By Will Sulahian
For years, parks and playgrounds have acted as social hubs and safe spaces for children and community members. From games of tag and basketball to long chats on a park bench, these cherished neighborhood gems are important resources for neighborhoods. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society values and works to facilitate social connections and healthy living environments, and this can be seen in the recent $2.2 million renovation of the playground at 8th and Diamond streets in North Philadelphia. With the help of PHS, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, Rebuild, and the Division of Housing and Community Development, this playground has been transformed into an accessible, inter-generational space that meets the unique needs of its users.
An important part of the playground’s renovation was working directly with the community and finding out what they wanted to experience. “Our community meeting was open to anyone who wanted to come” said Leigh Ann Campbell, Urban Design Director at PHS. “Neighbors, parents, and other community members were able to give their input, and it was great that their voices could be heard in this space.”
The community meeting went over PHS’s past involvement in the area through its Tree Tenders program and PHS’s LandCare program as more vacant lots were cleaned and greened throughout the project’s timeline. Attendees got to see and understand the current conditions of the playground and the timeline of the project. Different styles and options for playground equipment, basketball courts, swings, and play structures were shown, and community members could voice their opinions and vote on them based on what they thought the community needed.
This direct feedback from invested park users helped guide PHS in polishing up this gem of a park!
Preparations for the renovation began in January of 2019, and PHS acted as the prime consultant and landscape architect on the project, which meant organizing design teams, engineers, architects, and more for the park’s overhaul. Over a period of two and half years, hundreds of people dreamt, worked on, and built a space that the neighborhood could be proud to call their own.
Several upgrades to the playground will increase accessibility and fun for anyone who visits. One major change was at the recreation center -- a space with recreational programs for neighborhood children, teens, and adults. Before the renovations, these programs would often fill up quickly, making it difficult for community members to get a spot or reserve the space for private celebrations. The existing multi-purpose room in the building would have to be re-organized for every new event, whether it was a computer lab or as a meeting space. With the renovation, the building has been expanded and can now more quickly and easily accommodate more programs and people.
The playground has also received brand new ADA-compliant benches, tables, and other seating that make it possible for anyone to enjoy the park. New playground equipment has been installed, and kids of all activity and comfort levels can take part in a new climbing structure, spray ground, swings, and more.
The new features are not just for kids though: teen and adult fitness is important to the community, and older visitors can get active using the new basketball court or participating in fitness classes.
Additionally, new trees were planted in the space to provide shade, fresh air, and to increase the area’s tree canopy.
With community input in mind and hard work from multiple organizations, the playground at 8th and Diamond is now a respite for anyone wanting to get active or get involved in their community.