Watching from her house a block down the road, Mrs. Drake saw the university van arrive at the Illinois Avenue Playground and immediately came out to talk. At eighty-seven years old, she could not walk quickly but her determined progress and hand gestures for us to wait let us know that she had a purpose in mind. Almost immediately upon coming into the park, she started to tell us what she wanted done: she wanted the sign repainted (Figure 21.1). Shifting our attention from the playground itself – the remains of play equipment, a few trash cans, and not much else – to the hand-painted sign on a piece of plywood, we could see the paint chipping away, making it hard to read the list of participants who helped make this park fifteen years ago. Mrs. Drake explained that all the other neighbors who had worked to create the playground had died or moved away and she needed help. Since we represent the University of Illinois East St. Louis Action Research

Project (ESLARP), which had assisted in its initial development, she was holding us responsible for its upkeep.1 As we discussed not only how to fix the sign but also how to re-engage residents in the playground’s care, she was clearly skeptical yet her pride in the creation of the playground and her desire to slow its decay provided a starting point for a renewed effort to reinvent the site.