'A change of pace:' Work from the Park gives fresh perspective for at-home workers

Amelia Benavides-Colón
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy offered home-bound workers a change of scenery Thursday.

Almost 200 people turned out for a day at Robert C. Valade Park near the Aretha Franklin Amphitheater on the Detroit Riverwalk for fresh air, food and beverages, and use free Wi-Fi in a one-day event to give workers a break from their home offices.

Elizabeth Hempsted of Southfield enjoys an afternoon of work at Robert C. Valade Park on August 15 for their Work from the Park event. Hempsted works for IBI Group and says she enjoys the flexibility that’s offered with working from home, giving her the ability to participate in events like this.

​​​

"Where people work means a lot of different things now," said Addison Mauck, public spaces manager for the conservancy. "What we've learned is that people want to be outside ... and now we know how to be flexible at work."

President and chief executive Mark Wallace said the conservancy's own outdoor meetings inspired Thursday's event. 

" ... We're trying to show people what they can do on a normal day," said Wallace. "One of the things we've noticed during COVID is that people are coming down to the riverfront because they're looking for a change of pace."

People gather on benches outside The Shed at Robert C. Valade Park on August 15 as the park hosts its Work from the Park event. The tables were used throughout the day by different work groups as they enjoyed the ability to collaborate and discuss in an outdoor setting.

Melinda Billingsley of Gross Pointe Woods has been working for Detroit Parent Networkfrom home since the pandemic began.

"I like the flexibility of working from home ... but there's only so much space in the house," said Billingsley. "I love being able to work outside and have good enough Wi-Fi to do that."

People were spread out throughout the park, working on laptops and Bluetooth headsets at tables. People also wandered down to the river's edge while talking on their phones.

Elizabeth Hempsted works for consulting firm IBI group and has been at home since March 2020. 

"I really do like working from home, it's convenient and flexible ... but I do really miss parts of the office culture," said Hempsted. 

Reviving that office camaraderie was a goal of the event. Teams took over reserved spaces to host meetings and work on collaborative projects.

People stand in line to order at Geisha Girls Sushi and Smokey G’s Smokehouse at Robert C. Valade Park on August 15. The two small businesses were offering lunch specials during the Work from the Park event.

It was also a chance for people to visit the latest stop on an expanded riverfront walk. 

"We wanted to have this day to be an opportunity for people to get introduced to Robert C. Valade Park," said Wallace. "It's part of our mission, to introduce people these new places."

The plans for expanding the riverfront don't stop there: the goal is to establish a river walk that extends from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle for  3.5 miles, Wallace said. 

"We've also been working with the city to make connections into the neighborhood, like the Dequindre Cut, the Dennis Archer Greenway and the Southwest Greenway," said Wallace. 

Construction began in May on the Uniroyal Riverwalk, an extension which will be completed by fall 2022, said Marc Pasco, the conservancy spokesman. The Uniroyal extension will connect the riverfront parks to Belle Isle and offer access to the island  with two pathways to the MacArthur Bridge. 

Claire Babala of Ferndale and Claire McCarthy of Detroit spent an afternoon at Robert C. Valade Park on August 15 for Work from the Park. The two women heard about the event via social media and said they were excited to have the opportunity to work in a quiet location that also offered shaded seating and food.

In addition to Work from the Park, the conservancy also hosted a community event at the Dennis W. Archer Greenway located at 2670 Atwater Street. 

Archer said he is “incredibly proud” of the honor and that the greenway suits him since he loves walking through Detroit.

“You could not have named something better for me,” he said in a July 28 interview with The Detroit News. “This greenway, in many ways, is the continuation of the work we started two decades ago in improving the quality of life for Detroiters.”