The Payne-Phalen Pocket Parks in St. Paul were a neighborhood’s response to the housing crisis of a few years ago; on some streets, 50 percent of the houses were vacant. Neighbors developed two empty lots into small parks to change the negative perception of the neighborhood and to make it a safer, more pleasant place to live.
Managed by East Side residents and volunteers, the park effort is led by a few core organizers: Corey Tesdahl, Rebecca Welty, Shannon Lawson and Crystal Passi. Stonegarden on Jessamine has a variety of annuals, perennials and vegetables. A relocating neighbor transplanted most of her garden, including statues and unique finds, to the park, which Crystal describes as a “cute hodge-podge.”
“We wouldn’t have been able to complete the Stonegarden park that first year without Minnesota Green,” says Crystal. “It’s nice to have that program as a dependable resource for plants every year.”
Prairie on Payne features prairie plants, a meandering path, a cobblestone-paved area with four gabion benches, and two Free Little Libraries. Children like to ride their bikes on the paths that run through the parks and raid the small libraries for new books. Cookouts are held in the parks, and for two summers, the parks have hosted the East Side Art Council’s Artmobile.
The parks have boosted neighborhood morale as it recovers from the housing crisis. “Having gardens that you and your neighbors created together connects us and creates a positive identity for the neighborhood,” says Crystal. Plants and nature really can heal and bring communities closer together.