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 firstname.lastname@example.org.