The heart of a North Philadelphia neighborhood beats its bad rep.
Hunting Park is the kind of neighborhood you read about in killer headlines. In just the last couple days, 23-year-old off-duty police officer Martin Campbell and his friend, 29-year-old Rasheen Allen, were shot on North Marshall Street, killing Allen. The same day, a man raped one woman and stabbed another in the park. The next day, another man was gunned down while playing a video game in a nearby bar.
The pattern of crime in poor urban neighborhoods doesn’t vary much, and neither does the media coverage.
But members of the community say they’re sick of hearing only about how bad their neighborhood is. They’re ready to hear the stories of honest folk who put up a fight. Especially now.
In the last few years, Hunting Park residents have organized. They’ve formed committees, held regular meetings, planted community gardens, contacted politicians. Now more than ever, their attention is focused on reclaiming the heart of the ’hood, the 87-acre woodsy chunk of Fairmount Park that lies in the center of the proud, complicated, struggling North Philadelphia neighborhood of the same name.
Now, after building momentum with grassroots efforts the last few years, local activists are about to get what amounts to a miracle, especially in this economy.
Last October, the Fairmount Park Conservancy, the philanthropic arm of the Fairmount Park system that renovated the Fairmount Water Works, unveiled a $20 million master plan to revitalize Hunting Park. The elaborate plan, led by landscape architect firm Wells Appel, is designed to restore the park to its former grandeur. The complete plan features everything from logical renovations like improved lighting to full sports and activity programming.
Katrina Wilhelm, executive director of the Conservancy, says Hunting Park was chosen because of its unique interplay with the neighborhood around it. They saw glimmers of its heyday.
“It’s a park that has everything going for it, even though it’s been neglected for some time,” says Wilhelm. “We [see] it as a very large resource for that community, and also for its storied history.”
For generations, Hunting Park served as the heart of the community. Then, about 25 years ago, it became its noose.