Northeast Times

Port Richmond wants its park back

Neigh­bors liv­ing near Powers Park have com­plained the space is be­ing taken over by teen­agers who stir up trouble, trash the area and openly drink and use drugs. Now, loc­als are at­tempt­ing to turn things around.

As the sun began to set on Port Rich­mond’s Powers Park last Fri­day night, teen­agers walked the grounds, brazenly car­ry­ing open cans of beer. Some tossed ci­gar­ette butts in­to the grass. The smell of marijuana filled the air for a few mo­ments as two girls on a bench passed a joint.

The loc­als that had gathered there said they wer­en’t sur­prised by the il­li­cit be­ha­vi­or. 

But they were angry about it.

About 20 Port Rich­mond neigh­bors met Aug. 24 at Powers — at Al­mond and Ann streets, be­hind the Rich­mond branch of the Free Lib­rary of Phil­adelphia — to make a stand and, as they said it, “take back the park.”

“This is noth­ing,” said neigh­bor Maria Schrack of the un­der­age drink­ing and drug use in the park that night. “Usu­ally, you can’t even be in the park.”

And while of­ficers in a car and on bikes ar­rived that night to boot out the teens so many had com­plained about, neigh­bors said that it might take some ser­i­ous ef­forts to keep them out for good.

Schrack helped or­gan­ize the neigh­bors’ gath­er­ing that night, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., be­cause she said she and oth­ers feel the cur­rent at­mo­sphere of the park pre­vents it from be­ing a fam­ily-friendly pub­lic space.

Den­ise Bar­on, who also helped or­gan­ize the gath­er­ing, said the park has po­ten­tial to be a great com­munity space again.

“This is the first sum­mer we can’t use it,” she said. “We all need to come to­geth­er and brain­storm.”

Cathy Dugan, neigh­bor and mem­ber of the Port Rich­mond Town Watch, sug­ges­ted park events like movie nights, morn­ing yoga in the park or events in con­nec­tion with the neigh­bor­ing lib­rary.

“We need to give these kids something to do,” she said.

“The old men used to come out here and play chess, but the older people are in­tim­id­ated,” Schrack said. “We need to do something. They’re not gonna in­tim­id­ate me.”

That in­tim­id­a­tion, neigh­bors said, comes from the teen­agers — some loc­al, some from out of town — who gath­er in the park in the late af­ter­noon and linger un­til the early morn­ing hours drink­ing, smoking, carving ob­scene graf­fiti in­to pic­nic tables, fist fight­ing and some­times, Schrack said, openly ur­in­at­ing or hav­ing sex.

That Fri­day, there ex­is­ted a clear di­vide between angered neigh­bors and the kids, who in­sisted they had the right to be in the park. After a shout­ing match between the two groups, a po­lice of­ficer ar­rived, drove his car in­to the square and told the teen­agers to leave.

“I got five 911 calls about these kids,” the of­ficer said, ex­plain­ing that while he couldn’t ar­rest them since he wit­nessed no law­break­ing, he could ask them to leave since so many neigh­bors ex­pressed con­cern.

Neigh­bor Erin Schrack said she be­lieved that the neigh­bors’ ef­forts and sup­port for their park that night made a dif­fer­ence.

“They [po­lice of­ficers] don’t usu­ally tell them to leave,” she said. “This night they did.”

After the teens left the middle of the park and stood on the side­walk out­side its gates, a few res­id­ents tried to speak to them calmly to make them un­der­stand their frus­tra­tions.

“You’re wel­come in my park whenev­er you want, as long as you’re drug free,” said a neigh­bor whose house over­looks the park. “If any­body says you’re not wel­come, they’re wrong, but only if you don’t dis­respect the park.”

Some of those in the group of teens voiced their be­lief that they were do­ing noth­ing dis­respect­ful or il­leg­al.

“We do drink,” said one 16-year-old girl, “But there’s no kids here [to wit­ness it].”

“Every time I smoke, I throw it in the trash,” said one girl who in­sisted the group isn’t re­spons­ible for the re­por­ted lit­ter in the park.

“Well, what are you smoking?” asked one res­id­ent.

“Weed!” the girl pro­claimed.

The gathered loc­als said they were pleased the teen­agers were asked to leave that day, but some wor­ried the res­ult wouldn’t be per­man­ent.

“By 10 or 11 p.m., they’ll be back,” Maria Schrack said.

Schrack said she hopes that by bring­ing at­ten­tion to the is­sues in Powers Park the com­munity can see an in­creased pres­ence of patrolling of­ficers in cars or on bikes.

In a phone con­ver­sa­tion Monday, Bar­on said that neigh­bors also gathered in the park on Sat­urday and Sunday, and had been more pro­act­ive about ask­ing teens to leave the park if they in­ten­ded to break laws.

“We’re not afraid to ap­proach them and ask them nicely,” she said. “It’s been really good.”

The neigh­bors will con­tin­ue to gath­er in the park every night this week.

Mary­ann Trombetta, pres­id­ent of the Port Rich­mond Town Watch, was also present that night. She said the best thing neigh­bors can do about park is­sues is call 911 and the Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment’s 24th dis­trict tip line at 215-685-3281.

She also told neigh­bors that they are the most ef­fect­ive eyes and ears of the park.

“This is a qual­ity of life is­sue,” she said. “The cops don’t live here. You live here.”

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

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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