As a child growing up in North Philadelphia, some of my earliest memories are sitting on the cement turtles at East Poplar Playground, laughing as water sprayed from a turtle’s shell, cooling me down in the summer heat. But that was over 20 years ago, and the playground is no longer as welcoming a place for families to spend time. The turtles’ paint has peeled, the swing sets haven’t had swings in years, and the slide is cracked straight down the middle.
East Poplar is not alone. The poor conditions of so many of our parks, rec centers, and libraries send a clear message to the kids growing up here: You are not worthy of investment. It is no wonder young people come to East Poplar and cause trouble — there is not much there for them.
Rebuild, and the soda-tax funding behind it, is our chance to end this cycle and to invest in our young people. Rebuild is the mayor’s program to put hundreds of millions of dollars into restoring parks, recreation centers, and libraries in neighborhoods that haven’t received their fair share of funding for years.
For the past year, their team has been working with the community to hear from us about the design for a brand new playground, athletics field, and other site improvements at East Poplar Playground. This engagement takes time, but we deserve to be part of the decision about how our soda-tax dollars are spent to improve our playground. After all, we have been waiting 20 years for these changes. What are a few more months to make sure things are done right before construction starts in the spring? Rebuild is making sure soda-tax funds go to critical projects as quickly as possible and with genuine input from residents.
Since the start of Rebuild, the city has shared our sense of urgency to deliver on the promise the mayor made to residents like me. Like so many playgrounds and rec centers on the Rebuild list, East Poplar is the heartbeat of this community. We host lifesaving mentoring and community development programs here. Programs that keep young people safe and on the right track.
I am excited to see how the Rebuild program grows, and what it is able to achieve throughout the mayor’s second term. The aspects of the program dedicated to seeing more minorities succeed in the construction industry are a refreshing change from business as usual with big city projects. The Rebuild investment is our tax dollars, it should be spent in a way that benefits all residents, especially people of color. While we wait and see to what extent these programs deliver on their promises, we are confident that our children will benefit from critical capital investments in their public spaces.
Growing up at East Poplar, I learned from day one about the values of community, family, and leadership. I am not alone. Philadelphia’s network of local rec centers, parks, and libraries are part of our social fabric. Rebuild is an opportunity to strengthen our connections with our communities and each other. As projects move forward in the places where our kids learn, play, and grow, it is in every Philadelphian’s best interest to make sure that this initiative succeeds.
Wysenia Williams is the vice president of the East Poplar Playground Advisory Council.