Monday, April 7, 2008

Cleaning Up!

Here's our 4.5 man clean-up crew working its way down Wharton Street on this past Saturday morning as part of the City-wide Philly Spring Cleanup.

These early spring days are so remarkable - the sun is a little higher in the sky, it's comfortably warm out, yet there are no leaves out yet on the trees. Wharton Street at the Square has never been cleaner. Some people even cleaned up the NW corner on 12th at Wharton, which is always a huge leaf and trash trap.

Christine Knapp of the Passyunk Square Civic Association deserves dozens of trash bags filled with thank-yous for organizing this effort throughout the neighborhood. In an email on the PSCA email list, she reported that over 65 volunteers joined the effort, along with dozens of other people who cleaned their own stoops and blocks. As she put it, "I lost track of how many bags we collected, but the real proof of our success is how clean our streets are. I hope that the connections we made among our neighbors and the positive energy that was created both continue." Amen on that, Christine!

I'll pass on Christine's invitation: anyone who wants to get further involved in combatting trash and in promoting recycling should join the Passyunk Square Civic Association Trash and Recycling Committee, which meets on the 3rd Monday of each month at the Police Station at 11th and Wharton at 7pm. The Committee's next meeting is April 21st.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

DiCicco Was RIGHT!

The Rec Center under construction, April 2007.

Well over a year ago - February 13, 2007, to be precise - I noted on this blog that City Councilman Frank DiCicco had announced that the Recreation Center would be finished in March ("33 Days and Counting"). DiCicco's announcement was dutifully reported in the South Philly Review.

But March came and went, and the Center remained unfinished. It remained unfinished all the way through 2007 and into 2008. Now, however, it's been announced that the Center will officially open in less than 2 weeks - on April 12, 2008.

So it turns out that DiCicco was right after all!

Stupid, foolish me! I thought Dicicco meant March of 2007, when in fact in he must have meant March of 2008 - an entire year later.

You do have to admire such a politician. Such perspicacity! Such an uncanny ability to take the long view! So perceptive about how events will unfold in the future!

In the photo above, also from April 2007, you can see workers fabricating the sheet metal ribs that cover the roof. They came out on a Saturday to do this work, but then the completed pieces remained in the Rec Center for weeks before being installed on the roof.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Trophies for Columbus Square?

We were treated to a "walk through" of the new Rec Center last week - a sign, clearly, that the Center will be finished soon. There was even some talk that it would be a "Christmas present" to the community.

I think we should be taking bets as to whether it's actually finished in 2007. What are the odds, at this point, that it will be finished when planned? Not at all good, based on past experience.

In this photo, Frank Abbott from the Philadelphia Capital Programs Office is explaining what needs to be done to complete the trophy case. The existence of this trophy case begs the question of the future use of the park - presumably, there will be organized sports. I think this was news to some people, given that the community around the park is engaged in discussions about its future use. But are there plans to organize these sports, whatever they are, and will there be adequate, competent staff to supervise activities in the park? Who will decide what sports and what teams will play here? Will there be staff and funding adequate to maintain the park for this use (not to mention restoring it in any way)?

The View From Up There (Back Then)

Here's the view of Columbus Square from Google .... click on the image for a larger size.

As you can see, this photo was taken before work on the "new" recreation center began - in the upper right corner of the park, you can see the basketball court, the reddish-colored mats under the three groups of play equipment, and the old rec building. Although you can see the bald spot in the center of the field, there's still quite a bit of green around it. Compare the green of the park grass with the much greener lawn in front of the fire station at the lower right corner. My guess is that this photo was taken in early spring 2005 or earlier.

For more satellite images, checked out Google Earth.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Sod is Down

They've just put down sod outside the front of the unfinished rec center. Did the neighbors want something that looks like a little piece of suburbia? Oh, does what the neighbors want even matter? The flower garden etc. can come later I suppose.

You can see that the building exterior above the entrance is still not finished - the notorious tarp spot. Apparently they're fabricating steel "Columbus Square" signage that will go there. I guess they didn't have time to figure out what the sign should say or when they'd need it - after all the project has only been going on for more than two years.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?

Two nights ago a group of Columbus Square residents gathered to address a hot new issue: the fences that surround the playing field area of the park. Since then, the emails have been zinging ‘round the Square.

As our own Susan Patrone reported at the meeting, the Recreation Department, in consultation with Councilman Frank DiCicco, has said that it has money for new fencing, the classy black enamel chain-link fence, which would replace the dingy, rusty, busted-up chain-link fence that currently rings the field area.

This proposal about the fences turned out to be an opening for a wide range of views on the question of park confinement options - or lack thereof.

One idea was that they simply do away with the fences altogether, and use some sort of netting behind the soccer goals to catch those high-and-wide shots. This apparently appealed to some folks because one of the primary uses of the park is as a dog run - eliminate the fences and those dog owners won't be comfortable letting little Fido and Trixy off-leash to do their own elimination on the field. Also, instead of spending the money on a new fence, perhaps those funds could be used to improve other aspects of the park.

Others look upon the no-fence proposal as a serious threat to life and safety around the park. Parked cars will be damaged by those stray soccer balls, windows will be broken, players pursuing balls out of bounds will trample green-space plantings, and little kids who don't know better will pursue balls into the street.

Another idea that was floated early on was that of pushing the fences back into the park, leaving a wider swath of green space around it. Some would even support cutting the playing field in half, and taking back an even larger portion for trees, shrubs, flowers.

I think once again The-Powers-That-Be ("TPTB" for short) have got it precisely bass ackwards, if you know what I mean. There is, after all, this quaint notion of "planning" an urban space, so before you even think about enclosing the space, you might do some planning about what the future use of the space will be. Right now, it's in such poor condition that it's used only by the Mexican soccer teams, and the dust blowing off of it means that our windows are rarely open.

The one thing everyone can agree on around here is that what really needs attention from TPTB is the Columbus Dustbowl. Looking at it that way, putting a new fence around this playing field disaster really has to be one of the dumbest ideas TPTB has come up with.

You would think that TPTB would first develop a plan - with our input - for the future use of the playing area - will baseball ever return to the park? If so, which way will the diamonds face? Or will it be only soccer and football? Then how much field is needed for that purpose? Where will the goals go? Is it a good idea to put a garden area next to a playing field with no barrier between? And on and on.

You might think that in a city this size, TPTB could draw on considerable expertise on the question of fences and urban playing fields. At least some intelligent options could be outlined. (Oops, I didn't mean to use "intelligent" in the same paragraph with "TPTB"). But no, they vaguely propose "new fences" then let us argue with each other about what might work - or not.

My suggestion is this: TPTB must first make a commitment to the future use of a vastly improved field and park, and start developing a plan to go with that commitment, before any of us can begin to answer the fence question.

If You Want It Done Right!

We've watched and waited while the Rec Center construction project has remained unfinished, so it was nice in the meantime to see that good, old fashioned DIY spirit could get something accomplished in the park - repairing and painting the benches in the 13th Street patio. We had a variety of locals out there painting last weekend, including staff and kids from Columbus Charter School. I had two 10-year olds in the house, and I put them to work, too. They actually fell for my "Oh yes painting benches is so much fun" line, borrowed from Tom Sawyer. But they had fun too, there were donuts and water bottles.

Note that there's one guy without a paint brush!

Almost finished ....

DONE! ... thanks to the folks at the Sherwin-Williams store, 11th & Washington, who donated the paint and supplies.