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A Blighted Philadelphia Park Becomes Neighborhood’s Jewel

By Mary Beth Powell on June 3rd, 2015

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Philadelphia’s 87-acre Hunting Park has had a miracle resurgence thanks to community activists and a broad-based coalition.

Established in 1856, Hunting Park’s neglected facilities fell into disrepair in the 1960s. By the mid-1980s, the park that was once recognized as a neighborhood asset was better known for prostitution, drug use, vandalism and other criminal activity. However, under the guidance of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, Hunting Park is steadily coming back to life.

This community-driven, multi-faceted revitalization effort began six years ago with a planning process that engaged individual, institutional and governmental stakeholders. The end result was a Hunting Park Master Plan that proposed $21 million for improvements in six phases. With Phase I now completed, $4.5 million has been invested in facilities and programming improvements, including these amenities:

  • A state-of-the-art baseball field, with help from MLB player Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies.
  • Two new playgrounds whose equipment was donated. The Fairmount Park Conservancy supported the cost of the safety surface and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation supplied the fencing.
  • Six new tennis courts built through a partnership with Billie Jean King and the Philadelphia Freedoms and Legacy Youth Tennis and Education.
  • A new football/soccer field developed through a partnership with Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles NFL team.
  • New lighting throughout the park.
  • A community garden and farmers’ market established through a partnership with The Food Trust.
  • And an orchard planted adjacent to the garden created through a partnership with the Philadelphia Orchard Project.

Hunting Park also serves as a “green anchor” for the surrounding neighborhoods which have very little green space. Even for an urban environment, the tree canopy is low at only 3.6 percent. An orchard and 385 trees have been planted, and now that a community garden and a farmers’ market have been established, neighborhood residents have access to healthy foods in this former food desert. A signature project for Phase II will be the reopening of the park’s concession stand as a healthy food stand—the first of its kind in a municipal park in the country.

The Hunting Park Revitalization Project has relied upon the resources provided by 32 partnering organizations to help complete their many park improvement projects. Its funding strategy has been equally successful, with almost 30 governmental, philanthropic, business and individual contributors.

What’s the secret to their success?

The revitalization relied on a strong, collaborative relationship between the Fairmount Park Conservancy, the City of Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation Department, and Hunting Park United, a 160-member stewardship group formed through the master planning process and composed of neighborhood residents and community leaders. Curious to know who really drives this effort, I asked a staff member at the Fairmount Park Conservancy about their relationship with the City’s Parks and Recreation Department. She said, “It’s a close and tightknit relationship. We’re over there every day or they’re over here. We do this in collaboration with each other.”

The Hunting Park Revitalization story is impressive, and the many parties involved are to be congratulated. Their successes are also replicable and demonstrate that if you are willing to share the load and capitalize on others’ strengths, great things can happen. Next time you’re facing an overwhelmingly large project or what seems like an unattainable goal, explore your options and locate some potential collaborators. They may already be looking for you.

Photo credit: Fairmount Park Conservancy

Mary Beth Powell

Environmental advocate, and die-hard Carolina basketball fan. Former Senior Project Officer at Healthy Places by Design (then Active Living By Design).