Hunting Park: Residents Hope to Take Back Neighborhood

Sharon Whaley, assistant block captain and Colwyn Street resident discussed rebuilding Hunting Park and its reputation.

Residents on the 1300 block of Colwyn Street in Hunting Park suggest unity as a solution to the increase of drug activity and lack of after-school programs on their streets.

Lorraine Evans has lived in Hunting Park for more than 15 years. She said she doesn’t believe the neighborhood has gotten safer. On some mornings, she’s heard gunshots outside her house.

“If we could get the guns off the streets, it’ll be a safer neighborhood, “ Evans said.

Resident Lorraine Evans said she would like to see more gun-control programs in the city.

Recently, Evans’ home was robbed. The thief entered her home while she and her family were asleep. No one was harmed, although cell phones, a laptop and wallet were reported missing the next morning. She said she is now afraid of being home alone.

Along with an increase of police activity in the neighborhood, Evans said she would like to see more unity in the community, like meals being cooked for the poor, neighbors running errands for the elderly, and escorting them to voting polls.

“The elderly people are scared to come out,” Evans said.

Anthony and Stephanie Willis moved to the neighborhood four years ago from Huntingdon, Pa. The pair relocated to Philadelphia so Anthony Willis could attend medical school at Temple University in North Philadelphia.

The lack of unity made it difficult for the Willis family to adjust to the community. Before the revitalization of Hunting Park, they were one of few families pitching in to keep the neighborhood clean.

“First thing we noticed was all the trash on the streets,” Anthony Willis said. “The first time I went to pick it up, I got six of those big trash bags. It was everything from needles to dime bags to condoms.”

Besides picking up litter, the couple captures stray cats in the neighborhood  — they’ve caught more than 10 — and then leaves them with the Animal Care and Control Team. They said that where they’re from, it’s bizarre to see cats wandering the neighborhood without an owner.

The 87-acre Hunting Park recreation area is currently undergoing a community-driven revitalization.  Neighbors who once refused to take walks through the park now consider having picnics, participating in the brand-new community garden and actively taking back their parkland.

Youth baseball teams played on one of two baseball fields located inside the park.

“It’s nice to go out and walk with my husband and two girls and go out to the playground and see everybody just enjoying the equipment, enjoying each other, chatting a bit,” Stephanie Willis said.

Residents now have a farmers’ market, two new pieces of playground equipment, a community garden, a state-of-the-art baseball field for their youth athletic program, outdoor lighting, and more than 200 freshly planted trees to enjoy.

Residents said they hope the parks revitalization brings the community together.

Hunting Park United, a community organization founded in 2009 and made up of residents and neighborhood supporters, is responsible for these positive changes.

Anthony Willis said he thought the revitalization of the park was nice, but thought it would “fizzle out” like every other attempt to rebuild the community. He said the farmers’ market was a step towards his famil0y feeling more at home in the neighborhood.

“We try to get over there every weekend and see what they have,” he said. “[The farmers’ market] was a really nice surprise last year.”

Before joining Hunting Park United, Sharon Whaley, assistant block captain and a second-generation Hunting Park resident, had second thoughts about helping fellow neighbors rebuild the community.

Sharon Whaley discussed rebuilding Hunting Park and its reputation.

“I was like, ‘I’m not cleaning no park,’” Whaley said. “I didn’t feel like it was my job to clean the park so the prostitutes could have a better place to stay.”

In addition to repairing the exterior, residents are rebuilding the parks reputation. To the locals, Hunting Park was known as “Hookers’ Park.” It was occupied predominantly by prostitutes, drug dealers and the homeless.

“The prostitution around here, I wish that didn’t exist,” Evans said. “It would make the community better if they weren’t in the neighborhood.”

Residents reported seeing pitched tents in the park during summer months.

Historic trees and buildings are found throughout the burgeoning family-friendly park. They haven’t been torn down, despite grimy conditions, because they have been around for more than 100 years.

The Logan House, located on the southwest corner of the park, is one of the parks noted historic sites. Built 1795, it was owned by the descendants of William Penn before being turned over to the City of Philadelphia. It later served as a park guard, police station and then a polling site. The Logan House has been unused for more than 10 years.

Hunting Park United plans to renovate the parks recreation center, build a new football field and reopen the Logan House.

“We’re in need of a lot of things in this park, even though we do have the updates of things we never thought we would see,” Whaley said.

Slide show: Residents’ Reactions to the Revitalization in the Community]

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