Every month learn about a neighborhood park in Philadelphia and its Park Friends Group as part of a new park profile series on the My Philly Park blog. This month: Lanier Playground in Grays Ferry.
In the time that LaVale Anderson-Reeves has lived in Grays Ferry, she has only known Lanier Playground as a “great, big open space” surrounded by a tall fence. “It was locked up and nobody knew who had the key,” she recalls.
But since last August, things have drastically changed for the four-acre park at S. 29th and Tasker streets. Today, Lanier Playground remains a great, big neighborhood park, but it’s also now home to two small dog parks, a playground and sprayground, an upgraded sports field, picnic tables, and the only Fitness Zone area in Philadelphia.
Over the past few years, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, Trust for Public Land, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, the Philadelphia Water Department, and Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources worked with the Grays Ferry community to revamp the unused public space. The park celebrated its grand reopening late last summer.
From the beginning, the multi-year engagement process sought the input of neighbors, including LaVale, as well as Joan McAllister and Martha McCalop, also long-time residents of Grays Ferry. The three of them, plus other committed residents, made it their mission to keep the community engaged and part of the project’s process to see the park into its future.
Prior to meetings, the group flyered the neighborhood to encourage the community to attend. “Once we did that, we established an email account, got everyone’s email addresses and started spreading the word that way and through word of mouth,” says Martha.
That core group is now known as Friends of Lanier Playground, one of the newest additions to the Philadelphia Park Friends Network. In the short time since the park’s reopening in August, the Friends have become strong advocates for the park and have continued to engage the community through fun programming and events, from regular “Yappy Hours” in the dog parks to Love Your Park cleanups.
And rain or shine, Joan leads the newly formed We Walk PHL walking group on free walks along the park’s unity path throughout the week.
“I give praise to Martha and Joan,” says LaVale, “because from day one Martha said she was going to [help with the] dog park, and Joan was going to do a walking group. And they stuck to it.”
The future of Lanier Playground
The Friends group has plans to do even more at Lanier. In an effort to bring more programming for all ages, they hope to offer Tai Chi classes in the park for the senior community that lives next to the park. They’re also in talks to form a gardening club with other partners in the neighborhood.
“We’re trying to connect the generations–seniors and the youth,” says Martha. “We want the youth to eventually take ownership of the park.”
The Friends of Lanier Playground are still going off the momentum and excitement of the park’s reopening, and hope to learn from other Park Friends Groups in the network, especially tips for fundraising for the park. They’ll be one of the new groups taking part in the Park Friends 101 learning session at the Park Friends Network Conference in March.
Yet already they feel that they have learned a few lessons along the multi-year process. Martha says the first step is to get involved–and stay involved. “You have to find that core group of people who live near the park and use it,” says Martha.
And so far, so good, says LaVale. “So far, the reaction has all been positive,” she says. “In a way, it’s bringing the community together.”
Events and Activities
- Bring your pup to Yappy Hour at Lanier Playground on the second Tuesday of every month. Visit Friends of Lanier Dog Park for more information.
- Lace up your walking shoes and join the free We Walk PHL walking group every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7am.
- Join the Friends of Lanier group on the 3rd Thursdays of every month at 6:30pm for their monthly meetings. Meetings are typically held at Vare Recreation Center (2600 Morris Street). Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to get involved.