Community Spotlights

Let’s All Be Friends: How parks, friends, and rec centers can work together to strengthen Philly’s communities

by Brittnie Knight on September 18, 2019

What do you get when you bring parks, libraries, and recreation centers together? For South Philadelphia, it brought three beautification projects, a community-wide literacy carnival, and a few lessons learned.

From spring through summer, Friends of the Whitman Library, Friends of Mifflin Square Park, SEAMAAC, and Friends of Fumo came together to host a number of community-driven events. The events were made possible by a Neighborhood Collaboration Grant awarded by Fairmount Park Conservancy, Friends of the Free Library, the Knight Foundation, and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. 

Events included opportunities to beautify and activate the parks and libraries. Projects for both the Whitman Library and Fumo Family Library included events such as a community clean up, installing large planters with library teens, and developing library outdoor space to be utilized by visitors throughout the warmer seasons.

The Literacy Carnival was held at Mifflin Square Park during Love Your Park Week in May 2019. Photo by Albert Yee.

All of the groups came together in Mifflin Square Park for a community cleanup and a literacy carnival during Love Your Park Week in May. The carnival was a free, day-long community activation that included Drag Queen Story Time, the Book Bike – which brings the library to the public in a mobile way –  and yard games with a literacy focus from vocabulary to reading. 

Through the fun, a few lessons came to the forefront. These learnings were discussed at a recent roundtable session, “Let’s All Be Friends,” held at Mifflin Square Park as part of a full summer series of workshops for public spaces advocates. The collective realizations brought forth during this test in cross collaboration can  serve as examples for all Philadelphia communities.

Lessons Learned:

Friends Groups can act as the connectors across neighborhood lines.
Philly’s city of neighborhoods can feel closed off from street to street. Attendees of the workshop identified the multi-location events as opportunities to bring people outside of their designated community lines. This cross pollination of park-to-park, park-to-library, and library-to-library helped develop a connective web throughout their respective demographics. It allowed attendees to see beyond their designated park and serve as a neutral ground. Whitman and Fumo libraries are only a 15 minute walk away from one another, and yet their communities had yet to come together in the way they did in Mifflin Square Park.

Friends Groups can and should work together as advocates for one another.
For the larger literacy carnival event, each Friends Group worked together with the end goal of getting people involved in their community, whether it was promoting their group or not. The groups developed a handout that showcased their various social media handles and how to connect online. Asking people where they live and pinpointing who at the event is part of their local Friends Group built an environment of understanding and trust. 

Showing people examples of how becoming a member can lead to direct action in their neighborhood is a great recruitment tool.
Becoming a member of your local Friends Group is a simple way to take a large step in civic and political engagement. These groups have direct links to important institutional organizations, from your local library to City Council. When locals to the Whitman Library wanted Saturday hours, they took to the internet, asking who to connect with and how to make their request happen. After communicating with members of the Friends Group, they were invited to attend and bring their request to a meeting with the staff of the library. The Whitman Library now has Saturday hours due to the advocacy of library Friends Groups all over the city.

On a small scale, getting involved in a Friends Group allows  you experience the direct positive impact your actions have on your local community. On a larger scale, these groups showcase how collective power impacts the framework of our City overall.