Wissahickon Playground: It's not too late to save it

Posted: March 01, 2012

WHAT WOULD happen if the city one day announced that it had decided to eliminate Mount Airy Playground and bring a developer in to build houses there? What would be the likely result if, without consulting any of the neighbors, they decided to demolish the Watertower Playground, in Chestnut Hill, and have a residential development built there? Can you imagine how those neighbors would react? The city would not get through the second sentence of such an announcement before the community had killed the project.

But exactly that is happening to us in Germantown. We are talking about the existing plan to eliminate the Wissahickon Playground - which has existed in one form or another for 100 years and which is used daily by children and parents in our community - and to build houses on the site. This plan was created by our former city councilwoman, Donna Reed Miller, behind closed doors.

The Recreation Department, which owned the playground with the legal responsibility to preserve it intact for the use of our children, was forced by Councilwoman Miller to sell the playground to the Housing Authority for one dollar so that it would no longer be legally defined as a playground and, therefore, she could proceed with her plan to have the city hire a contractor to build 55 houses on it.

We call upon our newly elected councilwoman, Cindy Bass, to correct this terrible plan and to restore the Wissahickon Playground to the Recreation Department.

People who are defending this plan say that the houses, which will be needed for low-income tenants once the Queen Lane high-rise is demolished, must be built on the playground because there is no other space available, but that is not true. Anyone who knows the area knows that there are many vacant lots, most of them already city property, that can and should be built on. It is a perfect environment for what is called scattered-site housing.

Scattered-site housing development repairs the damage done to blocks by vacancy and abandonment while providing homes that are an integrated part of an existing community rather than segregated in a low-income block set apart from the neighborhood. Building on the vacant lots heals the blight while allowing the residents to keep an essential community center, which is the playground. The current plan removes the playground forever while leaving the abandoned property and blight all around.

We are fortunate that we have a new representative in government who can act to change the direction of this plan before it is too late. Councilwoman Bass, do not allow any developer, public or private, to build on this community's only playground, an historic playground, the first in the country known and documented to have been created specifically for the use by children of color. Move the construction to other available sites, and convey the Wissahickon Playground back to the Recreation Department, where it belongs, for our families and for our children

Melissa Graham

Marcus Heppinstall

Karletha Brooks

Greg Paulmier

Westside Neighborhood Council

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