By the summer of 2015, the corner of 37th and Mount Vernon streets in Mantua will have a revamped and greened playground thanks to a partnership between Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, The Trust for Public Land, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) and design firm Langan Engineering & Environmental Services. This week the partners kicked off the community engagement process.
About 20 Mantua residents and supporters met at 3900 Haverford Ave for the first public meeting. The project leaders explained their basic goals (to overhaul the existing playground and make it an active, vibrant space capable of managing stormwater runoff), explained the process of projects like this and asked community members what they want to see in the space.
This project is part of a larger collaboration between Philadelphia Parks & Rec, the School District and The Trust for Public Land. Working toward the Green2015 goal of greening 500 acres by 2015, they plan on greening 10 schools, recreation centers and playgrounds by 2015.The 37th and Mt. Vernon playground is one of the chosen 10.
At the moment the playground has some play equipment, but neighbors at the meeting said that other than the basketball courts, the playground does not see much use.
“For those who can, they’re taking their kids out of the neighborhood,” said one woman at the community meeting. “For those who can’t, unfortunately, their kids are playing in the street.”
She said that she, like others in the room, want a safe place for kids to play but added, “If the project is a success the way I hope it is, [elderly neighbors] might want to come down and relax too.”
The budget for the playground renovation will depend on how much stormwater the new design can manage. Trust for Public Land Program Manager Danielle Denk said the budget could be in the range of $350,000 to $400,000.
“I’m not here to raise the price, but I do want some quality equipment,” one resident said.
When the question of building a facilities building on land adjacent to the playground came up, Denk said, “If we build a building we probably won’t have money for anything else.”
Neighbors said they would be interested in using eminent domain to secure neighboring properties and expand the playground into a larger community park. Denk and Parks & Rec reminded that, while such a plan may be possible, the scope of this project is really just greening the existing playground. Still, the residents in attendance spoke of bringing in other stakeholders to raise funds and expand the park.
“Drexel is here,” said Lionel Drain, who has lived in Mantua for 71 years. “Tell Drexel, or ask Drexel, to send us some money. Period.”
When the project leaders asked who else should be in the room during the playground planning process, Drain said, “Put Jannie Blackwell’s name right up top.”
The Trust for Public Land will work to bring more civic leaders, stakeholders and community members to its next planning meeting, which will be held sometime during the second week of November. At that meeting, attendees will sit around maps of the site and prioritize what types of equipment, design features or uses they want to see in the playground. So far residents have said they want seating for basketball players and fans alike, a sprayground to keep kids cool in the summer, space for the community to gather, a gateway entrance and a utilities building to provide – at minimum – water and electricity.
This fall and winter, the project leaders will seek additional public input. Through the spring and summer they will finalize the plans, secure necessary permits and seek the city’s feedback. Construction will likely begin around the winter of 2014 and continue through the spring of 2015. The goal is to open the park by the spring of 2015.
When one project leader said residents should come to the next meeting ready to work, Drain responded, “Y’all better be ready too.”