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Philly hosted the first Earth Week 50 years ago. Today, we’re still fighting for our green spaces.

Philadelphia Fairmount Park's Belmont Plateau (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Fairmount Park's Belmont Plateau (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Fifty years ago this week, Philadelphia added to its long history of being a “city of firsts” by hosting the first Earth Week at Fairmount Park’s Belmont Plateau.

The youth-led movement behind Earth Week spurred the nation to come together to focus our attention on the need for collective action to protect our common home—our planet. The first Earth Week was a people-powered effort around a collective call that continues to this day with the fight to combat climate change.

Just like the first Earth Week elevated awareness about the importance of our planet’s health, in many ways the COVID-19 pandemic is elevating the importance of caring for the earth, both locally and nationally. Locally, we are witnessing a renewed appreciation of our parks, gardens, trails, and public spaces as essential services deeply connected to physical and mental health. Nationally, we are seeing renewed calls to address climate change with the same mass collective action as the COVID-19 response.

Prior to COVID-19, the City of Philadelphia, like many organizations around the world, planned a variety of community-focused programs to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Week. In response to the Stay at Home Order, the City pivoted from in-person celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Earth Week to virtual programming.

The virtual programming includes Philadelphia Parks & Recreation’s Parks & Rec @ Home series and the release of the Office of Sustainability’s Greenworks Review, which celebrates successes of the past year—with a special focus on engaging youth—and provides resources to help support further action. This online activation builds upon Parks & Recreation’s environmental education programs and the Office of Sustainability’s community engagement work, which introduce young people to the wonders of nature, the importance of caring for the planet, and the power of their environmental advocacy. For a full list of Earth Week events, activities, and webinars, please visit phila.gov/green.

In light of COVID-19, the collective work of government, business, nonprofits, educational and cultural institutions, and residents to protect the planet for today and the future is more urgent than ever. We must continue to advocate, mobilize, and strategize cooperatively to continue our work. If we have learned anything from our history and this current moment, there is power in people coming together—especially young people as our next generation of leaders—to spur collective action for the environment.

You can join in by participating in this week’s Earth Week virtual programming, writing your elected officials to advocate for sustainability action, getting involved in the City’s urban agriculture and urban forest planning efforts, and joining local groups caring for our public spaces like the Park Friends Network.

Follow the conversation online using #EarthWeekPHL and follow Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (@PhilaParkandRec) and the Office of Sustainability (@GreenworksPhila) on social media to learn how to get involved.

Kathryn Ott Lovell is Commissioner of The City of Philadelphia’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Christine Knapp is Director of the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability.

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