Improving Philadelphia’s park system key to Wissahickon Valley’s long-term viability

Improving how parks are managed in the city of Philadelphia may be the most effective way to make improvements for the Wissahickon Valley section of Fairmount Park, was one of the messages at a symposium on the long-term vision for Wissahickon Valley. The discussion was held Wednesday at the Parkway Central Library in Philadelphia.

Ideas for how to improve the park were many and varied. However, a theme that ran through several panelists’ discussions was the idea of more efficient and open government for the city’s park system.

“The future of the parks is really a question of leadership,” said Michael DiBerardinis, deputy mayor of environment and community resources and commissioner of parks and recreation.

With the 2008 merger of the Fairmount Park Commission and the Recreation Department into the Department of Parks and Recreation under Mayor Michael Nutter, DiBerardinis said that now was a good time to steer the department in the right direction.

That direction would include many things, such as making places such as recreational sports fields and parks more ecologically friendly, hiring and training staff to care for those places better than has been done in the past.

“Many of our parks are walled away from our communities by big roads and row houses,” said Carol Franklin, co-author of Metropolitan Paradise: The Struggle for Nature in the City Philadelphia’s Wissahickon Valley, 1620-2020.

She also said that one of the biggest needs for the Wissahickon was clearly defined entrances and better signage within the park for way-finding, things that an architect could design.

While some panelists felt like pushing for government intervention was the best course of action, others felt that creating more public-private partnerships in efforts to gather funding was the best bet.

“Money makes these places,” said Drew Becher, a Chestnut Hill resident who is president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, “We need to find a way to raise money.”

Despite the many ideas articulated throughout the question and answer session with the audience, no clear conclusion was developed, although many audience members expressed interest in staying active or becoming more so on behalf of the park.

The symposium was also held to bring attention to a new exhibit at the central Library entitled “The Struggle for Nature in the City.” It features photographs, topographic maps and other information.

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