The debris of winter past blows circles around the hard clay court at Weccacoe Playground. Donna Pancari and Kevin Parker take turns sweeping at the piles of dried leaves and scattered trash screaming mutual directions over the rumblings of a leaf blower. A man in a straw hat, printed shirt and cargo shorts prepares the new tennis court net to be strung. He looks more like he’s ready to board a cruise ship than participate in a playground clean-up, but it’s evident that he’s passionate about the cause by the way he ferociously dug up an old thorny rose bush and replaced it with another. Known as Duncan Spencer to his fellow Queen Village residents, he, Pancari and Parker are part of a group of dedicated neighbors promising to keep Weccacoe Playground and the tennis courts an oasis of Queen Village.
It’s 9 a.m. on a Saturday, and the residents of Queen Village are busy beautifying the neighborhood. As part of a neighborhood-wide attempt to green and clean the area, Pancari and Parker have taken the initiative to maintain the tennis courts at Weccacoe Playground.
The tennis courts at Weccacoe Playground are unique in operation since court time is organized by ordinary community members like Pancari, who is the established head of the Player’s Association.
Though Pancari is not directly involved in the Queen Village Neighbors Association, she attends meetings when she is available and says Parker and she are basically responsible for the upkeep of one of the only free tennis courts in the immediate area.
“We maintain the courts and playground because they are valuable community resources that benefit us all,” she says.
A free court, the facility at Weccacoe Playground, is the closest facility of its kind with the only other nearby courts located at 1000 Lombard St, at the Seger Recreation Center and even farther at Broad and Pattison Avenue at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park. Though, these courts are often over-crowded and unavailable for play.
“As a community, we noticed that the tennis court was in need of attention,” Pancari says. Using a push broom, she moves brush from the clay court and periodically takes breaks to play with a neighbor’s wandering child who found his way onto the court and found his sneakers gleefully tangled in the old, torn court net.
While Weccacoe Playground is owned by the City of Philadelphia, the facility has also been taken under the wing of The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia Green Program due to the numerous green patches in the 363,600 square foot park. Thus, Pancari and Parker are surely not alone in their efforts to keep the playground and tennis courts accessible for residents and receive assistance from a number of organizations.
“QVNA assisted in getting City Court regulations posted on the courts as well as a new net, and we developed a simple sign-up procedure for court use,” she says. “As a community, we have supplemented city services with our own efforts.”
The efforts and care of the Queen Village Neighbors Association and residents alike is responsible for more than just making it easier for tennis aficionados to play. Rather, their efforts are also making headway in the fight against crime, vandalism and prostitution in the area, according to University of Pennsylvania statistics.
Yet Parker is skeptical of the alternate effect of their clean up. “I have not ever considered [crime deterrence] as relevant or important for my efforts with the playground and tennis courts,” Parker says. “It would be delusional and self-gratifying to do so.”
While Parker believes recreational programs for children pay huge dividends in crime prevention, he’s positive that Weccacoe Playground is not one of these programs.
However, nearly four years ago, when Parker and Pancari became residents of the neighborhood and active in rising community efforts, the neighborhood saw a significant fluctuation in crime statistics.
In 2005, according to neighborhood crime records, prostitution arrests tripled in that year and declined steadily in 2006 to zero arrests, as efforts of the Queen Village Neighbors Association increased to keep the area–particularly area parks and playgrounds including Weccacoe—clean and functional.
Yet, as of 2006 the Pennsport neighborhood encompassing Queen Village ranked as the 19th highest in graffiti violations in Philadelphia. While the neighborhood crime rate is down from 2003, the offenses rose in 2004 and 2005 and the remnants of these crimes are often clearly seen on playground equipment at Weccacoe.
“Looking at neighborhood association efforts is narrow-minded and misguided,” says Parker. “Crime prevention needs to include an exhaustive array of anti-poverty, education, and social-service programs. The issues of crime in Queen Village are also larger issues for Pennsylvania and the United States.”
Vandalism and mischief crimes have risen and declined over the past decade but faced a serious increase in 2006 after an extreme decrease in 2005. The area saw just 343 crimes of property damage vandalism in 2005 with rising offenses reaching 484 in 2006. Similarly, in 2005, vandalism and criminal mischief offenses reached 355 and in 2006 rose to 506.
Since then, plans for the Weccacoe Playground and the tennis court have been taken more seriously, including establishing periodic playground clean-ups and greater organization by community leaders.
“We are thrilled that our new system allows for regular tennis court
use without restricting use by children, since this is a playground,” says Pancari. “We are also the site of a summer tennis clinic sponsored by the Arthur Ashe Foundation. So we’d like to continue to encourage maximum court use and community involvement.”
Yet with such noble efforts at Weccacoe Park, there is still much to be done.
“We’d love to see court resurfacing at some point in the future, as well as free adult lessons available on the court,” says Pancari.
While the statistics show that the efforts of residents, community involvement and a period of gentrification may have decreased crime to some degree, Parker argues that much more is needed.
“True crime prevention and poverty alleviation,” says Parker, “is going to take something of serious magnitude.”
At the Weccacoe Playground clean-up, parents sweep trash and leaves, empty trash cans and mulch the gardens as their toddlers shimmy down graffiti-covered sliding-boards and squeal kicking their legs on the swings.
Lucky for them, Queen Village and the neighborhood’s residents–people like Pancari, Parker and the children’s parents–are dedicated to a cause of serious magnitude.