Keep McMichael passive, you say? The community doesn’t want a playground here? Oh really? Chris McCabe’s got questions for Alexis and her Friends.
TO ALEXIS FRANKLIN AND HER “FRIENDS”
(an editorial by Penn Street resident Chris McCabe)
The recent letter from Alexis Franklin (the “coordinator” of the Friends of McMichael Park) regarding Joyce Brady’s proposal for a playground in McMichael Park is welcome and enlightening, as it sheds some light on the internal workings of the Friends, the longtime and devoted stewards of our beloved McMichael Park.
As a longtime resident of East Falls (18 years) and supporter of a playground in McMichael Park (I lobbied for one 10 years ago, when my children were 8 and 6 years old), I offer the following comments and a rebuttal of sorts to Ms. Franklin’s letter.
Ms. Franklin opens her letter by saying that the “Friends” met on May 10 “shortly after our clean up day,” with 20 members voting unanimously first, that children “should be encouraged to play in McMichael Park” (as if anyone had ever suggested otherwise) and second, that “equipment was unnecessary and unwanted.”
The “Friends of McMichael Park” maintains a Facebook community page, where news, photos, events, etc., about McMichael Park are posted. This is the official page for the Friends, according to the Parks & Recreation website which lists various “friends” groups for City parks.
The Facebook page also refers to a landing page which is actually part of the EFCC website. Nothing was posted on the Friends Facebook page or the EFCC website about a meeting of the Friends, or a planned vote by the Friends on the topic of a playground in McMichael Park.
I would note that neither the Facebook page nor the EFCC website has any kind of a sign-up button or other means for an interested resident of East Falls, or a regular park user or volunteer, to “join” the Friends of McMichael Park, or even to make a monetary donation to support the Friends.
All of which begs the question, what is the criteria for “membership” in the Friends? Is it published anywhere? Frankly, no one knows.
It would be helpful and inclusive for the Friends to announce definitive criteria for membership in the Friends, or better yet to simply welcome, with open arms, anyone in East Falls who wants to join and become a member, and to participate in discussions, forums, meetings, events, planning, fundraising, and the like.
I infer from Ms. Franklin’s letter that there are now only 20 members of the Friends. Who are they, and when and how did they become eligible as members? At least two of the members (Ms. Franklin and her husband) admittedly no longer live in East Falls. If an East Falls address is not a prerequisite for membership, how many of the other 18 members are also non-East Falls residents?
More importantly, does this mean that the Friends, under Ms. Franklin’s direction and leadership over the last 26 years, has managed to recruit only 20 people to become members?
That’s a disappointing statistic, unless, of course, the Friends really doesn’t want any new members to join up. And, how many of these 20 members became members in 1990 when the Friends was first formed? My educated guess (based on a closed Facebook group, also called “Friends of McMichael Park” is that at least seven have been members since 1990, meaning that the Friends has added only 13 additional members over the last 26 years, a net gain of one new member for every two years.
How can the Friends possibly sustain itself, and foster perpetual support for McMichael Park, over the next 26 years, and the 26 years after that, without welcoming new members and having a formal structure that has a built-in leadership succession plan, and that is open and accountable to the greater East Falls community on whose behalf the Friends profess to speak and advocate?
By comparison, many other City parks friends groups have put into place formal structures, with donations being tax-deductible, with elected officers and directors, full-fledged websites, all with the aim of fostering sustainability, transparency, accountability, and built-in succession for the years and decades to come. Here are links to some friends groups for other City parks:
Why hasn’t the Friends adopted such an organizational structure after 26 years? I don’t know, but it’s a good question that deserves an honest answer.
Ms. Franklin next refers to “research” provided by some Friends members which refers to NYC’s Central Park which is chock-full of big and small playgrounds that happily co-exist in the pastoral, green and peaceful settings of beautiful Central Park. Here’s a helpful link.
Ms. Franklin then takes issue with the fact that the proposed playground is “undefined,” in footprint and design. Well, of course, it’s undefined. What did the Friends expect? Fully developed and permitted construction plans?
If that had been the case, the Friends would be complaining instead that they were unfairly or improperly shut out of the design process. The playground was only just proposed within the last three weeks or so, and Ms. Franklin knows that there is no definitive placement or design yet determined. Of course, folks have suggested an area no larger than that already occupied by the turtle and sandbox (and close-by benches), but that location is not set in stone.
Ms. Franklin also points to other, neighboring playgrounds which some Friends members “felt” are underutilized. By what standard? Did Friends members visit those playgrounds on a regular basis and observe their use?
And, anyway, so what? Is she implying that a playground in McMichael Park will be underutilized? Or, is she implying that playground proponents should just mind their own business, leave the park to the Friends, and visit these other playgrounds instead since no one is using them?
Of course, as we have all seen on the Nextdoor forums, and elsewhere, there are just as many folks, if not many, many more, who “feel” that McMichael Park is vastly “underutilized.” I have lived in East Falls for 18 years, and can personally attest that the park has appeared to me on many occasions to be greatly underutilized.
The Friends has now been around for 26 years. When was the last time that the Friends conducted a poll of East Falls residents, or of actual users of McMichael Park, to find out:
— Why they’re in the park and where they’re from,
— How often they use the park,
— What do they like or dislike about the park,
— Should dogs be allowed in the park (so they can do their business in the grass where, we are politely told, kids are also supposed to roam free and engage in natural, unstructured play, unencumbered by unsightly, man-made structures),
— What events do they attend in the park,
— What other uses would they like to see in the park,
— Do they want concerts in the park,
— Do they support a playground or a dog run in the park,
— Do they want the park to remain passive space, etc.?
Has the Friends ever thought to actually take a census of the total number of users of the park over the course of, say, one week, or in the different seasons, to see how many people actually use the park on a daily basis, as opposed to simply gaze upon it with loving eyes, from far away or from across the street?
Ms. Franklin also states: “Several members at the meeting successfully raised children utilizing McMichael Park as a natural play space and place for parents to socialize without any equipment.”
I’m not sure how this comment is relevant to a civil and polite discussion about whether a playground should be installed in McMichael Park. It’s sort of like saying, “we older folks did fine a job raising our kids, who all turned out OK, without an ugly, plastic playground in the park, and you can too, if you just put your minds to it.”
Then, Ms. Franklin appears to go so far as to imply that pro-playground folks are actually to blame for letting the Ridge & Midvale business district fail: “Ask all of the proprietors who invest in this community how they feel about neighbors not walking down the hill to buy a cup of coffee or use the bank or frequent a restaurant.”
This is a preposterous statement, and is downright rude. So, now it’s our collective fault if the business district fails because we’re all too lazy to walk down Midvale to Inn Yard Park and buy a cup of coffee or a donut along the way?
We could easily inquire why the Friends won’t just walk a few blocks to Wissahickon Park if they are so eager to enjoy some natural, passive green space, but that would be irrelevant, not to mention rude and unproductive.
Ms. Franklin ends her letter by saying: “The location of Inn Yard Park represents an important gathering place for our families and our community in support of this growth and our future.”
Well, respectfully, there is obviously a huge difference of opinion on this point. Many East Falls residents and families strongly believe that McMichael Park, the core, central park of our neighborhood, represents an ideal location for a public children’s playground, the placement of which will hardly destroy the intrinsic nature of McMichael Park, but will leave vast acres of the park untouched and free for passive enjoyment by those who prefer a “passive” park over an active one.
In fact, it would appear that the overwhelming consensus of the community is that McMichael Park is a perfectly fine location for a children’s playground. By the current count of signatures on the competing online and door-to-door petitions, more than 550 persons support a playground in McMichael Park, whereas only 111 persons are in favor of preserving McMichael Park as a “passive” park, a more than 5-1 ratio in support of a playground.
Please note that the thoughts expressed in this rebuttal commentary reflect my personal views and opinions alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other supporters of a playground in McMichael Park.
**UPDATE** New Developments from East Falls Forward’s May meeting, including a presentation by one of the local artists commissioned to create an organic play space at McMichael. Plus, a Friend fields questions & comments.
(ed note: we recently took some video of the proposed playground area, below)