TRASH CRISIS IN CLARK PARK: What We’ve Learned and What’s Being Done About It

The ever-increasing explosion of trash in Clark Park has gripped the attention of park-lovers during the 2015 peak season. FRIENDS OF CLARK PARK has explored numerous ways of tackling the problem. Some showed limited success but the underlying issue – inadequate resources for park maintenance – has left trash at unacceptable levels.

At FoCP’s annual public election meeting in Griffith Hall on Oct. 19, officers and directors, members and other neighbors talked trash in great detail and outlined four different avenues to explore for serious relief in 2016.

It’s important to begin by understanding that park trash is complicated.

Trash in “C” Park, below Kingsessing Avenue, is collected by University of the Sciences, which leases that section of the park. Trash in “B” and “A” Parks, from Kingsessing to Chester and from Chester to Baltimore respectively, is primarily the responsibility of the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Department (PP&R), but we all need to work together to deal with it.

PP&R hires one Seasonal Maintenance Assistant to maintain Clark Park and neighboring Malcolm X Park from May to October, and a different SMA for October to May. The winter SMA works fewer hours than the summer SMA. FoCP voluntarily supplements our SMAs’ pay to the tune of about $1,500 per year, but they report primarily to PP&R and are not subject to FoCP’s orders, although we do communicate with them.

SMAs chiefly work by themselves, under light, remote supervision. They don’t get paid much and have no benefits or civil-service protections.

The SMA picks up loose trash, adds it to the bags in trash cans, and removes all bags to the curb. From there they are picked up by a PP&R trash truck

In addition, some loose trash is picked up when the landscaping crews on contract with PP&R mow the park, but mowing schedules are flexible and some crews are better than others at collecting trash.

Neither PP&R’s nor Streets’ plans for trash collection at a particular site are tied to current data on the amount of trash that they are collecting. So if trash doubles in Park X over a few years, no City management system notices this and says, “We need to double our man-hours, double our pickups here.” Inertia reigns instead.

Everyday usage of Clark Park did almost double just between 2006 and 2012. From 2000 to 2015, it has likely at least quadrupled. Hard-won improvements in the park, coupled with an increasing number of attractive programs, a declining crime rate, and demographic and cultural changes, have turned it into a vital community center where thousands flock to or pass through, even at times in winter.

The number of organized large events with more than 50 participants has surged from 5 in 2000 to 29 in 2015. Some are quiet, low-impact events; others draw upwards of 500 people at a time, often eating and drinking. PP&R’s legendary Stewardship Coordinator Barb McCabe (who has just been honored and promoted) said it clearly this year: “Clark Park is at capacity now.” It has no room for new events and even old events may need to be reined in a bit.

Increased crowds, both organized and random, draw vendors – food vendors especially. They are providing a service park users want. But they are not paying their full share of costs toward maintenance of the park that is lining their wallets; and they are producing more than their share of trash.

Unless they are associated with a PP&R-permitted event, like the Farmers’ Market or an approved festival, or directly licensed as a PP&R concession (which none are), no food vendors may legally operate inside the park, on the street sidewalk in the park, or even alongside the sidewalk in the street.

Philadelphia is notoriously cheap when it comes to parks. For the last 40 years it has systematically starved its park budget, allocating one-third the public resources to their maintenance that other big cities do. This is not a universal problem but a local problem! The bottom line: more of Philadelphia’s current tax dollars should go to parks than now do; PP&R’s budget should increase both in absolute numbers and in relation to other City departments. PP&R gets no respect when the City Council and Administration allocate operational funds … and that must change.

But only citizens and voters can make it change. Park-lovers must demand more from our City. We must quit taking trash for granted.

But changing City government will take time. There are other avenues for park reform that we must pursue to clean up Clark Park – other paths that may deliver quicker, if limited, gains.

1) Better coordination of existing PP&R/Streets man-hours. PP&R’s Stewardship Coordinator shifted the SMA’s hours to include some weekend work, when usage and trash generation is heaviest. Now is there a way to get its trucks to come pick it up ASAP?

2) Volunteer extra work by large-event crews. They have always collected the trash in their area and left the bags by trashcans. But these trash cans are now often overflowing by Saturday, even before festival-goers arrive. They are turning into dumps. So we’re asking all festival organizers to haul all trash off site to a City facility as part of Saturday breakdown. They were willing, but this turns out to be illegal because all Streets trash facilities are closed to the public on weekends.

3) Volunteer work by FRIENDS OF CLARK PARK Members. We’ve organized large volunteer projects for many years. But good trash collection requires constant, careful, well-timed scheduling – and continuous recruitment of Members. So we’ll be asking for a show of hands on this project!

4) Hired work by FRIENDS OF CLARK PARK. There is a model for this: Friends of Rittenhouse Square. But our economics are not theirs. FoCP must first study its books and determine how much it can spend on cleaning services, after we determine its annual budget for necessary maintenance and promised projects. Then it should ask its members how much they want to spend.

5) Seeking help from Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s office. This is the normal place to go for a neighborhood problem involving city planning and resources spread over different departments.

6) Seeking help from University City District. UCD plays an auxiliary role in cleaning the park, including helping to fund the winter SMA. UCD contributes to mowing contracts (others are performed by PP&R) and can send backup trucks sometimes on an as-needed basis. A high-level talk between FoCP and UCD could kick-start a new pushbroom for the park.

7) Supporting park activists who lobby for the right green-space budget for Philadelphia. FoCP itself can neither spend its Members’ money on political campaigns nor endorse political candidates. But FoCP can help all friends of parkland, all who know parks are to the fabric of a good city life, help all to learn how better to fight for vital community resources like Clark Park. Everybody in the neighborhood should pull together as one on this cause!

8) Last but not least … if you see trash, pick it up!
If every time you walked into the park, you picked up one item of litter — and every other user did too — it would become a pleasanter place for you as well as others.

But please understand that this is a citywide struggle. West Philadelphia neighbors must work politically with other neighborhoods to hit all City Council Members with the message that all Philadelphians derive great value from their great parks.

FoCP is putting together an ad hoc committee to study and recommend the community’s best response to the trash crisis of 2015. We urge all concerned park-lovers to join this committee and make your voice heard! We’ll announce the time and date at least one month in advance.

If you follow our website (http://www.friendsofclarkpark.org) or our Facebook group page “Friends of Clark Park”, you’ll find out how you can help clean up Clark Park.

Welcome to the Beergarden!

Clark_Park_Flyer_Big_TypeHow the beergarden works; if you are a new or renewing member who reups at the party, your first Dock Street beer is free; $3 thereafter. Nonmembers’ beer is $5. So you don’t have to join to enjoy!

Membership levels: Patron = $50 (2 votes/tickets), Household = $25 (2 votes/tickets), Individuals = $20, Student/Senior/Limited Income = $10.

WHAT WOULD The Bad Development at 43rd & Baltimore Look Like?

It’s much easier to obtain advance visuals from developers who care about their building’s looks than from those who plan to build the cheapest, ugliest building permissible.  For this reason, it is hard to show pictures of the bad development at 4224 Baltimore Ave that Friends of Clark Park opposes.
45th St by right

Here is an image that illustrates our case. It is of damage that has already been done to the park perimeter down toward Woodland along 45th Street. The “by-right” building — what we’ll get for the next 60 years if we don’t act swiftly — will look pretty much like these — only on a scale 10 times bigger. We’re not kidding.

Our park is pretty as a picture, & all West Philly likes it that way & wants it to grow that way. So do we. But every picture needs a proper frame. As of now, by-right zoning isn’t right for our community park.

Please help save Clark Park & West Philadelphia! We can do better than this. West Philly is a better neighborhood than this.

Go to this Change.org online petition below & sign. It takes 60 seconds. Express yourself. Defend the park. Do it now — time is short. Your community will always be grateful that you spoke out!
http://www.change.org/p/councilwoman-jannie-blackwell-please-save-4224-baltimore-from-bad-development

Trash Solutions for Clark Park – We Can Do It!

by Ann Dixon
There are so many of us enjoying the park in these glorious summer months that it gets filled with trash very quickly. It takes effort to keep it looking clean. Thomas is a seasonal employee working for the Parks and Recreation Dept. You’ll see him hard at work on weekday mornings, bagging trash and doing other tasks. Both the University City District and the City pick up those trash bags once a week. The UCD also picks up recycling once a week. Despite all this, on busy weekends trash bins are often overflowing.

Jessica Plummer is ready to clean up the park tomorrow morning, Saturday, Oct. 4. Can you pitch in for an hour & help her?

Jessica Plummer is ready to clean up the park tomorrow morning, Saturday, Oct. 4. Can you pitch in for an hour & help her?

Jessica Plummer moved to West Philly at the beginning of August. One morning she was running by the park and noticed broken bottles in the play ground. She didn’t have time to pick them up, but didn’t forget them.

A friend told her about the Friends of Clark Park. A few days after bringing up the issue at an FOCP meeting, Jessica volunteered in the park with Doug Naphas (President of FOCP) and two of her friends. They removed full trashbags from cans and put in clean liners. A couple of weeks later, she was back at it again, working with her friend Ben Crescenzo.

Jessica graduated from University of Delaware with a degree in public health in May and now works for the Food Trust as an executive assistant, helping with event planning and many other tasks. She says, “I love how communal the park is. There are so many babies and families, open space for everyone to enjoy…. Volunteers really connect people to their community.” Her parents instilled the values of volunteering, asking questions and finding solutions to problems.

She is available many weekends to deal with trash and would love some company! The next organized cleanup will be Saturday, October 4th, from 11 am – noon. Meet at 43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue.

If you want to help on other dates, e-mail Jessica: jplummer@thefoodtrust.org