June 18, 2020
Philadelphia is stationing a team of city employees throughout several highly-used recreational areas to encourage social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The so-called "social distancing ambassadors" will remind residents to stay six feet away from one another and to wear a mask whenever possible. They will be scattered this month along the Schuylkill River Trail, Kelly Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
Park visitation is at an all-time high, the city said. Recreational opportunities have been limited by various restrictions enacted to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. So many people have opted to gather in the city's green spaces.
The ambassadors, who will wear yellow reflective vests and face coverings, also will assist with some park maintenance. They will have seven primary responsibilities, according to the Parks and Recreation Department:
1. Greet park visitors.
2. Provide a warm and welcoming environment for all.
3. Track park usage, trash, and other site needs.
4. Ensure that Parks & Rec is responsive to community needs.
5. Provide visitors with information to keep themselves and others safe.
6. Encourage safe park behavior such as making sure visitors: Maintain six feet of distance between others and wear face coverings when possible.
7. Practice what we preach. City of Philadelphia employees are wearing masks and practicing social distancing! Parks & Rec knows we are in this together and that we must lead by example.
Some City Council members are pushing for similar ambassadors to enforce social distancing within the city's neighborhoods, saying it would ease community tensions with police.
Council member Isaiah Thomas first proposed the idea to bring ambassadors into neighborhoods in a letter to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. Five other council members have since voiced their support, WHYY reported.
Stationing ambassadors within communities of color – and hiring from within the neighborhoods – would ensure the focus of enforcement remains on social distancing, Thomas said.
"With the tension that is here, not just in Philadelphia but across the country, as it relates to policing we want to make sure that the conversation is taking place and there’s a certain level of trust and people are not targeted because of anything but the need to social distance," Thomas said.
Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted &if we are going to specifically focus on it, how do we assure that doesn’t continue to happen? The people we ask to go into the communities to encourage people to #SocialDistance themselves must be people they can trust. https://t.co/s9ytRXm0Jk— Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (@CMThomasPHL) June 17, 2020
Ambassadors are being used elsewhere in the country too.
New York City plans to add 2,300 social distancing ambassadors in hopes of avoiding tension between police and residents. Cape May County, New Jersey has deployed ambassadors along boardwalks and other high-volume areas at the Jersey Shore.