ARIZONA DAILY STAR: AARP grant aims to make neighborhood park next to Tucson House safer, more inviting


By Carmen Duarte Arizona Daily Star Jul 24, 2019

A small city park next to Tucson House — public housing for elderly and disabled residents — will benefit from a $15,000 grant from AARP, the first of several expected infusions of money to make it safer and more inviting.

A goal of the grant is to increase recreational activity in the northeast section of Francisco Elias Esquer Park so Tucson House residents can spend more time outdoors with their pets.

Esquer Park has its troubles. Residents of the surrounding Barrio Blue Moon Neighborhood, and those living in Tucson House, have reported issues with homeless people camping in the park and drug use occurring there, which keeps families and elderly residents away.

A recent trip to Esquer Park, tucked north of West Speedway and west of North Oracle Road, showed men with backpacks coming and going. Clothes were strewn by picnic tables, a trash bin tied with rope and filled with clothing and boxes sat under a ramada, and cooking utensils and spices were left on a grill. There was a pile of beer bottles in the Bronx Wash that runs through the park, and a tent was visible on a desert area north of the wash.

The area is within the troubled 85705 ZIP code, where a collaborative effort called “Thrive in the 05” is underway to better the quality of life for families in the area.

The Arizona Daily Star is writing about the effort in an occasional series called Lifting 85705.

The first work at Esquer Park, expected to be completed in the fall, would install a walking path, seating, signage and a dog comfort station, AARP officials said.

The Community Challenge grant awarded to the city and Tucson Clean & Beautiful “is aimed at catalyzing change and improving the quality of life for people of all ages,” said Dana Marie Kennedy, AARP Arizona state director.

The AARP grant is one of 159 “quick action” projects to communities across the country totaling nearly $1.6 million. The organization is dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age.

The park, at 1331 N. 14th Ave., may receive another $15,000 Tucson Water grant that Tucson Clean & Beautiful would oversee to create stormwater harvesting basins in the park this fall, said Katie Gannon, Tucson Clean & Beautiful executive director. The project would increase the tree canopy at the park, which is rich with mesquite trees.

The basins, which would have plants, would help purify and slow down rainwater before it goes into the Bronx Wash, said Jon Choi, a landscape designer for Tucson Clean & Beautiful.

Other amenities would be seeding in the northeast section of the park and adding signage about wildlife that would likely be attracted. The animals would include rabbits and birds, such as the bright red vermilion flycatcher that has been spotted in the area, Choi said. “We are encouraging a birdwatching habitat,” he said.

Choi worked with Tucson House and Barrio Blue Moon residents about improvements they would like at the park. Neighbors expressed a willingness to help care for, monitor and maintain the park’s water harvesting project. Police patrols are also planned in the park.

With the recent passage of Proposition 407 — bonds for park and recreation improvements — Esquer Park is expected to receive additional upgrades, including additional walking paths, basketball court improvements, a bridge over the Bronx Wash and expanding the park into vacant city land north of the wash, said Alison Miller, a lead planner with the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

However, she said, that work isn’t scheduled until 2026 to 2028.

The broader “Thrive in the 05” effort will take place over the next several years between the city and Arizona State University’s School of Social Work. The ZIP code area includes pockets that are among the city’s most distressed due to poverty, high unemployment and crime. The focus area is 2.6 square miles loosely bounded by Miracle Mile to the north, Speedway to the south, Stone Avenue to the east and Interstate 10 to the west.

That project has received $2.3 million in funding from the U.S. departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development, Miller said. Another $30 million could also be sought for projects in the area.