Rally to save Morley Field shows opposition to paving greenspace gaining momentum

“As a child growing up in an urban area, having access to green spaces was crucial to my development,” said Reilly Shivers, recent graduate from Tollman High School in Pawtucket. “Morley Field is District 5’s only recreational greenspace as well as the only access to the river…”

Rhode Island News: Rally to save Morley Field shows opposition to paving greenspace gaining momentum

September 4, 2022, 2:43 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

Morley Field, the only large greenspace in the economic justice neighborhood of Woodlawn in Pawtucket, is in danger of being paved into a parking lot. Jennifer Stewart, a candidate for House District 59 and Councilmember Clovis Gregor organized a protest against the development on Saturday where just about 100 people turned up, including candidates for public office who care about environmental justice.

The plan to turn Morley Field into a parking lot is considered to be an example of environmental racism by environmental advocates. The Woodlawn neighborhood (which is just north of Providence, along I-95, west of Pawtucket Ave.) is approximately 74% people of color with 59% of people living at or below the poverty rate, and 29% are children. Woodlawn is a working class neighborhood where most people live in triple deckers or multifamily units, often with no backyard. Since the 1970s, families in Woodlawn have used Morley field for little league games, Pop Warner football, picnics and reunions, and as a place to relax and breathe. For the families who live in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Pawtucket, it is an invaluable green space, and escape from the densely populated corner of the city. Morley Field is also a rare public access point to the Moshassuck River, and home to nesting osprey protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Those interested in preserving Morley Field should contact Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien at 401-728-0500 x281 and email at [email protected]. For more information, see:

Katherine Ahlquist has a granddaughter in District 5 [Full disclosure, she is the spouse of this author]

“I’ve thought a lot about the saying, ‘Knowledge is Power,'” said Jennifer Stewart. “I’ve learned [over] the last few weeks the ways in which, systemically, it’s hard for people to find out about various developments and decisions in play that can affect their quality of life. And I think we’ve got the power to change that. We’ve got the power to have a broader definition of stakeholder than a lot of our procedures currently in place have.

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Morley Field, built in the 1970s, is made up of two lots, one of which was gifted to the city from William H. Morley, from whom the field derives its name. The park, said Pawtucket City Councilmember Gregor “was built for and preserved specifically for the kids in the neighborhood here [in District 5].

Funding for Morley Field came in part from the National Park Service, noted Councilmember Gregor. “As a result the city cannot just sell it without a thorough plan” taking into account “tons” of considerations.

The developers, said Councilmember Gregor, don’t need Morley field for a parking lot. When the developer excavates adding land for the trucking depot they are building, “all the hazardous materials they’ll be digging up – they’ll be using Morley Field as a dump site for that and the pave it over,” said Councilmember Gregor. “That’s insulting.”

“I want [Morley Field] preserved for all the kids here, in perpetuity, like it’s supposed to be,” said Councilmember Gregor.

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John Santos and Max work with the youth football team the Oakwood Raiders. Up until a couple of years ago, the team used Morley Field to practice, until pressure from the city made them move their practices to other fields in and around Pawtucket.

Around two years ago the City of Pawtucket moved the team to Max Reed Field. “I wasn’t aware that they were going us away so they could basically make this place a dumping site.” Had he known, said Santos, “maybe I would have dug my heels in a little more.”

They brought football to Morley field because “we wanted the kids [in Woodlawn] to play for their team. Before they had to go to Darlington, which is on the other side of the city, they had to go to Central Falls, or Fairlawn, if they wanted to play football. We wanted our kids to be able to go to their school, and say ‘I represent Woodlawn, I represent Oak Hill.'”

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“We talk about environmental injustice. We talk about Black and brown kids who are affected in their Black and brown communities,” said Brother Gary Dantzler of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, an African American Innovation Center in Downtown Pawtucket. “We talk about saving our kids and the future of our kids and making sure they don’t get sick…this is why black lives matter…”

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“I want to speak a little bit to some of the patterns we see when corporate developers try to pull something like this,” said Devon Pinkus from Sunrise Providence. “Something we do at Sunrise is that we show up at these hearings. We show up in the Port of Providence, we showed up in Central Falls, we’re here in Pawtucket now, and something that we see, over and over when these things happen, is that the corporate developers try to make the community feel that what’s about to happen is inevitable, like it’s the natural conclusion of the process.

“We heard [the developer] say, just a few weeks ago, that there’s factories all around here anyway, there’s already pollution and industrial development, so it’s logical and correct for this to become a parking lot.

“That’s why it’s so powerful for us to be here today, because it’s not inevitable that this field will get paved over,” said Pinkus.

Pinkus also noted that the trucking company is the only one to have tested the soil in Morley Field, and the City of Pawtucket closed the field in response, even though the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has still not concluded their study.

“When community does come together to stand up, the lawyers and the people from the companies act affronted,” said Pinkus. “They’re indignant because they feel entitled to expand their operation…at the expense of the community.”

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“The osprey have decided they’re going to stay here and they’re not going to let the city kick it out and build a parking lot,” said environmentalist Greg Gerritt, river steward for the Moshassuck River, who immediately pointed out the osprey nest at the top of the field lights. “This park is the only public access to the river along the entire length of Pawtucket.”

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“One thing this city and this administration does not like to do is acknowledge the racism and the environmental injustices that we face every single day,” said at large Pawtucket City Councilmember Melissa DeRosa. “It seems that when we say environmental injustice or when we bring up the word racism nobody wants to acknowledge how the sale of this field affects the people of District 5 [and] the city as a whole.”

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“The people have come out, again, to demand that the city listen to why we need to preserve Morley Field,” said Tashires Battle from Roots 2 Empower. “This is a historic greenspace, surrounded by trees. It seems like they are not interested in listening to the voices of the people.

“We are demanding not only that they preserve this greenspace, but that they listen to our demands.”

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“As a child growing up in an urban area, having access to green spaces was crucial to my development,” said Reilly Shivers, recent graduate from Tollman High School in Pawtucket. “Morley Field is District 5’s only recreational greenspace as well as the only access to the river. The Woodlawn population is 74% people of color and taking this greenspace away and giving it to Oak Hill which is mostly a population of white people as well as a wealthy population is just taking from people who have nothing, and going to people who have everything.”

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“This neighborhood that we’re standing in has one of the lowest [tree] scores, out of any place in the state,” said Molly Henry from American Forests, who was present at the rally as a District 5 resident. “That is not a reason to take away another resource. That’s a reason to invest more in it.”

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“We grew up here. I played for the Cowboys and I had the opportunity to be coached and participate in something greater than me. So my cousin and I wanted to bring that back,” said Lucien Tavares from the Oakwood Raiders Football Team. “This field was abandoned for 17 years. And we said we’re going to fight, like you’re all doing now. We went to [Pawtucket Mayor Donald] Grebien and we told him we wanted a permit for these kids. And there was a lot of resistance, let me tell you. We spoke and we spoke loud and he gave us the permit. For 12 years we here. So they can’t say this field wasn’t being used. They can’t say this field was abandoned…”

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“There’s one greenspace here and it’s not a coincidence that the one greenspace is toxic and barely usable,” said Rabbi Barry Dollinger, a resident of Oak Hill. “The reason that it is is because there is a bunch of greedy people who have all the sticks who want to take all the remaining sticks rom people who happen not to be white. That is what is occurring here.

“If this were a white neighborhood this would not be happening.”

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In the final video Councilmember Gregor put up a sign marking Morley Field as a product of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a sign he said should have been displayed at the field from the beginning.

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Rabbi Barry Dollinger
Environmentalist Greg Gerritt
Kinverly Dicupe
Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz