One city park gets a much-needed face-lift, another waits

HELEN UBIÑAS / DAILY NEWS STAFF Dennis McCutcheon grew up playing ball at Bridesburg Park in the Northeast. He says the court has needed fixes for 10-plus years.
HELEN UBIÑAS / DAILY NEWS STAFF Dennis McCutcheon grew up playing ball at Bridesburg Park in the Northeast. He says the court has needed fixes for 10-plus years.
Posted: July 10, 2013

YOU COULDN'T blame Rafeeq Bush for dribbling around workers who were wrapping up work on Heritage Park's new basketball court.

For more than a year, he and other members of the North Philadelphia neighborhood's basketball league were told a replacement for a rim and hoop removed in April 2012 was just "two weeks" away. So much for full-court games.

On Friday, 30 "two weeks" later - and two weeks after I wrote about the sorry state of the court - workers were patching up a few final holes around a brand-new full basketball court.

And 20-year-old Bush, who learned how to play ball on this neighborhood court, couldn't wait to get in some long-awaited hoop time before heading out to Central Penn College in Harrisburg.

"First time I touched a basketball was right here," he said, taking a shot and then looking around the new court.

"We waited a long time for this."

I'd say. But here's something I've noticed while exploring Philly: Heritage Park is far from the only city park in need of maintenance, repair or all-around TLC. In fact, for a city that prides itself on its impressive 9,000-acre park system, more than a few of its 65 city parks are . . . how shall I put this . . . pitiful.

Some of that is on residents who clearly aren't doing enough to care for their neighborhood parks. It's your park, own it. Take care of it.

But some of it is on the Parks and Rec Department. Residents can help keep their parks clean, but they shouldn't be expected to repair neglected basketball courts.

Take Bridesburg Park, for example. The park in Northeast Philadelphia is in much better shape than Heritage. It's got a nice rec center, an enviable pool, neat grounds.

But after I wrote about Heritage Park, Dennis McCutcheon reached out to tell me about his neighborhood park's basketball court.

The court, with cracks and holes and two sorry excuses for hoops, isn't just in tough shape, the 30-year-old lifelong Bridesburg resident said. It's dangerous. A friend of his recently tore his meniscus while playing there, he said.

I went out there this past weekend to check it out. He wasn't exaggerating. While I waited for McCutcheon, I watched 18-year-old Colin Robinson maneuver around huge puddles of rainwater that had collected in deep cracks on the faded court.

Robinson, who lives around the corner from the park, said players twisting an ankle or tearing a ligament happens a lot.

"That crack over there, that big hole, I know at least five people that have messed up their ankle when we were playing and had to sit out for a little bit," he said. And don't even get him started on the rims. One is attached to dry, rotted wood, the other has a crooked shooter's square.

By McCutcheon's estimation, the court has needed repairs for a good 10 years. But when he talked with a Parks and Rec worker, he said he was told his neighborhood park wasn't a priority.

"He told me that Bridesburg has always been so self-sufficient that we put ourselves in position not to get any help," he said.

Yesterday, I called Susan Slawson, first deputy commissioner of Philadelphia's Parks and Recreation Department. She readily agreed that basketball courts are something that fall under her department's care.

She said she would send someone to check out the condition of the Bridesburg basketball court, and if it was something they could fix in-house, they'd do it.

Often, repairing a basketball court is a capital project that takes longer to process and complete. But the department got an additional $2.6 million added to its budget, and besides hiring, it's started a list of projects it could do in-house.

"We have a list, and if this fits it will be added," Slawson said.

Fair enough. But I gave her a friendly heads-up that I'd be checking in to make sure Bridesburg wasn't forgotten.

Philly does a great job of understanding the importance of green space. A few years ago, the city launched an initiative to add 500 acres of public green space by 2015.

But it's not enough to just add green space. You actually have to take care of it - otherwise it's just a green dump.



Phone: 215-854-5943

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