001, a public safety communications tower was built on the lower level of the Rodney Reservoir and the City of Wilmington built a fence around the entire site.

In 2010, Cornerstone West CDC and West End Neighborhood Neighborhood House partnered with residents and the City of Wilmington, with the support of Delaware Public Allies and the Delaware Department of Agriculture, to create a community garden at the Rodney Reservoir. Residents worked together to build raised beds on the lower level of the Rodney Reservoir.

The high level of community engagement in the development and implementation of the West Side Grows community garden at the Rodney Reservoir helped Cornerstone recognize the potential for resident-driven neighborhood revitalization.

Cornerstone launched a broader neighborhood planning effort in July 2011. Over the next year, Cornerstone engaged more than 650 residents in developing the West Side Revitalization Plan, which lays out a ten-year strategy for improving housing, growing jobs, revitalizing parks, strengthening the business districts, increasing opportunities for youth and improving the health of residents living in West Side neighborhoods.

Residents identified parks and gardens as one of the highest priorities in the West Side Plan. Over the last ten years, Cornerstone has worked with West Side Grows Steering Committee member organizations and residents to build a powerful movement to revitalize West Side’s parks, build community gardens, and promote access to locally grown food.

The community garden at the Rodney Reservoir, which is managed by volunteers with oversight by Cornerstone West CDC, has become the city’s largest, with 60 plots and over 100 active gardeners. The West Side Grows Community Garden at the Rodney Reservoir has also helped to incubate a number of projects, including the Cool Spring Farmers Market and Bright Spot Farms, that serve to expand access to fresh and locally grown produce while promoting job creation and small business growth. The West Side Grows community garden also partnered with the Delaware Center for Horticulture and Food Bank of DE in 2020 in a collective effort to share locally grown produce with community members struggling with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May, 2023 a representative of the City of Wilmington announced at a community meeting that the City was seeking state bond bill funds to demolish the Rodney Reservoir due to concerns about the safety of the unused water infrastructure within the upper level of the Reservoir.

Neighbors soon came together through a shared commitment to keeping the Rodney Reservoir a public greenspace with major potential to be an even greater asset to the community. Meeting weekly on Saturday mornings ever since, these neighbors formed a neighborhood organization called Green for the Greater Good to work together to imagine the next phase of Rodney Reservoir as a public green space open to use by local residents, students, and the broader public.

Green for the Greater Good is made up of an active core of approximately twenty residents, with over a hundred more participating in events, workshops, and actions. Green For the Greater Good is committed to building a collaborative process for the public to be involved in working with the City and other stakeholders to envision the next phase of the Rodney Reservoir Park and helping to raise the funds to make that vision a reality.

● Outline current programs and activities

Green for the Greater Good has been engaged in community outreach efforts since May. The group hosts weekly Saturday organizing meetings at 10 AM—previously at the bus stop at the corner of 9th and Clayton streets, currently at The Church for the Holy City at 1118 N. Broom Street, and occasionally on Zoom. The group communicates with neighbors through e-newsletters, flyering, canvassing, and events.

Last summer, Green for the Greater Good hosted a series of community events, inviting neighbors to learn more about the garden and the reservoir and to raise awareness about the community’s opportunity to influence the future use of this public asset. Events included a picnic and rally in July, a (make our own) salsa fiesta in August, and a Harvest Fest gathering in September.

One major outcome of Green for the Greater Good’s organizing has been the launch of a partnership with William C. Lewis Dual Language Elementary School, Healthy Foods for Health Kids and West Side Grows. The partnership brings Lewis students and teachers of grades K-5 to the community garden at Rodney Reservoir to grow food, learn science and have fun. An estimated 400 students and teachers began gardening this fall. Preliminary contact has been made with another neighborhood school to create another student gardening project at the garden in the future.

In addition, Green for the Greater Good has been communicating with the City to set up a Rodney Reservoir Task Force made up of residents and members of the City administration to collaborate on the development and implementation of plans for the future use of the site.

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