Parkside: Local businesses help community start to make a comeback

This article was created in partnership with Philadelphia Neighborhoods, Temple University’s capstone multimedia journalism class.

By Jade C. McKenzie and Connor Showalter
For PlanPhilly 

The future for West Parkside has improved in the past decade and the neighborhood has remained focused on keeping its local residents within the community, said Marjorie Ogilvie, president of the Business Association of West Parkside.

The members of the Business Association of West Parkside recently came together on Jackie Robinson Day, April 15, to commemorate the first African-American to play Major League Baseball back in 1947.

Many of the members of the local association relayed a similar goal: to improve the economic landscape of West Parkside.

“There’s been a real effort in this little pocket to as much as possible to have local ownership of the businesses and local ownership of the homes,” Ogilvie said. “So we can keep that going, the businesses need good employees, the employees need good businesses.

“We’re really looking at not doing the difficult gentrifying,” Ogilvie added. “Nobody has been thrown out of his or her home in the West Parkside. In fact, housing has been redeveloped and people who have been here get those houses and they’re beautiful.”

One of the ways that the Business Association of West Parkside will look to boost the economy and tourism attraction in the Centennial District is by preserving the history of its baseball roots. A memorial field for the historic Philadelphia Stars is one of the plans that the community could see completed in the near future.

West Park City Planner Andrew Maloney said the memorial field, which would be constructed near the original location where the Negro League Baseball team played, at Belmont and Parkside avenues, is a project that is part of a comprehensive citywide plan called, Philadelphia 2035. The memorial field is one of more than 80 recommendations that were adopted by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission on March 20.

“The recommendation is to look at the feasibility of a memorial field dedicated to the Philadelphia Stars,” Maloney said. “Something that helps people to remember this history that we have at this location and so I think it would be something that would help to make that almost a year-round attraction for the Philadelphia Stars and Negro League Baseball in general.”

At the Jackie Robinson Day commemoration, the Philadelphia Zoo brought animal fur for the children to learn about.

A local resident visiting Parkside, Adam Brodsky, who lives at Tulip and Sergeant streets, said he would be interested in the possibility of having a baseball field in West Philadelphia.

“I think the baseball field would be really cool and then if they get some sort of semi-professional team together to have it as it’s home park,” Brodsky said. “If there were organized baseball games, I would come watch.”

Besides the memorial field, there are several other key initiatives that are taking place within Parkside. The movement is spurred by a collective effort from the area’s business community, which Maloney said shows optimism for the neighborhood’s development.

“The community is very interested in interacting with the park and the business owners,” Maloney said. “It’s a really interesting time for all of this to come together. People are finally starting to realize that’s there’s real potential here and the community has known that for years.”

Apiarist Don Shump, who runs the Philadelphia Bee Co., is working to provide economic and educational opportunities for several areas in the city. His business manages a majority of its beehives on the roof of the Philadelphia Business and Technology Center, which is located at 5070 Parkside Ave.

“I do presentations for elementary schools,” Shump said. “There’s been a lot of local food movements and this has dovetailed right in with it. It’s a win-win because having bees benefits local farms.

The Franklin Institute provides a program for middle and high school students from around the city to get involved with educational opportunities through a youth program as well. Michael Burch, who is the director of youth programs, said many of the children involved in the programs come from the West Philadelphia area.

“When I look at [Parkside], like many areas of the city, it’s been hit, in my opinion, from probably drug issues of the 1970s to the 1980s,” Burch said. “So what I see now is a resurgence of things coming. The Philadelphia Stars, the Please Touch Museum coming out to this area and the School of the Future.

“So it looks like there is more investment in this community,” Burch added. “Institutions, like the Franklin Institute, are going to try to make that happen.”

Youth in West Parkside learned about Memorial Park, located at the 4000 block of Parkside Avenue.

Local resident David Adams, who lives at 30th and Thomas streets, said during a visit to Fairmount Park that the 4000 block of Parkside Avenue is an area that could use improvements, if the area is going to continue to progress.

“You see groups of people picnicking on a regular basis, so the park seems to be used pretty well,” Adams said. “If they could add dog parks because more and more you see people bring their dogs to the park and there really isn’t anyplace for them to go.”

Philadelphia Parks Alliance Executive Director Lauren Bornfriend, who manages a non-profit advocacy group for safer and higher quality parks, said she hopes the city increases the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget to allow the neighborhood to reach its potential.

“A small investment in the promise of resources could make an enormous difference in every neighborhood in this city,” Bornfriend said. “While other cities in the country are tending to their parks and finding ways to make them better, our city is doing incredibly well, but that’s in spite of a lack of funding.”

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