South Philadelphia: FDR Park Thrives Despite Budget Cuts

FDR Skatepark is maintained through volunteer efforts.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park teems with activity during the summer months. A golf course, hiking paths, tennis courts, skatepark, baseball fields and playground all dot the park’s landscape. Despite massive funding cuts to the Department of Parks and Recreation, the park continues to flourish.

FDR is part of the Fairmount Park, which is the largest urban landscaped parks system in the world. The Fairmount Park system, which is overseen by the Department of Parks and Recreation, includes 63 parks, which total 9,200 acres. Since FDR’s construction in 1914, the park has grown from a marsh swamp to a recreational oasis for city-dwellers.

Local families frequent the park for playdates. The small playground at FDR Park is maintained by the Department of Parks and Recreation.

In Mayor Michael Nutter’s five-year plan that was released in the 2009 fiscal year, the City of Philadelphia promised a $16.5 million increase to the Fairmount Parks System over the next five years. However, city-wide budget cuts affected the Department of Parks and Recreation as funding was slashed. In the fiscal year 2009, $60 million was pledged to the Department of Parks and Recreation. By the fiscal year 2014, the money provided by the City of Philadelphia dwindled to $51 million.

On any given day, visitors both young and old flock to the park. The park’s southern tennis courts, however, are used and maintained by an older generation.

On Wednesday mornings, a group of men ranging from middle-aged to elderly occupy the park’s older court. Nestled in the shadow of I-95, the court shows considerable signs of age and disrepair. The fence surrounding it is rusted and the benches around the perimeter have paint peeling off.

Older men from South Philadelphia gather at the park on summer mornings to play tennis and converse.

According to South Philadelphia resident Joseph Cappella, all of the men at the court know each other and are united by their love of the game.

Their camaraderie is what maintains the court.

“The front tennis court, [the Fairmount Parks System] takes care of that,” Cappella said. “We take care of this tennis court. Any time something needs repaired or cleaned up, we all pitch in to make it happen.”

The men at the courts, despite the lack of funding for their hangout, have a lot of pride in their special spot.

“We all know each other, it’s always the same people. Everyone here is friendly,” Cappella said.

In comparison, the tennis courts located near the front entrance are clearly newer and well-maintained by the Department of Parks and Recreation.

The skatepark is a few hundred feet down the path from the older tennis courts. An idea conceived by local skate enthusiasts that was brought to life through volunteer efforts, the skatepark is free and open to whomever. BMX bikers, skateboarders and roller skaters frequent the park that is tucked under I-95.

While the tennis courts simply showed age, the skatepark’s aesthetic shows that has been completely taken over by the community with little to no involvement from the city. As the skatepark is maintained solely by volunteers, it is not cleaned regularly.  Graffiti covers every inch of the park and alcohol containers are often strewn around the main skating bowl.

However, the camaraderie at the skatepark is similar to the community-driven mentality at the tennis courts.

“We’re always here,” said Chris McCormack, a local skater. “Especially in the summer, you’ll see the same guys out here every day.”

A young skateboarder stumbled while attempting to reach the top of the bowl. The skatepark at FDR is used by skaters of varying ages and skill levels.

The skatepark caters predominantly to a younger crowd, yet there are a few older people who frequent the park. Dan Malone of South Philadelphia often brings his 11-year-old daughter to the park. The graffiti and the grittiness of the park do not deter him.

“It’s a little rough around the edges but this is our favorite place to skate,” Malone said. “We don’t mind the graffiti. It keeps things interesting.”

Arguably the centerpiece of Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park is the golf course. In operation since 1940, the golf course is a flurry of activity in the summer months. The course is operated by Golf Philly, a subsidiary of the Fairmount Park system, and is open to the public every day from dawn until dusk.

The golf course is unique in that it does not rely solely on the Department of Parks and Recreation for funding. The revenue that the course makes from golfers enables the it to be better-maintained than other parts of FDR.

“For the month of June, we’ve increased revenue by about 10 percent from June 2013,” said Erin Bradley, assistant manager at the course.

pro shop
The shop at the golf course sells equipment, apparel, food and beverages.

Due to its well-maintained grounds and close proximity to Center City, the course sees visitors from all over the country and even the world.

“I’m just passing through Philadelphia with some friends from New York,” said Michael Holloway, a resident of London. “Since the course is in the middle of the city, we were surprised by how nice it was,”

FDR Park is open year-round and is accessible via Pattison Avenue and Broad Street.

-Text, photos and video by Hayley Condon.

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