Commissioner Miller next asked for an update on tree planting. DiBerardinis said that $2.5 million towards the effort had recently become available and so the Department will soon proceed with Spring planting efforts. The Department has also received $2.3 million in state funding, he reported, to target storm water management efforts via tree plantings at about 35 rec centers around the city. Last year, the Department planted about 15,000 trees, DiBerardinis estimated.
DiBerardinis discussed other elements of the program, such as a tree removal component (slated to get rid of approximately 1,800 dead or dying trees), reforestation of larger swathes of land, and citizen greening efforts encouraging neighbors to plant trees. To Miller's point about paying attention to using proper species, DiBerardinis said, the days of sidewalks with "mountainous cement slabs" are over, and that the City has learned to use native trees or those that have "adapted to the urban environment."
Commissioner Carol Rice asked for a report on new recreation center developments. Last year, said DiBerardinis, pool users nearly doubled from the previous year, and 1,800 more children participated in summer camp programs. Additionally, he said, "we're using the parks as a platform for [recreational] programs" like urban agriculture, birdwatching, bike clubs, and rowing. "We're moving recreational programs into this wonderful canvas that the park has given us," he said.
Jean Hunt of the P&R's Youth Development department next presented an update on Cobbs Creek Park. After meeting with neighbors concerned about safety issues, P&R honchos earlier this year decided that increased programing that would appeal to diverse constituencies, along with infrastructure improvements, would help.
Five major cleanups have been scheduled for April, with 1,000 volunteers already signed up. A packed slate of movie nights, bike clubs, family days, a 5K race, and, interest pending, weekly hobbyist efforts has been organized. In addition to the cleanups, infrastructure improvements include increased police presence, and improved signage and lighting. DiBerardinis praised the effort as "a wonderful opportunity" that provided the "perfect chance to use the merger to add value."
Three brief committee reports followed, with Goldenberg taking a moment to introduce the Land Use Committee by saying that the Commission could be proud of its speedy drafting of an Open Lands Protection ordinance, one that "we have every reason to believe will be passed in the next couple of weeks."
Committee Chair Wolf Goldstein, who steered that effort, said that it had been the "most important project" she'd ever worked on, including those during her stint at the former Fairmount Park Commission. And DiBerardinis, who once also sat on that Commission, sounded another familiar note. "Reflecting on the way land transfer was dealt with at the former Commission, this is way better," he said. There's no room for "shenanigans" in it, he added, "there's no ability to do it in any other way than in an open, clear process."
Hackett added a note of appreciation for the ordinance's insistence that the Commission not be an in-name-only operation, and Goldenberg seconded that, saying, "I know that Council feels the same way."
Committee Chair Hoskins next presented his report on the recent activities of the Revenue Enhancement Committee, pointing out that the next Commission's hurdle to clear would be "steadfastly improving the way that parks and recreation gets funded." He mentioned that work on a concessionaire survey continues — with a key finding being that the city "can be very difficult to work with" — as does best-practices interviews with reps from other major cities. Hoskins also expressed worry that private funders — who gifted the system with some $15 million last year —could "get nervous and retreat" if public funding isn't kept up.
Communications Chair Rice next presented the second PaRC Stars award, this time to Diane Kunze, the "mastermind" behind Friends of Overington Park in Frankford.
Goldenberg next turned over the floor to questions and comments from an unusually active — and unhappy — audience. A recurring thread among questioners was a perceived lack of communications coming from the Department on everything from greening efforts at rec centers, to summer employment opportunities.
Two individuals brought specific problems to the table that seemed emblematic of the oft-plagued system and quite contrary to the rosy picture painted by the Department.
Judith Robinson wanted to know "What happened?!" to promises that the neglected Winchester Rec Center in North Philadelphia would be upgraded. As always, DiBerardinis responded to the putting of his feet to the fire with aplomb. The space needed capital investment, he acknowledged, and he knew Councilman Darrell Clarke had been interested in it. "With your nudge," DiBerardinis said, "I can go back to Councilman Clarke."
Dorothy Perrine next spoke out about poor conditions at Chew Rec Center in South Philadelphia. "We have volunteers, but we need materials to get started," she said, complaining of "grassless" fields and drainage problems that can cause 3-foot deep water backups after heavy storms. DiBerardinis seemed to know of these issues, too, but added that "my guess is that the field needs. . . more of a renovation than a repair. That's a big ticket item." Still, he promised to "do what we can for you."
DiBerardinis' upbeat but nevertheless cautious tone was in contrast to much that had gone before. Leaving the room, one couldn't help wonder if this really was the best time to be in his particular position.
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