Renewed push for a playground at East Falls’ McMichael Park rises

(John Corrigan/for NewsWorks)

(John Corrigan/for NewsWorks)

The Pussycat Dolls are no longer on top of the charts, and Hannah Montana may now legally drink, but the debate over McMichael Park is just as heated as it was in 2006.

At the East Falls Community Council meeting on Monday, resident Joyce Brady led a presentation on why a natural playground should be built at McMichael Park. The mother of four has mobilized a renewed effort — creating an online petition, forming the McMichael Park Playground advocate group, posting on message boards like NextDoor and reaching out to Councilman Curtis Jones.

“It’s going to build a community amongst all of us,” Brady said.

Historically, the Friends of McMichael Park group has opposed the playground idea, arguing that the treasured green space would become polluted. Coordinator Alexis Franklin did not attend the meeting, but Brady says she met with her over the weekend and engaged in an “open and honest dialogue.”

“She addressed her concerns, but I think I eased her mind on how much passion I have for this play space,” Brady said.

The playground would exist around where the beloved turtle statue sits, and extend out to benches. The slide and similar structures would be eco-friendly, built from tree stumps and other natural resources. Paying homage to East Falls’ vibrant art community, Brady says her hope is to have local artists create and decorate the structures, complementing the natural aesthetics of the area.

Brady’s main point in building the playground is that it will entice families, many of which who move due to lack of school options since St. Bridget School shut down, to stay in the East Falls community.

Local artist Brendan Siltman was the only attendee to speak out against the concept. Growing up a block away from McMichael Park, Siltman says he has fond memories of climbing trees and throwing Frisbees. “I appreciated it as a non-disrupted, open green space,” Siltman said. “I would be concerned with what kind of actual physical structure disrupts a space that can otherwise be used in multiple ways.”

Resident Morgan Bound disagreed with Siltman’s objection, echoing Brady’s plea for a centralized destination for parents to bring their kids.

“A woman with four kids, pushing a stroller, can’t make it down that hill,” said Bound, alluding to the route Brady’s family takes to get to Inn Yard Park, a close but challenging journey.

Beth Gross-Eskin, a 30-year resident, missed the playground discussion because the agenda posted on the EFCC website differed from the agenda handed out at the meeting. She showed up late and was annoyed because she feels very strongly about the issue — she created a counter-petition to preserve McMichael Park as a passive park.

“We’re so fortunate to have a green space in the city,” Gross-Eskin said. “There are so many underserved neighborhoods that don’t have any.”

Gross-Eskin recalls taking her children to McMichael Park and letting them run wild while she either read, relaxed or joined in the fun.

“You don’t need a play structure to play,” Gross-Eskin said. “It already is a natural playground.”

Gross-Eskin cited the other playgrounds in East Falls: the aforementioned Inn Yard Park, the recently upgraded playground at McDevitt Rec Center, and the playground at William Penn Charter School.

Brady’s counterpoints are that the school playground is closed to the public during the school day and during summer-camp season. And the path to McDevitt doesn’t have sidewalks while the path to Inn Yard has a steep hill.

“I’m sorry, but it’s the city,” Gross-Eskin said. “You have to walk.”

The next step in Brady’s effort is to raise money through crowdfunding and garner 500 signatures to present to Councilman Jones. The next meeting of her playground advocacy group is scheduled for May 19 at 6 p.m. at BuLogics Inc. on 3721 Midvale Ave.

As the heated discussion continues, EFCC President Bill Epstein said that the council will add new members to its dormant playground committee.

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