City officials and members of the community gathered on Oct. 13, 2020 to break ground on a $2.2 million-dollar building project at the Miles Mack Playground in West Philadelphia.
Renovations will be done in honor of Miles Mack, the playground’s namesake. Mack, an active volunteer in the community, was tragically shot and killed at the playground in 2008 when it was still known as McAlpin. The City renamed the playground in his honor in 2009.
Mack founded a basketball league in the area and was well known in the Mantua community.
“I spent a lot of time in this playground growing up and Miles was always one of the faces here,” Brandon Hall, a Mantua native, said.
Hall said the playground was safe for him and other kids growing up in the neighborhood.
“The community needs a playground,” he said. “Growing up, this was like a safe haven for everybody. Nothing ever happened here.”
Mack worked to create a sense of community for children in the neighborhood, Hall said. This playground was where that community came together.
“You can come here and always find people playing a game, watching games,” he said. “I think it had a huge impact on me growing up and a lot of other kids around here growing up.”
After construction, the Miles Mack Playground will feature new equipment, seating areas, planted trees and greenery, and renovations to the basketball courts, among other improvements.
Mayor Jim Kenney, Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, Rebuild Executive Director Kira Strong, and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott were all in attendance. Each spoke on the project’s importance to the people living in Mantua.
“Over the past seven months, I think we’ve seen how more than ever, it’s crucial that our neighborhoods have safe spaces for families to play and to recreate,” Gauthier said.
Michael Mack, nephew of Miles Mack, said the project has been in the works for a little over a year and feels happy the renovations would help shed light on who his uncle was.
“At the most basic level, he was just someone to talk to,” Michael Mack said. “He held nothing against anyone. He gave everybody a fair level of respect and everybody gave him that same love and respect.”
Mack’s son Marques Brown spoke on the significance of the renovation for his father’s memory.
“Being able to be here today and talk about not only his legacy, the legacy of his generation, what that means for our next generation,” he said. “It means so much because I know that we still have work to do, and I know I can be a part of that.”
Youth safety is of utmost importance, Brown said, and community spaces like the playground can help keep kids away from violence happening elsewhere in the neighborhood.
“Every day we steal hours from the streets, we steal minutes away,” he said. “In those minutes, calamity happens, chaos happens. So that hour we steal might have saved a life. That 30 minutes we stole away from the streets, could have changed the outcome.”
Philadelphia’s Rebuild project, which invests in recreational and outdoor spaces using revenue generated from the soda tax, has been leading the renovation project.
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed construction work of the project back 12 weeks, but staff were able to adapt and continue the design process. Rebuild staff were also able to do virtual engagement around the coming renovations, though everyone is happy that the work is set to begin, Strong said.
“We were really lucky,” she said. “We worked with a lot of small businesses and our team in particular.”
Mural Arts Philadelphia has also joined the project to add meaningful art to the site, Jane Golden, the executive director of the nonprofit, said.
“I think that art is like oxygen,” she said. “And everyone, everywhere has a right to have art in their lives, like you have a right to have a beautiful rec center.”
Golden believes neighborhood art and well-taken care of public spaces are a sign of community ownership.
“As public space gets ceded to private interests, we lose as citizens,” she said. “And so, this isn’t just about redoing a rec center. It’s about putting your stake in the ground and saying that we are here and we’re not going to be moved and this neighborhood is ours.”
Brown said the project will be important to the children in the neighborhood, providing a space for programming, activities, and sports, which are all important to the life of the community.
“For me, activities, social programming, all of that it’s really a part of a larger whole,” Brown said. “Ultimately, it’s all about creating a better place to live for everybody. And the kids are a big part of that.”
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