At one time not too long ago the 87-acre plot of land known as Hunting Park was plagued by drug dealing and prostitution. But area residents have organized to remove these problems. Today, the park has become more family-friendly.
To quantify this growth, Fairmount Park Conservancy Director of Development Meg Holscher stated since the creation of the Hunting Park Master Plan in 2009, the park has received $4 million in capital and programmatic improvements.
Whether someone walks through the park on Hunting Park Avenue or surveys the periphery along Cayuga Street, the park is usually a lively area on a sunny spring weekend.
Baseball fields and basketball and tennis courts are crammed with residents looking for a workout. Others pack a picnic and enjoy the sunshine with an occasional dessert from an ice cream van.
But some of these leisurely activities can mask nuances that residents have been complaining about for years. One major reoccurring problem is noise. It’s one thing for cars to be blasting music as they drive up and down the streets, but stereos in the park can disturb someone’s relaxing Sunday (amplified sounds through external speakers are prohibited).
A Philadelphia ordinance states that for an initial noise violation, penalties can include fines ranging between $100 and $300.
Lynnette Coleman, a Hunting Park resident, said she is not crazy about some music played at the park, especially ones with coarse language. She said her musical tastes pertain to religious chants and classical music.
“It’s not that we don’t appreciate it – we don’t understand it,” Coleman said. “It’s just new to us, and it’s annoying. People are talking so fast you can’t understand what they’re saying.”
Other problems residents have seen include unauthorized vending carts, public displays of alcohol consumption and littering. Most of these issues come about during sporting events with local teams.
“I have never experienced the problem, but I hear a lot of complainants,” resident Catalina Hunter said. “[People] are always welcome but they have to be models.”
According to Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, the park is only open between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. Signs scattered throughout the park display the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ of appropriate behavior yet people still break these rules.
Residents like Hunter told Police Officer Tyshaan Williams that drug use and alcohol consumption are prevalent as well as the incessant noise. But when police come, nothing is done because the people in violation turn down their music and hide their substances.
According to Axis Philly, Hunting Park saw a 4 percent decrease in violent crime between 2007-2012. But considering the city saw an overall of 324 murders in 2012, police officers usually have more pressing crimes to deal with than park complaints.
One way residents hope to see the park’s rules enforced is through increased police involvement.
Officer Williams of the 25th police district has worked in the Philadelphia Police Department for 11 years. Since 2008, Williams has been working closely as a liaison among residents, local businesses and police officers in the 25th district, which includes Hunting Park.
Williams’ nonprofit organization, Alternative Resource Network, is still in its early planning phases – it’s a project that could cost approximately $260,000 a year for the staff of at least 15-20 that will be needed.
Currently Williams said about six people are directly helping support the Alternative Resource Network. Although he has been able to organize everything thus far without any funding, Williams has a strategic proposal drafted up for potential outside funding.
“We’re doing this right now without those funds, so when need them,” Williams said. Funds could come from “supporters, foundations, grants, it could come from the state, the city, private entities, anyone who supports us – we’ll support them.”
Williams said, “I’m looking for volunteers for whatever service they can provide.”
He said he hopes his work will allow community members to find the resources they need to be self-sustainable.
According to the Committee of Seventy, Philadelphia has the fourth largest police department in the country with almost 7,000 officers dispersed to the different districts.
An issue Williams said he wants to address with his organization is the miscommunication he sees between Hunting Park residents and police officers.
“The disconnect is there,” Williams said. “I want to be more of a communications and networking field throughout the city of Philadelphia and throughout all the different Philadelphia districts and divisions.”
Williams has begun reaching out to grass root organizations such as Esperanza, Hunting Park United and even block captains. He said he wants to build a network of resources that people can turn to when the police are not the best option.
Hunting Park United has been especially helpful with Williams’ plan in reaching out and listening to the community’s issues. Williams and Hunting Park United invited residents for a tour of the park to talk issues they have seen.
“That’s the critical role that Hunting Park United has been able to play: We are the glue that brings people together,” Ryan Kellermeyer, Hunting Park United’s co-founder, said. “[Hunting Park United] create an environment where the community can have an exchange.”
To gauge his organization’s progress, Williams said he has to rely primarily on feedback from the individuals he helps, whether it is a resident or local commercial outlet.
“Later on down the road we’re going to make sure quality and control is in place,” Williams said. “Someone’s going to be looking at that and see how efficient and effective we are in helping train people, [and providing] education and support services.”
But Williams insisted that the more educated people are about what resources are available to them in the community and what the role of the police officers are, the better the two entities can work together.
“We as police officers [will] get a chance to understand what it is the community needs and community understands what we need,” Williams added. “[We want] to work collaboratively together to get issues taken care of.”