I grew up in the ’70s when gang activity in Philly was at its peak. Getting to and from home and school was a daily obstacle course.
Yet, there was always Tustin Rec Center, a place for kids and adults to gather. Home to Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, and countless other basketball greats. Tustin was a place for summer concerts, ping pong, gymnastics, chess, checkers, and dance. Mrs. Massey taught us ceramics. Mr. Walt coached the Tustin Wildcats. Some caring adult was always there to watch over us.
Times have changed a bit, but Tustin hasn’t. New faces and names. Same caring adults. Same tight-knit community. Unfortunately, two generations later, Tustin Rec and many of the places where Philadelphia’s children, young people, and families learn and play are in the same condition they were in when I was a kid. The City of Philadelphia spends less than most other big cities on maintenance and improvements to our parks and recreation sites, which in some cases has led to serious disrepair. Unfortunately, because of the size of the system and competing budget pressures, the city has been unable to keep up with capital needs.
That’s why I believe that Mayor Kenney’s visionary Rebuild initiative is a crucial investment in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods and people. It will revitalize the neighborhood parks, recreation centers, playgrounds, and libraries across the city.
In addition, Rebuild is designed to provide economic, career, and contracting opportunities for Philadelphia residents, especially those who have been historically denied access or underserved when it comes to benefiting from these types of investments, especially black and brown people, women, low-income individuals, veterans, and others. These opportunities are especially important for my community in Overbrook.
Rebuild’s outreach and connecting with community groups and organizations will ensure residents are well positioned and better equipped to maintain and enhance their community spaces. In order to make the physical improvements a success, it is imperative that all Philadelphians be given the opportunity and tools to shape the investments that will be made in their respective communities.
Nearly every day, I think of the people I know who will be impacted by the outcomes that Rebuild will provide, especially the children and young people. I think about how it will help our block captains and community residents improve the quality of life in our Overbrook community. I think of how Rebuild will help our community become safer due to more robust engagement that will support community policing. I’m excited to think of how people will take more pride in their neighborhood and keep it cleaner. And all of these obvious benefits clearly outweigh the small burden of a miniscule tax on sugary drinks that it will take to get there.
In recent years, Center City has experienced a renaissance of its public spaces. It is time that all neighborhoods across Philadelphia receive the same type of revitalization, and we need to do it in the fairest way possible — not through yet another wage tax or property tax increase on hard-working residents. Rebuild represents an opportunity to re-invest in our public spaces by making improvements through a tax on an industry that enjoys enormous profits thanks to the purchasing power of our friends and neighbors — some of which should rightly go back into the communities where we live. When Rebuild officially gets underway, I expect to see community benefits related to public safety, learning opportunities, health outcomes, and jobs.
As a member of the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commission, I share with my PaRC colleagues an unwavering passion and commitment to ensuring Rebuild is a success. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to positively change our communities and neighborhoods forever.
Gregory J. Allen, Ph.D., is a Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commission member and co-chair of the Rebuild Committee.