June 27, 2016
Back in early May, we brought you the story of a revived effort in East Falls to bring a playground to McMichael Park, a lush green space just off Henry Avenue over which a similar community battle broke out a decade ago.
As it did during the battle of yesteryear, the community has split into two separate but apparently unequal (as far as online support goes) camps: Residents who think there’s enough room at that park to install a small eco-friendly playspace and those who prefer to preserve a “passive” natural experience.
This week, both sides will share their thoughts at a “community forum” designed to prompt a public, moderated discussion of an issue that’s gotten a bit heated in online neighborhood forums.
At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Fourth District City Councilman Curtis Jones and Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell will host the forum at Gustine Recreation Center (4700 Ridge Ave., near the Legacy Youth Tennis and Education Center).
Having already sought input from the community, they’ve stated that “no final decision will be made at the meeting,” but there will be presentations from both sides, as well as a Q&A session.
“We understand that neighbors have strong feelings, and this meeting will help me get a better sense on what people are thinking.” – City Councilman Curtis Jones
"We look forward to a productive dialogue in which both sides will be able to present their case,” Jones told PhillyVoice on Monday morning. “We understand that neighbors have strong feelings, and this meeting will help me get a better sense of what people are thinking.”
Those strong feelings have manifested themselves in dueling online petitions via Change.org. The pro-playground petition had 495 signatures as of 11:30 a.m. Monday while the anti-playground response trailed with 151 supporters.
While the “Preserve McMichael Park as a Natural Green Space” petition was launched by an East Falls resident, Friends of McMichael Park Coordinator Alexis Franklin said group members “voted in May to keep McMichael Park in the current setting with no playground equipment” and that nothing has changed since then.
Franklin, who didn't cast a vote at the Friends' meeting, said she will be at Tuesday night’s forum (and noted that there will be a free summer theater performance in the park on July 19).
Also attending will be Joyce Brady, a mother of four who spearheaded the revived effort. She said the difficulty of reaching two existing playgrounds in the neighborhood (Inn Yark Park on Ridge Avenue and McDevitt Rec Center on Scotts Lane) made a new community gathering space a must-have perk.
“We need a community gathering place. It’s the only way to meet families because the kids here all go to different schools,” Brady explained in May. “It’s somewhere that my, and my community’s, children could be safe, within walking distance of home.”
In the weeks since Brady and her children have gone door-to-door throughout the hillside neighborhood to boost awareness of their mission and build support. They've also launched a "Fallsers For McMichael Playground" group on Facebook.
On Monday, she was putting the finishing touches on the Powerpoint presentation which will anchor her pitch at Tuesday’s community meeting.
As for the meeting itself, a coin flip will decide which side offers its 15-minute presentation first before the 45-minute Q&A session, and Brady said childcare will be available for those who bring children with them to the meeting, scheduled to run until 8:15 p.m. or so.
The Parks & Recreation Department's announcement about the forum invited people who are unable attend -- but want to be heard -- to email their thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.