Thursday, November 7, 2013

Manton Street Park & Community Garden Ribbon Cutting Chosen as the "Signature Site" for LOVE YOUR PARK Kickoff Event

The progress seen at the Manton Street Park & Community Garden is a testament to hard work, will power, and most importantly, caring about and helping your community. One of my hopes for this blog is to inspire you to lend a hand, recognize the amazing people that make a difference and begin to participate in building a place you're proud to call home. 

The redevelopment of the park is a shining example of community engagement and offers you a perfect opportunity to get involved.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, connected citizens can change the world; indeed it's the only thing that ever has." 

-Margaret Mead

The following is a guest post from Mark Berman, President of the Manton Street Park & Community Garden and fellow Pennsport resident. 


Join the Friends of Manton Street Park & Community Garden at the signature site for the Department of Parks & Recreation’s LOVE YOUR PARK event on November 16th – Manton Street Park & Community Garden, 4th and Manton Streets. From 12:15 – 1 pm there will be a ribbon cutting and press conference with Mayor Nutter, Councilman Squilla, and speakers from the Department of Parks & Recreation, Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, Fairmount Parks Conservancy, and the Office of Housing and Community Development. Following the press conference there will be a block party from 1 – 3 pm – free and open to the community – featuring Federal Donuts, Guerrilla Ultima food truck, Bujee Magoo (hula hoops and stiltwalking), Philly Face Painting, Fleisher Art Memorial’s ColorWheels (crafts for kids), South Philly Food Co-Op (cider and hot chocolate), Healthy Foods Green Spaces, Dickinson Square West Civic Association, a DJ…and more!

Manton Street Park, at 4th and Manton streets, was originally a pocket park in the 1960s – it was buried under a foot of debris for decades. When I fliered the neighborhood in 2011 to gauge interest in cleaning it and discuss potential uses, the response was surprising – I received 15 phone calls in two weeks from neighbors I’ve never met and some I’ve never even seen before, and I’ve lived in Pennsport since 1999. We all met at the vacant lot where the park is now, in June 2011, and continued to meet every week without fail for about 5 months straight, in the evening, with shovels, spades, clippers, brooms, axes and a power washer. We enlisted the help of neighborhood kids; old timers and newcomers worked side by side to remove piles of dirt, a carpet of ivy, glass bottles and demolition debris. Five months later we were surprised to see surveyors on the land. After a painfully intense two weeks of Internet research and phone calls to about five city agencies, we discovered that the lots had been included in an ordinance to be sold at auction. When the developer read our story in the Daily News, they offered to forego the purchase of two lots because they were not aware that the land was a park and because there was such a strong community interest in preserving it.

Thanks to Fairmount Parks Conservancy who awarded the Friends of Manton Street Park & Community Garden (501C3) the Grow Your Neighborhood grant and Pennsylvania Horticulture Society (PHS) who provided additional funds from the Office of Housing and Community Development, the Friends didn’t need to raise funds on our own to make the park a reality. This all happened very quickly - I wish I could say it was easy – but the amount of work involved in connecting the agencies that needed to communicate with each other was immense and overwhelming – it was a full time job for about two weeks of our lives. There was no support and no advocacy group that was readily available to assist us. There was no support and no advocacy group that was readily available to assist us. Thankfully Councilman Squilla and Amy Laura Cahn of Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia stepped in to be the middle persons between our Friends group and RDA, Public Property, the developer, and Parks & Rec. It's fortunate for communities that find themselves in this situation now that in the past year a coalition formed called Healthy Foods Green Spaces to promote citywide advocacy for gardens and green spaces.

In a very short amount of time, it became overwhelmingly clear that inviting neighbors to reclaim these lots was more than just an effort to increase neighborhood safety and beautification - it was the perfect vehicle to unify and activate a very diverse community. Today, you might walk by and just see a beautiful park (immaculately designed by PHS and whose construction was overseen by Fairmount Parks Conservancy), but what is not obvious to the eye is that this park is much more than a new, bright green spot on the block. One of the greatest benefits has been seeing parents walking their kids to school in the morning as they pass this garden where once they had to walk their kids past a hideous, foreboding vacancy. Imagine what that change of scenery does for the morale of a neighborhood…well, you don’t have to imagine it! Because of this park, local neighbors have met each other, there are constantly eyes on the street, there’s a community of people that want to maintain our neighborhood, and who support each other in dealing with local issues such as zoning, crime and litter. Plus, volunteering for the park continues to be an incredible opportunity to develop professional skills.  Most of all, neighbors are connected to each other in a new way and have their voices acknowledged. This is one reason why we need a Land Bank in Philadelphia – because well cared for lots maintain and strengthen communities and the prosperity of the city.

As an organized community, we’ve arranged regular block clean ups, community activities, kids’ nights in the park, garden parties, and the planting of over half a dozen new trees. A special thanks goes to the following organizations who supported this effort from the get-go: Dickinson Square West Civic Association, Mike Toklish and the Friends of Jefferson Square Park, the South Philly Food Co-Op, Debi Richter and the Friends of Washington Avenue Green, Mike DiBerardinis, Barb McCabe and Erin Engelstad of the Department of Parks and Recreation, Tammy Leigh DeMent and Gretchen Trefny of Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, and Lauren Bornfriend of the Philadelphia Parks Alliance. A very special thanks goes to Jennifer Mahar of Fairmount Parks Conservancy and Councilman Squilla for all of his efforts on our behalf and his continued efforts to promote parks and green space in South Philly. Without the Board of the Friends of Manton Street Park & Community Garden, the park would not exist - Jessica Calter, Kathy O’Neill, Mike Oscapinski, Karen Rose and her son Philip, and Amy Papa.
Manton Street Park & Community Garden prior to the efforts of concerned neighbors (via Mark Berman)

Here are some comments from neighbors:

“The revitalization of Manton Street Park has brought so many benefits to our community. The most valuable benefit to me is the opportunity it provided to work alongside my neighbors and really get to know them, beyond a simple wave hello and goodbye. The shared sense of responsibility, and ownership of the project, helped us to build friendships that wouldn't have existed otherwise. Because we have established a network of like-minded people we are now able, individually and as a team, to tackle new projects and make additional improvements in our community.”

“As a newer resident and former South Jersey gardener, I'm happy to be a supporter of the garden and park, and feel connected to our community because of this affiliation.”

“We absolutely love the new tranquil Manton Street pocket park. The park itself is impeccably designed – it’s given us a sense of community and pride, enabling us to get involved and volunteer for park- events and meet new people from the neighborhood. The addition of the park has been the perfect anchor for our little block, and is just one of the many reasons we're so pleased to be a part of the Pennsport neighborhood.”

“The garden is beautiful and adds so much warmth to our block. We have some seniors on our block that would love to have a nice place to sit and relax, my mom included, who has been on this block for about forty years... I’m so pleased with the way things have turned out. I'm just thrilled.”

The transformation is complete at Manton Street Park & Community Garden (via Facebook)



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