An international panel of 25 leading academics, public officials and climate researchers from 20 countries visited a tiny — but mighty — park in Richmond’s Iron Triangle neighborhood last week.
On Wednesday, May 23, the panel — visiting from nations including Ghana, Myanmar, Ecuador, Fiji, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Mexico, India, Senegal, and the Republic of Georgia — stopped by Pogo Park’s Elm Playlot, 720 Elm Ave., to see how a formerly abandoned, broken pocket park was transformed into a safe, green and scenic public space.
Pogo Park, a nonprofit staffed entirely with neighborhood residents, designed and built Elm Playlot, which opened in 2014. The decade-old nonprofit also built Harbour-8 Park on the Richmond Greenway.
Along with providing vibrant spaces, the nonprofit is credited with serving as a model for grassroots efforts to combat climate change, in part by planting trees that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.
That’s the main reason the 25-member panel visited Elm Playlot. The researchers were part of The International Seminar on Climate Change and Natural Resources Management seminar, a three-week training by the US Forest Service (USFS) International Programs Office and the University of California at Davis (UCD). The training had researchers first traveling to Washington DC, Davis and Lake Tahoe before arriving in Richmond to tour Pogo Park.
“The work that Pogo Park is doing is not only building up the green infrastructure of the community and addressing climate change, but it’s building the spiritual infrastructure,” said Moh’d Khraishy, an agricultural engineer from Jordan who attended the event. “If I can understand the steps Pogo Park took to create a sense of trust and a safe space, perhaps I can bring back some of this thinking and model for change to my country for the benefit of the planet.”
Pogo Park was founded by Toody Maher and has since become more than a nonprofit, but a skills training and career path for local residents. And also a business. In November last year, a launch party was held for Pogo Park Products, an Iron Triangle for-profit social enterprise that offers Pogo Park’s park designs and products to enrich park spaces beyond Richmond’s borders. That products line received a $1 million contribution to launch from Chevron Richmond, part of a $10 million Chevron eQuip Richmond initiative.