How a new community resting park came to life in South East Fort Wayne’s Oxford neighborhood

Diane Rogers is on a mission to bring stability and opportunity to the South East side of Fort Wayne. 

The retired Fort Wayne police officer, yoga teacher, and African drumming and dance instructor is now President of the Oxford Community Association, focusing her efforts and contagious energy toward bringing more resources to the Oxford neighborhood. Diane Rogers is a lifelong resident of Southeast Fort Wayne.

“I want Oxford to be a space of opportunity,” says Rogers. “It’s a neighborhood community association, and that’s what we want to do: Neighborhood, community things. And you start with stabilizing the community and stabilizing the emotional needs that people have.”

To get one step closer, Rogers and the Oxford Community Association wanted to take a green space next to the association building on Oxford Street from an empty plot of land, and turn it into a community gathering place. It was good timing, as the Fort Wayne-based architecture and engineering firm, Design Collaborative, was looking for their annual community project. 

Design Collaborative isn’t traditionally involved in landscape architecture or swinging the hammer and actually constructing their own designs, but they were looking for a significant community project for 2022 to mark the firm’s 30th anniversary. So when Rogers and Oxford Community Association Treasurer/Secretary Jan Evrard approached the firm about partnering together, they decided to bend their own rules and take on the Oxford Street park project.

“We thought, ‘We're looking for a community project for this year. What if we could use some of the skills and knowledge that we have to work on something for the Oxford Community?’” says Amber Eberly, Business Development & Marketing Coordinator at Design Collaborative. “We're not landscape architects, but maybe we could work on this project together.”

Design Collaborative's team worked with the Oxford Community Association in South East Fort Wayne to turn some underutilized land into a small resting place for residents.

This thinking, plus the infectious energy of Rogers and Evrard, meant Design Collaborative couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take on the project.

One of the main intentions behind the Oxford Street park is to provide a place for people to rest, according to Rogers. The land sits on the Citilink and Fort Wayne Community Schools bus lines, but previously didn’t provide a space for people to sit or gather.

“Oxford is a busy corridor, but there’s really nowhere for anybody to rest without violating somebody’s property,” says Rogers. “Just having a place where they can rest without someone telling them they have to move is huge.”

Design Collaborative's team worked with the Oxford Community Association in South East Fort Wayne to turn some underutilized land into a small resting place for residents.

This inspiration was the fuel that Project Manager Chris Stine needed to bring this project to life. Early on, Stine and his team held a Vision Session with Rogers and Evrard at the site to fully grasp what the community association was looking for. 

“We want to understand want a client needs, and not just dictate our ideas to them,” says Stine of the firm’s typical process with Vision Sessions. “They wanted a place where people could go and rest their minds, rest their souls. That’s fuel for us as designers; that’s what we’re after.”

Design Collaborative's team worked with the Oxford Community Association in South East Fort Wayne to turn some underutilized land into a small resting place for residents.

From here, Design Collaborative’s team worked through the designs, logistics, and scheduling for the build days. 

The Oxford Community Association had a grant from the City of Fort Wayne to put toward the park, and Design Collaborative matched the grant to help the project come to fruition as the association imagined. They also donated their bench from Humane Fort Wayne’s 2021 public art project, LoveSeats.

The firm helped line up additional donations, recruit a team of internal volunteers, and make sure any red tape was cleared before they began building.

“Build day one was on a Saturday, and my birthday was on a Friday,” says Stine. “So I took the day off, rented an excavator, and attacked it.”

Design Collaborative's team worked with the Oxford Community Association in South East Fort Wayne to turn some underutilized land into a small resting place for residents.

Stine says the rest of the team was equally excited about the build days. Over the course of two days, the group of volunteers worked on cleaning, building, and landscaping to bring the Oxford Street park to life.

Shortly after, the Oxford Community Association held its first event at the space, a Haunted Park for Halloween. Members of the community gathered at the park with candy and costumes, excited to experience the new park, and for what the future holds there.

“There’s a whole lot of things we can do with this little space,” says Rogers. “It almost makes me speechless when someone comes in and beautifies a space, makes it more appealing, and gives it the amenities it needs to really be a space that you can use.”

Members of the Oxford Community Association, from left to right, are Lee Wilson Jr., Cynthia McBride, Diane Rogers, Carolyn Worlds, Condra Ridley, and Derek Taylor.

For Design Collaborative, the project represented a chance to give back to the community they call home.

“What’s so cool about this project is it’s something local; it’s something in Fort Wayne,” says Eberly. “As we were all working on it, we got to see how it’s changing and affecting the community that we actually live in and to see how excited everyone was. It’s so cool to be a part of that in your own community and to be able to do a hands-on build and contribute to that.”

Design Collaborative's team worked with the Oxford Community Association in South East Fort Wayne to turn some underutilized land into a small resting place for residents.

For Stine, the project not only meant a chance to build out his own work, but also an opportunity to help inspire and encourage future generations. 

“When I made the ask of our staff during a Monday morning meeting for help, I said, ‘This is a win for me if one little kid comes up and looks at it and realizes that we’re architects and engineers, and says ‘that’s kind of cool,’” says Stine. “Maybe they’ll think, ‘I want to do that someday.’ That’s genuinely what happened. To me, that’s the win.” 

Rogers and the Oxford Community Association see great potential for this park and plan to hold community events like drum circles, yoga, blues nights, and more. Not only that, it’s a testament to what’s possible moving forward. 

“With Oxford being the core of South East Fort Wayne, we definitely want to be the energy for what’s new, what else we can discover about each other, and what we can do together,” says Rogers. “We have to learn how to live together and take care of where we’re at; that’s the whole assignment.”

This story was made possible by underwriting from Design Collaborative.