Play Ball: A community garden and a revitalized baseball field transform Hunting Park

story by julie lorch | rendering by wells appelHunting Park, which sits among North Philadelphia’s Hunting Park, Nicetown/Tioga and Logan areas, was one of the first neighborhood parks to join the Fairmount Park system, but for  decades the 87-acre green space has been better known for crime than community.

“Hunting Park has long been considered a liability instead of an asset for the community,” says Kathryn Ott Lovell, executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy. “There is a critical need to offer residents safe and affordable opportunities for healthy living and active living.”

In October 2009, the Fairmount Park Conservancy proposed the Hunting Park Revitalization Plan. The proposition was made in partnership with a range of community leaders, including government representatives, a local school, community programs and faith-based groups, as well as Hunting Park’s Stakeholders group and Civic Association. The $20 million master plan is the first big neighborhood-based capital project for the Conservancy, whose previous work included relighting Boathouse Row and the Waterworks restorations.

These leaders included state representatives, council people, the local Catholic school, a community center, youth programs, faith-based groups and neighborhood nonprofits, as well as Hunting Park’s Stakeholders group and Civic Association. So far, more than $3.7 million has been raised for phase one, which is underway. The park now has a weekly farmers market and two new playgrounds; an 11,000-square-foot, 60-plot community garden is being completed as well.

The garden, dedicated this October, will have its own governance structure run by Hunting Park residents. And the Philadelphia Horticultural Society and SHARE, an affordable food program that offers groceries in exchange for volunteer work, have offered gardening classes to the Hunting Park Gardening Club.

Thanks to a significant donation by the Ryan Howard Family Foundation, the baseball field underwent major renovations too. The number of kids playing Little League there has rocketed from 30 to 140.
“This park and the changes we’re making can be a catalyst for other changes in this neighborhood,” says Ott Lovell. “It doesn’t stop at the park. It changes and uplifts the community.”

Hunting Park United, a community stewardship group that evolved from the master planning process in 2009, has grown to more than 150 members, including residents, neighborhood organizations and faith-based groups. The group works closely with the Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation on revitalization efforts, and leads volunteer days throughout the year.

“In three years, we believe we’ll see higher property values and lower crime rates. That’s the power of the parks,” says Ott Lovell. “And, it’s replicable.”