By Heather Tirado Gilligan
Toody Maher’s charge to renovate the Elm play lot in Richmond is a testament to perseverance. The small park sits on a corner in the Iron Triangle neighborhood, a low-income area that sees much of Richmond’s street violence. The play structure is a primary-colored island surrounded by grass and sidewalks with no pedestrians. On a recent sunny fall afternoon, the yellow and blue slide, built to beckon children, stood empty, the swings hung still. The only sign of life was an ice cream truck that drove by slowly, with a song playing hopefully from its loudspeaker.
Maher has fought for two years to change this small corner of a poor city’s poorest neighborhood through an organization she founded, Pogo Park. She’s learned to embrace the series of never-ending challenges involved in making a play space for the youngest residents of Richmond’s Iron Triangle.
“I call it a slow park,” Maher said. “You know, like slow food.” Maher spent two years securing money to renovate the park. Initially, Pogo Park won a city grant, money that was quickly lost when redevelopment funds dried up during the state budget crisis. Recently Maher’s perseverance was rewarded when the park won $2 million from the state for renovations in November.