Locals invited to testify at City Council parks and recreation hearing

Kens­ing­ton's so-called ‘Needle Park’ was among those up for dis­cus­sion at the hear­ing, which provided an op­por­tun­ity for cit­izens to dis­cuss vi­ol­ence, van­dal­ism and neg­li­gence in city parks and re­cre­ation fa­cil­it­ies.

City Coun­cil’s Com­mit­tee on Parks, Re­cre­ation and Cul­tur­al Af­fairs, chaired by Coun­cil­wo­man Cindy Bass (D-8th dist.), held a pub­lic hear­ing Thursday, Au­gust 16, re­gard­ing vi­ol­ence in the city’s parks and pu­bic re­cre­ation fa­cil­it­ies.

Bass called the four-hour hear­ing at City Hall a “dia­logue” in­ten­ded to provide loc­als and of­fi­cials the chance to share con­cerns about city parks and re­cre­ation cen­ters.

After sev­er­al crimes in pub­lic spaces — the Ju­ly 16 al­leged rape of a 12-year-old girl at F.J. My­ers Re­cre­ation cen­ter in South­w­est Phil­adelphia; a re­por­ted shoot­ing Aug. 9 at Wister Play­ground in East Ger­man­town, and the re­por­ted shoot­ing Aug. 14 at Park­side Evans Play­ground in West Phil­adelphia — such a dia­logue is crit­ic­al.

One of the parks up for dis­cus­sion Thursday was Kens­ing­ton’s McPh­er­son Square Park.

Of the 29 in­di­vidu­als that test­i­fied, among them were Ray­mond Gant and Tessa Ren­shaw, who spoke of McPh­er­son Square, also known by the un­for­tu­nate monik­er, “Needle Park.”

Ren­shaw said that the park, which is littered with drug paraphernalia, holds at its cen­ter a branch of the Free Lib­rary of Phil­adelphia. That branch is some­times known as the An­drew Carne­gie lib­rary, as the late phil­an­throp­ist fun­ded it and many of the city’s re­main­ing pub­lic lib­rar­ies.

The lib­rary is un­der­used, some said, be­cause of the un­safe con­di­tions of the park.

“My son doesn’t un­der­stand that he can’t run in the grass; I have to grab him,” Ren­shaw said, adding that neigh­bor­hood chil­dren will ac­tu­ally pick up and dis­pose of needles in the park be­fore they play. “Nobody feels re­spons­ible to pick needles up,” she said.

Without a safe pub­lic space, Gant said, “people are held host­age in their own homes.”

“Why do chil­dren have to be the ones that suf­fer?” he asked.

Gant and Ren­shaw sug­ges­ted an ad­di­tion­al po­lice pres­ence and foot patrols in the park. Their state­ments echoed the sug­ges­tions of many who test­i­fied.

The prob­lem, Bass said, is money.

On May 24, Coun­cil­man Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.) in­tro­duced Bill 120489, the Park­ing Tick­et Sur­charge Bill. The parks com­mit­tee main­tains that bill would raise an ad­di­tion­al $2.2 mil­lion for main­ten­ance and pro­grams for the De­part­ment of Parks and Re­cre­ation by des­ig­nat­ing $2 per park­ing tick­et for parks and re­cre­ation use. The bill would add $4 total to the cost of each park­ing tick­et.

The bill was passed in a 16-1 vote by City Coun­cil on June 21, and it now awaits May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter’s sig­na­ture.

May­or Nut­ter must sign or veto the bill be­fore coun­cil’s next ses­sion on Sept. 13. The le­gis­la­tion will be­come law if the may­or does not veto it.

Coun­cil­wo­man Maria Quiñones-Sánchez (D-7th dist.), who was also present at Thursday’s hear­ing, said the frus­tra­tions of those who test­i­fied were val­id.

“Some people just feel hope­less,” she said. “But if I felt hope­less, I would not run for of­fice. We do have a lot of gems there [qual­ity parks in the city]; for some folks this is all they have.”

“There is the po­ten­tial to have the best parks and re­cre­ation in the coun­try,” Bass said.

Coun­cil­wo­man Quiñones-Sánchez agreed.

“We’re go­ing to get there, it’s just go­ing to take some time,” she said.

Pub­lic hear­ings such as Thursday’s seem to be a step in the right dir­ec­tion.

One wo­man who test­i­fied said that she had been so fed up with un­suit­able con­di­tions in city parks that she once “barged in” to City Coun­cil to com­plain.

On Thursday, though, she said she thanked God for the op­por­tun­ity to speak.

“In­stead of bar­ging in,” she said, “I was wel­comed.”

Man­aging Ed­it­or Mi­kala Jam­is­on can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at mjam­is­on@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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