Before We Forage, We Fight!!
I will not go down without a fight.
I’m not a joiner by nature. I avoided sororities, large clubs, and even organizations to which I belong, I’m more of an ad hoc ally as opposed to a member.
But when it comes to saving urban green spaces, I know it takes a village, and I’m all in as part of the community, and I’m asking for your help.
When I moved to Philadelphia, I loved pockets of green parks and squares dotted across the city, but discovering FDR Park in South Philly was a game changer. I walked around the perimeter of the park past the tennis courts, the boat house, and the Swedish museum, for ages before I discovered the meadows in the former decommissioned golf course.
In 2019 Fairmount Park Conservancy (FPC) and the Philadelphia Department of Parks & Recreation (PPR) unveiled the FDR Park Master Plan, designed to future-proof the park for the next century by creating an ecological core and an urban edge. Their promotional information highlighted their intent to solve the flooding issue in the south, while creating a number of multi-purpose playing fields that could be enjoyed by older children, while younger siblings walked around the ecological wetlands.
Their beautiful drawings of multicultural people enjoy walks up hills and rambles around water ways illustrated a bucolic setting that would allow more people to enjoy the park.
And then came COVID.
But the more remarkable thing, was while we were all staying 6 feet away from each other and unable to enjoy many of our previous distractions, people begin to actively use the park and discover the Meadows. The overgrown golf course had by now rewilded into a woodland of wonder and folks were finding it and falling in love.
I hosted multiple foraging walks there as did forest bathers, arborists, walkers and birding groups. And studies were bearing out this post-COVID uptake of spending time in nature, including an Australian study which showed 36% of study participants increased their urban green space use, and 45% of the previous non-users of urban green space, began using it for the first time.
When the increased traffic of this section of the park was brought to the attention of FPC & PPR, we thought that would be enough to warrant a fresh look at the plan, possibly even using the rewilded space as a model of how to capitalize on this hidden in plain sight Narnia, loved by locals that could potentially inspire ecotourism.
None of that was forthcoming.
What did begin was the decimation of the meadow. Suddenly fencing went up, bulldozers moved in, trees came down, and a soil mound of questionable origin appeared in the center of the land. We questioned the quality of the soil, the issues with floodgate replacement, and the planned use of artificial turf. Generally, we were ignored, I became persona non grata working with FPC for any walking or foraging tours and at least one member of now Save the Meadows group was offered, but declined an audience with FPC and PPR, but only if they attended alone, without any group members in tow; i.e. No witnesses.
FPC and PPR doubled down, pointing out the need for safe recreational spaces, their environmental plans replacing invasives with native plants, and firing back at our concerns about the toxicity of artificial turf, with claims that they would be investigating alternative turfs that would be safer than those with rubber crumb, while still allowing heavy, consistent play.
They also began painting Save the Meadows and those who directly accused them of destroying natural green space for an artificial one, selfish tree huggers who were against modernization, and trying to deny black and brown inner city youth, local access to the type of high quality fields generally relegated to suburban communities.
This is a version FPC has spun hard, using City Council President Kenyatta Johnson and State Representative Regina Young, to amplify their message in the community. Through them, many concerned residents in the 185th and District 2 have been led to believe this could be the answer. Having long been ignored when it comes to the creation and maintenance of recreational spaces in their neighborhoods, these proposed fields of dreams are being celebrated as a long-awaited, hard-fought win.
But who’s winning?
The ground which will be raised to create these playing fields, is comprised of questionable soil, which will then be covered by toxic artificial turf. And even if the turf selected doesn’t contain rubber crumb, artificial turfs rely on the use of toxic PFAS to keep them supple, water water-repellant and to assist in the molding and manufacturing of the turf. These PFAS still leach into the ground and into the waterways, along with microplastics.
The trees that are being cut, provide not only shade but help to filter the air and sequester carbon to help cool the city. And while the Conservancy points to the number of new trees they’ve planted/intend to plant, that doesn’t offset the benefits and carbon sequestration of one heritage tree. The removal of them is sure to impact the air quality which directly impacts African Americans who already suffer 30% higher rates of asthma than their white counterparts.
And while playing fields are a positive thing, we know Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. Why are we building 9 playing fields here, at one location in South Philly, as opposed to the neighborhoods in which they are needed, and the children don’t have to commute do use them?
Why are we placing these in a park with easy access to I-95 and the South Jersey Wilmington, West Chester corridor? That sounds a lot like creating a space for tournament play, not for local children.
And what about those in the community that don’t play organized sports? Many mornings when I’m in the park, it’s not children I see, but adults walking or exercising in nature, so the benefits of the park would be widely applicable to more of the community without the recreational development.
In a report Understanding Nature and its Cognitive Benefits, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 28, No. 5, 2019 Dr. Marc Berman reported while exposure to urban environments is linked to attention deficits, exposure to natural environments improves working memory, cognitive flexibility, and attention control.
And according to UC Davis's Urban Nature for Human Health and Wellbeing, time in nature, even a limited amount has been shown to reduce anxiety levels and can help lessen stress and feelings of anger.
So while Kenyatta Johnson holds a party, celebrating the creation of toxic fields, hoodwinking guests & community leaders, with lagniappes of DJs and food trucks, remember once we destroy this natural green space; it’s gone for good.
The Lenape, the original people of this land, don’t separate the idea of the land from one’s self.
I am the Earth, the Earth is me.
And if we don’t all do our utmost to stop this, then we are sitting on the sidelines with a front row seat, to watch our own destruction.
CALL TO ACTION:
Our new mayor Cheryl Parker has publicly, declared her desire to make Philadelphia the cleanest and greenest city in America. Let’s hold her to that by starting with demanding a pause and re-examination of this plan.
And our friends at Save The Meadows have made it really easy by providing this template so you can easily send an email to everyone.
How to set up your e-mail:
COPY and PASTE the letter below into the body of the email. Replace the italicized text with your personal information and change anything else to your own language. ❤️Speak from your own heart!!❤️ Your own experience and feelings are the most powerful messages.
REVIEW then SEND your email; forward to friends, family, and neighbors to send as well.
Subject: Please pause the FDR Park Plan and save the Meadows
Dear Committee on Parks Chair and members:
I’m [YOUR NAME] from [YOUR BLOCK / ADDRESS and NEIGHBORHOOD (e.g. 1800 block of Tree Street in South Philly)] and I’m writing today to ask you to help pause the FDR Park Plan and call a special hearing of the Committee on Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs to formally review the FDR Plan, and allow a forum for community review.
My concerns with this project include:
* Why have no official hearings or votes in Council been held on the FDR Park Plan, denying the public any chance to comment?
* Why is Parks and Rec investing so much in one park while ignoring the unmaintained fields, courts, and playgrounds in my neighborhood?
* Why is Fairmount Park Conservancy proposing to cut down the only forested area in a South Philly park?
* Why would the City install toxic, PFAS-laden artificial turf, while it is suing PFAS manufacturers for contamination?
* How can this plan go forward, when it was developed without significant community input, and after our relationship to outdoor spaces changed so dramatically during COVID?
I’m asking you as my elected representatives to PAUSE the plan at FDR until it can be properly reviewed in a public forum, with community input.
NAME (and credentials, if applicable)