Nestled in the center of Roxborough, to the left of Roxborough High School, sits a small park. Lined with trees, benches, and miniature gardens, it isn’t rare to see visitors walking the trails at almost any time of day. Bright, active, and full of life, Gorgas Park is the heart of Roxborough for many in the community, functioning as a cultural epicenter for the neighborhood. But the park wasn’t always this way. After years of neglect, the park fell into a state of disrepair until Friends of Gorgas Park was formed with the mission to revitalize the park and, in turn, the neighborhood.
Founded in 1997 by lifelong Roxborough resident John Boyce, Friends of Gorgas Park undertook the task of bringing life back to the park through organized cleanups, new construction, and community action. With so many initiatives, the team sought financial assistance from local government and other nonprofit organizations, garnering grants in its first year.
“We were selected for a citywide partnership with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and the William Penn Foundation,” Boyce said. “In addition to the $30,000 [from previous grants], we got technical assistance, and that started the renaissance of the park.”
With funding and support from the City of Philadelphia, Friends of Gorgas Park was able to complete a variety of projects, including the construction of a new gazebo and renovations to the playground. In addition to the construction of new structures, the organization was able to advocate for the creation of their now award-winning gardens.
Roxborough resident and fellow conservationist John Carpenter works with the Roxborough Manayunk Conservancy to help parks like Gorgas Park find volunteers to help work on projects. Carpenter believes the use of and revitalization of green spaces is pertinent to the success of a community.
“Working on public green spaces like this is one of the best ways that we can connect neighbors to each other and really, sort of rebuild the social fabric around here that can sometimes be a little bit tattered by things not looking great,” Carpenter said.
The success of the park can be attributed to the involvement of community members who help Friends of Gorgas Park in their efforts to maintain the park. James “Greg” Grant, a Roxborough resident and volunteer, has been working with Friends of Gorgas Park for almost a decade after meeting Boyce during a walk shortly after moving to the area.
“We saw how many people love the park, and how committed people were to the park,” Grant said. “We wanted to really get involved in the community, know the people in the area, and be a part of that. The Park is one of the biggest draws for the community and families.”
Deemed a “passive park” by the City of Philadelphia, Friends of Gorgas Park focuses on organizing free events that suit the needs of all community members. This programming ranges from outdoor concerts to farmers markets and regularly scheduled movie nights in the park, all of which utilize the new fixtures found in the revitalized park.
Boyce believes the success of the community can be attributed to the revitalization of Gorgas Park, arguing that the existence of the park provides residents with an escape and creates a sense of community. Grant cited the park and its impact on the community as one of the reasons his family chose to relocate to the Roxborough area.
“I enjoy the fact that we can go down to the park and run into our neighbors, while the kids play at the playground, and that has spurred, you know, growing relationships outside of the park,” Grant said. “The park is a hub, and you meet people and you exchange information and then get together outside of that, and you can grow a relationship.”
During colder months, Friends of Gorgas Park makes efforts to continue programming for residents while also working on initiatives for the upcoming warmer months. Currently, the organization is working with the Roxborough Development Corporation to repair the trails and sidewalks in the park, as well as create a safer entrance for pedestrians.
Once the repairs are completed, Boyce is hoping to lead, temporarily, Friends of Gorgas Park as it enters a new era. A member of the organization since its inception, Boyce wants to help bring residents into the organization and when the time is right, step down from his position of president. Boyce hopes the organization continues to thrive and serve the community even after his departure.
“I hope to see it, you know, continue to be maintained and used,” Boyce said. “And that people use the park, and there’s programming, and there’s music, and there are birthdays … I want to see the park continue to be a beautiful asset.”
And then he summed up his experience.
“It’s too great a community asset to neglect,” he said.
– Please email any questions or concerns about this story to: email@example.com.