It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child. In Wissahickon’s case, it takes a neighborhood to raise a park.
Over the past six months, a team of Collaborative volunteers worked with the Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association on a master plan to revitalize Wissahickon Neighbors Park. Now, the Collaborative’s early design assistance has become a catalyst for a big boost in funding for park improvements. During this weekend’s Love Your Park Day, park advocates learned that the park will receive $200,000 in city funding.
Wissahickon Neighbors Park was already earmarked for $30,000 in City capital funds when Craig Ablin, leader of a WNCA committee to improve the park, shared the Collaborative’s plans and renderings with Councilman Curtis Jones. WNCA’s compelling vision– and visuals– convinced Jones to make the case for more funding.
Wissahickon residents knew that Al Spivey, Jr., Chief of Staff for Councilman Curtis Jones, was going to unveil a larger check on Saturday, but the actual amount was still a mystery. When Spivey announced that Wisshickon Park would receive $200,000 from the City for improvements, even the Elvis impersonator in the crowd cheered.
After suffering a period of neglect, Wissahickon Neighbors Park was re-embraced by the neighborhood. Its new community stewards stepped in to maintain and improve the park. Taking time to develop a vision for the park has only added to the group’s solidarity. Christine Schwarz, a past WNCA president, said “the value of a project like this is that is gets people working together on a vision. Starting, implementing, and developing a strategy to keep the park well-maintained and active will unite us for at least the next ten years.”
Wissahickon Neighbors Park hugs a steep slope in the Wissahickon neighborhood. Built on the site of a church that burned down in the ‘50s, the park is enclosed by the former foundation of the church. Several Wissahickon residents described the stone wall as unfriendly and “fortress-like.” To make matters worse, the basketball court is perched way above the playground area. One more lofty step uphill leads to a wooded area that the community has been maintaining since the ‘90s.
The Collaborative’s master plan focuses on opening up the main entrance to the park on Terrace Street and connecting the park’s disparate pieces. A portion of the stone wall will be removed to create a broad, generously-planted entrance path and sitting area. The new planting beds will also be designed to capture stormwater runoff, a new essential for a sustainable city.
WNCA believes that the improvements to Wissahickon Neighbors Park will have an impact beyond the park itself. The group wants to turn the neighborhood’s renters and first-time homeowners into committed, long-term Wissahickon residents by increasing the family-friendliness of the neighborhood. The revitalized park, in combination with the newly-invigorated Cook-Wissahickon Elementary School, will help achieve their goal.