South Philadelphia: FDR Park Benefits from Increased Usage and City Investment

As more people use the park, residents and community members welcome the investments outlined in the FDR park master plan.

Story by Kent Kuo

Philadelphia officials have unveiled new designs for many of the facilities in FDR Park, as part of the next phase in implementing the FDR Park Master Plan, first introduced to the public in 2019.

The plan includes $14.5 million to be invested into building facilities such as a welcome center, playgrounds, offices, and event spaces. 

“It’s not just for South Philadelphia, but the whole region,” Justin Diberardinis, the director of FDR Park for Philadelphia Parks And Recreation, said. 

These funds come as usage in the park has exploded over the past year. With open green spaces the safest places to socialize during the pandemic, parks like FDR are increasingly important to members of the community and the larger region, he said. 

“Partnerships expanded, and the partnerships got deeper because of the challenge of Covid,” he said. “I think actually Covid has made FDR Park stronger than it was before.”

Parents and local residents welcome new investments in the park. 

Tara Mcsorley, a resident from the neighborhood, said she has seen the improvement for the past 15 years, but the older facilities also need care, and that officials should consider these buildings as well when building new ones. 

“I like the improvements they have made already, but I do feel like [they should spend] more money on [the maintenance],” she said.

Joyce Yi, a mother of a toddler, suggested that making existing playgrounds safer for children is also important alongside building new equipment. Parts of the playground are not safe for children of all ages; the old merry-go-round wobbled dangerously before it was removed and several benches are in disrepair, she said. 

Damaged benches are scattered throughout the park. (Kent Kuo/PN).

Diebarnadis said work with many local partner, uch as Friends of FDR Park and the Vendors Association of FDR Park, has been crucial to identify necessary areas improvements.

“We are all working together because we think the park is a treasure,” Diberardinis said. 

Barbara Capozzi has been volunteering for Friends of FDR Park since the 1990s and is excited for the coming changes.

“We are very happy with this plan.” Capozzi said. “The planning is wonderful, thoughtful, creative, and very, very loving and respectful towards the park.”

The pandemic has brought much positive attention to all the city’s parks, Sara Hirschler, marketing and membership manager of Fairmount Park Conservancy, said. 

“The number of people using the parks increased dramatically,” she said. “That has been beneficial because for some people it was the first time they realized how important open spaces are in a city.” 

According to the data from Parks And Recreation, parks usage has increased by more than 50% during the pandemic.  

Capozzi said that green spaces suddenly became the only safe way to escape from home during the pandemic. 

“There is absolutely nothing better for physical and mental health than fresh air and wide-open green spaces,” she said.

In addition, Capozzi said another silver-lining of the pandemic was the arrival of Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Flower Show into FDR Park. The flower show will be held in the park again in 2022.

“This park has been neglected for over 40 years, and now people value the park,” she said.

However, more people did mean more problems.

“The drawback was that with so much increased use came a lot of increased litter,” Hirschler siad. 

Diberardinis acknowledged that it was challenging to manage the park with a limited staff, but  more people using the park. 

To meet the needs of more people in the park, the Fairmount Park Conservancy made some changes, seeking more volunteers to help with clean-up..

“We organized additional volunteer opportunities,” Hirschler said. “We provided people with their own clean up kits to help clean the park on their own schedule. We installed temporary signs and restrooms in areas where we were hoping people would explore that were less-known to alleviate congestion.”

Hirschler said the goals of many park organizations have gradually changed. Many are changing from a culture that said the only way to save parks was to keep people out of them. Instead, groups are inviting people to care about parks through volunteering and community stewardship..

Diberardinis also said that more people are volunteering for the park after the pandemic, cleaning litter and  participating in events.

“When you feel like you are the guests, or that you actually own it and it is your home, that’s when you start to take care of it,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to create here.”

Capozzi has been impressed by an increasing number of volunteers taking care of FDR park. 

“The work is sometimes very dirty and very hard, but people love it,” she said.  “Me too.”

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