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Pools and camps are back, and PlayStreets will expand again: How Philly recreation is reopening

Summer camps will have fewer restrictions, rec centers will expand hours, PlayStreets will be enhanced, and most pools will reopen. Plus, free swim lessons.

Adrianna Carter (left), a neighbor, turns a jump rope for Shyion Charles, 9, during a Playstreets event on 200 block of S. Alden St in Philadelphia, Pa. on July 28, 2020.
Adrianna Carter (left), a neighbor, turns a jump rope for Shyion Charles, 9, during a Playstreets event on 200 block of S. Alden St in Philadelphia, Pa. on July 28, 2020.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Along with the rest of the city, Philadelphia’s Department of Parks and Recreation is preparing for a summer of normalcy — well, mostly.

Parks and Rec won’t completely reopen all sites or programming right away. Since children younger than 12 are not eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, staffers are working with health officials to balance safety and fun. Still, masks and some distancing aside, department Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell said: “It’s gonna be like a regular summer for us.”

Campers will take field trips and recreation center hours will expand. The enhanced PlayStreets of last year will return, and most pools will reopen, along with free swim lessons.

As of now, here’s how recreation will look this summer:

Summer camp is back with fewer restrictions

Philadelphia’s summer camps are set to return July 6 and run through Aug. 13. There are 3,700 spaces available — still a far cry from the 8,000 to 10,000 enrolled pre-pandemic.

“It’ll be smaller, but the good news is there are just far fewer restrictions than last summer,” said Ott Lovell.

Masks will still be required for campers and staff indoors and outdoors, though health guidance may change between now and the start of camp. Social distancing will be enforced, and kids will remain in small cohorts to help with contact tracing if needed.

But field trips and pool visits will resume, and programming will look mostly as it did pre-pandemic.

During summer 2020, about 2,000 kids enrolled in roughly 100 camps — and the set-up looked dramatically different: Surfaces were cleaned every hour, and kids were screened each morning, separated into small cohorts, and played mostly outdoors. There were no field trips or visits to the pools.

You can find a list of camps here.

Pools will reopen — well, some — plus free swim lessons

The city’s pools are set to reopen by late June or early July, but there is still a serious lifeguard shortage.

So far, the department has filled only about 60% of staff positions needed to operate its 68 pools. Anyone 16 or older who can swim has until Monday at midnight to apply for the jobs, which pay $15.25 an hour. The city will cover the $110 Red Cross lifeguard certification fee, and training lasts about four weeks.

The city can only reopen pools it can safely staff. If the staff numbers don’t improve, the limited pools that do open will be chosen based on geography and equity, said department spokesperson Maita Soukup.

“Everyone in the city will still have a public pool in their area that they can visit even if we aren’t able to open all of them,” Soukup said.

Parks and Recreation will also provide free swimming lessons at every open pool this summer. The pool opening schedule and lesson times will be released around the end of June.

Enhanced PlayStreets will continue

The enhanced version of PlayStreets will return this summer, replicating last year’s day-camp experience.

PlayStreets, a more than 50-year-old program that closes more than 300 one-way city streets mainly to distribute meals to kids, was expanded last summer. On top of distributing food, the city provided kits filled with sports equipment, books, art materials, cooling fans, and water balloons — and neighborhoods could keep the kits. Fifty “Super Streets” in the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods had elevated programming, like dance parties and even visits from Gritty and the Phillie Phanatic.

» READ MORE: Playstreets are the new summer camp

“It was amazing, it was magical, and we’re doing it again this summer,” said Ott Lovell. “We have to change this idea that recreation has to happen in one space, because recreation can happen everywhere. Play and joy can happen everywhere.”

There will also be 10 “Streets of Wonder,” funded by the William Penn Foundation and focusing on playful learning and literacy through visits and programming from the Free Library of Philadelphia, Fab Youth Philly, and officers from the Police Athletic League. Plus, there will be clay kits, mobile mural kits, and merch and visits from the Eagles, 76ers, and more.

The meal distribution side of PlayStreets will begin June 14, and the enhanced version with games and parties will return in mid-July. You can still apply to operate a PlayStreet on your block.

Recreation centers

About 118 recreation centers in the city are open now, with the remaining 41 set to return July 6 with summer camp. About 40 are still operating as access centers for students from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., so once the school year ends, programming at those sites will expand.

The centers don’t have a full “open door” policy to the public just yet, but Ott Lovell hopes that will happen by July 4. Now, programming is mostly on a sign-up basis. The city’s four older adult centers are also open on a sign-up basis only.


Last weekend, the city turned on the more than 90 spraygrounds and splash pads, a.k.a. mini water parks for kids to cool off in. They’ll run through Labor Day.

Find a sprayground near you here.