On Monday, June 22, 2015, a dedication ceremony was held for the reopening of Miller Park following its renovation that began in June 2014. Among the attendees, along with the Mayor’s Office, the Malden Redevelopment Authority and the Malden Housing Authority was the Miller family, wife, Patricia, and son, Bob, of Robert D. Miller, the man named in the bronze plaque situated in the center of the park, for his “…unselfish service and personal dedication to the youth of Suffolk Square.”
Neglected for 20 years, Miller Park, also known as Harvard Street Park, located in Malden’s poorest neighborhood, slowly became a haven for drug dealers and was surrounded by a community too fearful to enter its gate. The Robins family, 30-year residents, have had sticks thrown through their window and on one occasion a brick came crashing through the glass and landed on the couch. “That was terrifying.” Helen Robins said. “One night,” Robins, whose house abuts Miller Park, recalled, “My niece was sitting on the back porch, on the stairs, having a cigarette and a bullet went right by her. She heard it and felt it. She ran in the house.”
Another neighbor further down on Harvard St., Rosemary Cipoletta, described the sounds that once came from the park. “I used to hear shouting,” and then in a low, husky voice said, “like, ‘Hey, you,’ and walking by you’d see it full of druggies. Deals going on.”
Ward Seven Councillor, Neal Anderson reported, “It never seemed to be eligible for any real funding. Where other parks had their location along the MDC area and the MDC has had money to be able to help with those things, Miller Park just never seemed to qualify for much of anything.” After being passed over in 2012 for a $1M grant from the TKF Foundation based in Maryland, a group that supports health and well being through the creation of green space, he lobbied the Mayor’s Office and the Malden Redevelopment Authority and was able to get $500,000 in Capital Improvement Funds and use $400,000 of it for Miller Park.
With community feedback gathered from a series of neighborhood meetings it was decided that it was important that the basketball court remain and that the park be inclusive to all members of the community. “The idea of having a basketball court so near to the housing project would be something that would be a shame to take away because that’s a sport, an activity, that a lot of low-income people can play. All you need is a basketball and a pair of sneakers.” Neal Anderson further explains, “The argument that prevailed was let us see if we can find a way that everyone can enjoy the park. The old and the young, the black and the white, the orange, the yellow, the green could all enjoy the park together. I think we’ve struck that balance.”
Landscape architect, Pamela Shadley, of Shadley Associates then created three distinct areas of use. The basketball court would be refurbished and remain in the rear. A physical elevation change including a long, low wall containing a flower garden would separate it from the children’s playground equipment area that would be across the park nearer to the street and flanked with picnic benches for accompanying parents or elders. The third area would be sites along meandering paths that wind around grassy mounds leading to benches under large, old trees and places of quiet for contemplation.
In order for the park to work, much of the funds were necessary to create an entire infrastructure. Trenches were laid for a new drainage system and sewage lines and the elevation was pitched so that water would be carried into sewers preventing pools of standing water. Poison ivy was removed along with dying trees, new trees were planted, new fencing and netting installed in the basketball court, the addition of security cameras, benches and walkways, and a tot lot for youngsters.
Since Miller Park has reopened, Robins said, ”Now I like the sound.” referring to the bouncing of a basketball. “I like it because it keeps them off the street and they’re doing the right thing.
What are they going to do? They’ll just wander around.” Cipoletta, contrasted the frightening shouts that once came from the park, said, “That’s a good sound, the basketball. Oh, yeah. I’m glad it’s basketball.” She further described Miller Park, “It has become family oriented. They look in and see mothers and kids. I guess they’ve found someplace else to go. I have sat there with my daughter and felt very safe.”
Robins said, “Everybody’s happy in the neighborhood. It’s so nice to have it all wide open. It’s beautiful and I love to watch the kids play. We are so happy. I love the park. I absolutely love it.” She described how every day an elderly Chinese couple arrived at Miller Park, put their player on the garden wall, and performed tai chi to the sound of Chinese music. Robins smiled and gestured her hands in delicate movements in the air to describe the early morning scene and said how she loved watching their graceful movements and hearing the beautiful music. A nearby neighbor, Kevin Michaud, also a long time resident, reminisced about Malden schools and parks razed in 1998, enjoys the new park and pondered, “It’s interesting hearing the beat of the basketball and the Chinese music together.”
On a recent visit to Miller Park on a late sunny afternoon the following was observed by this writer:
Children going headfirst, feet first, walking up, and running down the long slippery slide.
A pair of helmeted boys in blue tees and cycles riding in silent unison around rolling paths to the metallic clicking of circling pedals.
A row of tall evergreens guarding the gate like sentries.
At the picnic bench a young boy sitting with his arm around his dad’s shoulder leaning into him for support. A man sitting cross-legged on the garden wall texting as another stands quietly reading the bronze plaque.
The sound of small, running feet slapping the pavement. The thud of a football caught in both arms from high above. Old trees watching, rustling their leaves.
Soft white clouds streaking the blue sky and birds flying overhead.
A sure-footed, muscular man bursting into the park dribbling a basketball into the court, jumping straight up, grabbing the rim with both hands and plopping down, exhilarated, while a frail elderly couple revealing pale legs and bobby socks, hold hands and hobble down the asphalt walk.
A small group of teens convening in a circle of laughter around a new blue basketball court.
Neal Anderson said, “In Ward Seven we have a basketball court, we have a skateboard park, and we have a splash pad [Lincoln Commons]. So, we’ve got three parks in Ward Seven and we’ve got three different focal point recreational activities going on in them. I think that’s beautiful.”
-Elizabeth Scorsello, photography Elizabeth Scorsello