Amid ongoing City budget hearings, the advocacy group Parks and Rec Heroes hosted a rally outside City Hall to advocate for increased spending on Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation department on Thursday, April 21.
“The mayor’s budget right now does not have enough to even maintain the parks at the level they’re at right now,” Lula Defersha, Parks and Rec Heroes campaign director, said.
Parks and Rec Heroes is advocating for an $8 million increase to the Parks budget to fund trash cleanups, employee wages, and install improvements to some of the city’s most neglected parks.
“Our parks are far from perfect, so trying to make all these changes and improvements without the necessary resources will be really difficult,” Defersha said.
Philadelphia’s 120 recreation centers currently employ less than 300 people. Parks and Rec Heroes are asking for that more money be spent on finishing needed renovations and hiring new workers to patrol and clean the parks.
“If we don’t get this funding, the parks will continue to be dangerous places that Philadelphians avoid rather than actually use,” Defersha said.
Philadelphia City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier and Register of Wills Tracy Gordon both attended the event and spoke in support of increasing funding for Parks and Recreation.
“Right now, Philadelphia is in the middle of one of the worst epidemics of gun violence we’ve seen,” Gordon said. “It’s not a coincidence that we keep cutting the Parks and Rec budget, cutting the Free Library budget, cutting the Arts and Culture budget, and that we’re seeing this enormous spike in violence at the exact same time.”
Clean and convenient parks are essential to creating a tight-knit community in urban areas, she said, but the conditions in Philadelphia’s parks are not uniform across all the city’s parks.
“We have parks like Franklin Square, where it’s really nice and we have all these amenities, but who lives around there?” Felix Schafroth-Doty, a volunteer with Parks and Rec Heroes and son of the organization’s executive director, said. “That park is basically a tourist attraction, and the parks where kids live and want to go outside are dirty and barren.”
Residents and parks staff who attended the rally spoke about the conditions at parks and recreation centers in more peripheral neighborhoods.
“I work in North Philadelphia, helping out at Rivera Rec Center and Mann Older Adult Center, which is in the middle of a rebuild project,” Sierra Cuellar, a member of Latino community organization HACE CDC, said “We really need this funding to make sure that the park gets all of the renovations we need and has money to fund park staff.”
Citizens and leaders often don’t think about who all uses parks, said Jeremy Chen, a block captain in North Philadelphia. Some neighbors see even well-kept parks as areas that inevitably attract drug activity or homeless people.
“A lot of people view the homeless or addicted as a nuisance and they don’t want those people to be around all the time,” Chen said. “But these vulnerable people also need a place where they can feel safe, and parks are really the only place where people are allowed to be out in public without spending money.”
In her speech to the crowd, Gordon argued that great cities have governments that care for public spaces like parks.
“Go to New York, and you will see there’s grass, trees, a playground, a basketball court in every park, outside every school,” Gordon said. “But here, all our parks and schools have is concrete.”
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