Friends of Dickinson Square Park stands by commitment

By Lauren Hertzler
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 2, 2012

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Children flocked to the new and improved playground equipment at Dickinson Square Park's renovation celebration last week.

Photo by Kathryn Poole

Dickinson Square Park, 1600 E. Moyamensing Ave., opened its gate July 25 for a celebration after an eight-month closing for renovation.

“Everybody’s been anxiously waiting this reopening because the park was closed off for so long,” Maureen Goldsmith, of Second and McClellan streets, said. “I think the fact that it was fenced in — that you missed it because it was gone — maybe we had taken it for granted a little bit.”

Community members brought dogs, laid blankets out and chatted with neighbors, while listening to speeches from City officials who helped to make this park’s renovation a reality. The Fralinger String Band, 1903 S. Third St., performed, DJ Patty Pat played jams for the dancing stars and at the end of the night, an inflatable outdoor screen showcased “The Muppets” for families to enjoy together.

Children of all ages also swarmed the new park’s equipment with painted faces and animal balloons in hand, enjoying the warm summer’s evening outside with friends.

“We really appreciate that they’ve added playground equipment that’s really geared to all ages of children and that they’ve cleaned it up so much and made it a more inviting place for families,” Russ Lichternan, a resident from East Moyamensing Avenue and Mifflin Street, said.

Lichternan, who has lived in South Philly for seven years, said the park recreates a little piece of the suburbs for his daughter, Elia, who is a toddler, to experience.

“This is a lot of kids, and our own included, only exposure to grass,” Lichternan said. “We don’t have any front yard or back yard, we just have cement. So this is her only opportunity close to the house to have grass and trees.”


Friends of Dickinson Square Park President Robert Tobin and his wife, Ashley, moved to the 300 block of Tasker Street in December 2005, and quickly realized that something needed to be done to beautify the park, which is located directly across from their home.

“There were years of leaves on the ground,” Robert Tobin said. In 2006, after being approached to participate in a park cleanup, the couple decided with the help of the community to reorganize a Friends of Dickinson Square Park group, which had died throughout the prior years.

“We live here. We can do something with our own effort,” Tobin said.

And that’s when the renovation process began. The Friends group hosted weekly cleanups and the constant interest and determination from the community gave the renovation meaning.

“Projects like this in hard times do not happen without a commitment,” Michael DiBerardinis, deputy mayor for environmental and community resources, said. “And it’s the commitment from the community that drives those of us in government to pay attention and do the right thing.”

The State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources granted $300,000 to the park’s renovation, which the City matched. Philadelphia Parks and Recreation contributed $240,000 and former 1st District Councilman Frank DiCicco donated $360,000 of his capital budget, making the project’s grand total $1.2 million.

“If there’s a community to support, we do our best to provide whatever service and opportunity we can connect them to resources to make things move forward, but it’s always in very small steps,” Barbara McCabe, Philadelphia Recreation Department’s parks coordinator, said.

McCabe said Parks and Recreation, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the community worked together to keep things moving forward.

“[We made] small projects happen then we got the big money,” she said. “That’s kind of how it works I guess.”

The beautiful park that exists today as a neighborhood gathering place has flourished throughout the six years of preparing, planning, cleaning, building, landscaping and designing.

“It’s important to realize that this is so hard to do. To get a project off the ground, it takes so much time,” 1st District Councilman Mark Squilla, who prides himself on being the councilman for parks and recreation, said. “And the friends group and [Tobin] can detest how long it actually takes to get something like this done. And then when you see it done, it’s just a great feeling filled of great pride to be able to say we were able to do something like this in this great city.”

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