Nestled in the zigzagging streets of Francisville is the bright, colorful and recently revamped Franscisville Playground – a playground that has offered longtime residents a place to both celebrate and mourn and that those residents hope will continue to serve as a central gathering place for neighbors.
Tuesday Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and Council President Darrell Clarke cut the ribbon for the renovated Francisville Playground, which now includes a colorful, cushioned play surface, swings, colorful play equipment and a new “sprayground” sprinkler system. Parks & Recreation provided new trees through the Tree Philly program, and Mural Arts painted a vibrant mural that wraps around the adjacent recreation center.
“The playground is the center of this neighborhood,” said Charlotte Fisher, whose family has lived in Francisville for 90 or more years. “This is where everything takes place.”
For as long as Fisher can remember the park at Wylie and Cameron streets has had a playground, but over the years it became outdated. With support from the community and Parks & Rec, Clarke was able to secure $275,000 from the Fifth District’s capital budget for the playground makeover.
Before the playground overhaul, Fisher and her cousin Dee Williams said, there was a metal train that children were constantly falling off of and a tall wooden slide that didn’t have anything to hold onto at the top.
“I played in this pool before it looked like this,” said Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation Executive Director Penny Giles in reference to the sprayground. She said the old, water play area was dangerous and that she has scars on her knees to prove it.
No matter what the condition of the playground over the years, Williams said, “It was still a meeting ground for this neighborhood to laugh, to cry.”
Neighbors have held barbeques and weddings at the park. They have even gathered there after loved ones died. Next to the park, the recreation center has taught everything from ballet, modern and jazz dance to synchronized swimming and modeling.
“I learned everything here,” Williams said.
At the new playground’s ribbon cutting, Williams said she is proud to “still be a part of something [she] grew up in and was always proud of being a part of.”
The two cousins hope that the new play equipment will invite more people into the playground but not push out any longtime residents.
“The neighborhood is changing,” Williams said. “Look. Look. We’ve got million dollar houses going up. We didn’t build this for them.”
Fisher said she hopes everyone – longtime residents and new comers alike – will be drawn to the new play equipment, but as the neighborhood changes, she said, “My fear is the people who stayed will vanish.”
At the moment, Giles said, “The wonderful people that made up this neighborhood over the years are still here, still entrenched.”
Giles said years ago there was a threat that the city was going to close the playground so the community came together and raised some money. With the help of Clarke and Parks & Recreation, the Francisville CDC did not need to spend any of that money. Giles said the funds will be used on the playground in the near future, likely for some type of greening project.
“We still have a lot of work to do, and we’re up to the task,” she said.