BY RORY McGLASSON/ Try telling 3-year-old Aiden Chau he cannot ride his tricycle around Hawthorne Playground.
There’s a large signpost clearly stating what is prohibited inside of the city’s newest greenspace at 12th &Catherine Street: No Bicycling. No Rollerblading. No Skateboarding. And so on and so forth.
That did not stop Chau, though. The youngster was racing around the $2.1 million playground for over an hour on Tuesday morning.
It’s been one week since dignitaries came to dedicate the city’s newest greenspace. Marceline Ong of the 1100 block of Catherine Street has been three times since last Thursday. “It’s too crowded at the other parks,” she said.
Ong brings her two children, Aiden, and 1-year-old Audrey Chau, because “my children have space to play here,” she said. Ong hopes the 50 newly planted trees grow quickly so the space gets a little more shade.
The park is the fourth new park added to the Parks & Recreation in 2012. At three quarters of an acre, the playground features cutting-edge sustainable features and new public art honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Formerly the site of the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza Homes towers, the location was previously a vacant gravel lot, containing urban fill.
“Finally. Our dream has come true,” says community leader Pat Bullard, chairperson of the Hawthorne Enterprise Center. Bullard has been the leading voice since the conception of the park begun in 2003. She has also acted as the bridge between the community and various governmental agencies, in getting the playground finished. Bullard worked hard in the ’90s, when she witnessed the razing of MLK Towers, which were rehabbed into rowhomes.
“In many ways this represents a community’s vision triumphing over adversity,” said Deputy Mayor for Environmental and Community Resources Michael DiBerardinis. “From the very beginning groups like the Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition ensured this project remained a priority. I think it’s clear that others will invest in places that have such strong champions,” said DiBerardinis.
Hawthorne Park benefitted from robust collaboration among neighbors, funders, state and local government and nonprofits. Funding for the park came from a $1.1 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, $300,000 in capital funding from the City of Philadelphia, a $300,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development grant, $250,000 from The Pew Charitable Trusts through the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and $250,000 from the William Penn Foundation through PHS.
A design team headed by Lager Raabe Skafte Landscape Architects, Inc. began work on the park in fall of 2008.
More than 50 trees, 4,000 square feet of plant beds and 19,000 square feet of lawn were planted. Monumental granite seat walls and game tables were installed. An ample stage area exists for public performances.
In addition, the Hawthorne is part green infrastructure, with sustainable features such as 6,000 square feet of permeable paving, a high-efficiency irrigation system, bike racks and drought-tolerant plantings.
Hawthorne Park represents a key milestone in Mayor MichaelNutter’s Greenworks plan and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation’s Green2015 plan — both of which urge investment in greenspaces in underserved areas. “Greenworks has committed the City to bring all Philadelphians to within a 10-minute walk of open space. We identified a deficiency in South Philadelphia and acted to correct it. This is a great case of planning informing action and follow through,” said the Mayor.