RTC SpringSummer 2015 Issue_final - page 16

By Amy Kapp
Parks to Trails—Building a Better Community
In 2007, Toody Maher, inventor, entre-
preneur and former pro volleyball player,
founded Pogo Park (
), a non-
profit dedicated to transforming neglected
parks into vibrant play spaces and commu-
nity hubs in Richmond, Calif.
at year, Maher walked all 56 parks in
the city and was “floored” by the playlots
she found along the way—noting both
their need for transformation and the pow-
erful impact this transformation could have
on children and families.
Using her knack for ingenuity (Maher
had previously pioneered Swatch’s rise in
the United States and invented the world’s
first clear telephone with lights)—and
inspired by her outdoor-filled childhood in
Montreal and Los Angeles—she set out to
make her lifelong ambition of “running a
city park” a reality.
In 2008, the first Pogo Park project
got underway at Elm Playlot in the Iron
Triangle, one of the San Francisco Bay
Area’s most underserved neighborhoods. In
2011, Pogo Park began to transform a park
along the Richmond Greenway, a three-
mile rail-trail in the city’s urban core. Now,
Maher is helping to lead the charge for
expansion of the trail.
We recently chatted with Maher about
her work as a park builder and trail advo-
cate, and her vision for the future of the
Richmond Greenway.
What is the unique concept around
Pogo Park?
First, the concept is to turn a lifeless and
broken public space into a vibrant play-
ground. We like to “turn the lights on” in
these spaces by creating rich play environ-
ments for children. ere’s tons of research
that points to the fact that play is “the
mother’s breast milk” of healthy child devel-
opment. Play is at the heart of Pogo Park.
Second, we want to make these parks
community hubs for parents as well as chil-
dren. If the parents are supported, the chil-
dren will be supported.
We’re not going to just come in and build
the parks. We are going to build them with
community members, by hand—and they’ll
get paid to staff them, too. Take the trans-
formation of Elm Playlot. Residents staff it
Monday through Saturday. Here’s a park that
nobody would use for years. Now it’s a safe
place; thousands of people have come into
the park in the past three years.
You have to have stewards for these
spaces—people to care for them and watch
over them as a parent watches over a child.
You can’t just leave them be; that’s when the
negative elements start to move in. Our parks
are pristine because we have people clean-
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