This past weekend marked the one-year anniversary of community organizing to restore Rodney Reservoir Park after we learned the City of Wilmington had requested $1.7 million from the state Bond Bill committee to demolish the Rodney Reservoir in preparation for private residential development. A group of neighbors formed a volunteer organization, Green for the Greater Good, around the mission of keeping the Rodney Reservoir public, safe and green, and creating a future where all residents can enjoy its use.
We have been meeting weekly ever since to organize our community for the purpose of advocating for these goals and engaging partners and neighbors in developing a vision and securing funding to build the future Rodney Reservoir Park.
Our first priority is to keep the Rodney Reservoir public. The 3.78-acre site is owned by the City of Wilmington and has served as a public greenspace for over 150 years, including many years as a public park. We are united to maintain this historic greenspace in one of Delaware’s densest urban neighborhoods as publicly-owned land. We oppose its sale and especially the use of taxpayer dollars to prepare it for private development.
In the spring of 2023, we organized residents to express these concerns to our state legislators and members of the Bond Bill Committee responsible for funding the City’s request. These elected officials responded to our advocacy by including the following requirement in the legislation and the Memo of Understanding for the City’s use of FY 2023 Bond Bill fund to demolish the Reservoir: “Prior to initiation of this project, the City of Wilmington shall engage in comprehensive planning, including public engagement, to determine the best use for the property before any future development is begun.”
At a meeting of neighbors on Memorial Day 2022, the City committed to stepping back from plans to privatize and suggested the City would work with the community on next steps.
Another of Green for the Greater Good’s priorities is to keep the Rodney Reservoir safe. Following the announcement of plans to demolish, we asked the City to conduct environmental testing at the site. We learned the city planned to test the pump house building for asbestos but were not going to test for the presence of any other contaminant elsewhere on the site.
To ensure the protection of the health and safety of neighbors, especially the families living closest to the site, Green for the Greater Good coordinated a letter writing campaign to DNREC and city elected officials asking for the building materials and concrete to be tested for asbestos, and the soil be tested comprehensively to identify any potential contaminants.
Since then, the City has conducted a soil analysis for a wide range of contaminants, and just recently, DNREC required additional testing. We are awaiting information about the timeline for additional sample collection and subsequent results from these tests and are committed to making sure that any plan for sitework minimizes public exposure to environmental hazards.
Green for the Greater Good is also advocating to keep the Rodney Reservoir green. As we have met and talked to neighbors and partners over the past year, we have heard loud and clear from many members of our community that they want the Rodney Reservoir to be an accessible public greenspace. We have cultivated the vision of a unique park where residents and the entire city can come together to experience nature and have fun. Some of the ideas residents have generated so far envision a place where residents and students can gather and engage in recreation, citizen science, expanded community gardening, and environmental education–or just relax and take in beautiful vistas of our city. The possibilities are many, and we believe the community should be a part of the process of brainstorming ideas for the site and choosing among them.
Community Engagement and Planning
Our advocacy, networking and community visioning efforts over the past year have strengthened our appreciation for the wisdom of the FY23 state Bond Bill provision that requires community engagement and planning before the project is started. To date, the City has been moving forward with plans for demolition without community input or feasibility studies to consider what is possible let alone most desirable or sustainable for the site.
In his March Budget Address, Mayor Purzycki promised to turn the Rodney Reservoir into a beautiful public park and to engage the community in its design. However, it is concerning that the City’s actions have not been consistent with this commitment. In January 2023 the Wilmington Department of Public Works presented a plan to City Council to demolish the Rodney Reservoir tank and flatten and grass the site. In May 2023 the City launched a new website providing additional details about their planned demolition. Neither the January City Council presentation nor the new website include any provisions to create a beautiful public park at the Rodney Reservoir.
In order to realize the potential environmental, social, health and economic benefits of this site for our neighborhood, comprehensive planning and community engagement are not only best practices, they are common sense measures. Research shows that engaging potential users of green spaces in their development, building site-specific parks with amenities for social gathering, and planning programs that encourage use leads to the creation of spaces that are vibrant and well-used. These factors play a role in public health outcomes and motivate beneficial behavioral changes such that residents begin to use outdoor spaces for the first time. Mounting evidence indicates that successful greening lowers crime, benefits residents’ physical and mental health, and even improves student learning outcomes.
The City’s path forward for the Rodney Reservoir needs to be engaging residents and community groups to partner with the City to create a vision, design and budget for the park–before demolishing features that could be incorporated into that design.
Green for the Greater Good has been asking the City since last Memorial Day to form a Rodney Reservoir Task Force to facilitate collaborative work between the City, residents, as well as professional landscape architects. We were excited when, in April 2023, the City started taking steps to launch a Rodney Reservoir Task Force and reached out to community members to participate. As of this week, the Mayor has appointed thirteen community members to a Rodney Reservoir Advisory Committee and has indicated that its work will start soon. Green for the Greater Good continues to advocate for this important vehicle to facilitate meaningful city/community collaboration around the design and planning of the future Rodney Reservoir Park. More information on this Advisory Committee is coming soon!
In the meantime, to help support City/community collaboration, Green for the Greater Good has been proactive in seeking funds and partnerships to facilitate community input into the future design possibilities. We collaborated with West Side Grows Together to obtain a grant from DNREC to pay a professional landscape architect to conduct a community design process with residents that we hope will be sponsored by a City/Community Rodney Reservoir Task Force.
Further, to lay the groundwork for that future official design process, this month Green for the Greater Good is bringing the Living Lab Research Group at the University of Delaware's Biden School of Public Policy and Administration to conduct a visioning process for the community led by student fellows who will engage residents and stakeholders in developing some initial design concepts. There will be three sessions starting on June 13th with a 3:30 PM and 6:30 PM session.
How You Can Help
The Rodney Reservoir has served generations of city residents as a beautiful city park. Over time, portions of the site have become unsafe and inaccessible to the public. Together, we can make this historic 3.78-acre space a beautiful city park that reflects the love our neighborhood feels for the site once again.
In order to achieve this future, the City of Wilmington must adhere to funding requirements and commence comprehensive planning and community engagement before proceeding with any site work. If you have not done so already, you can still take part in our letter campaign. Follow this link to send a pre-written letter to the Bond Bill committee and state legislators asking them to make sure the City of Wilmington complies with the bond bill requirements to conduct comprehensive planning and community engagement BEFORE commencing demolition.
Sign up to participate in the Rodney Reservoir design charette with the University of Delaware’s Living Lab. This will be a chance for the community to come together to learn about concepts in urban greenspace design and share ideas about what features we think should be included in the future Rodney Reservoir Park.
Thank you for your continued engagement to protect this special part of our neighborhood. We look forward to getting to meet and hear from more neighbors as we continue to advocate for a resident-driven vision for the Rodney Reservoir and to restore Rodney Reservoir Park.