Last week, fencing went up and construction began at City Hall’s Dilworth Park on playground equipment for Philly kids.
Wouldn’t that be nice if it were true? Unfortunately, it’s not and the fencing and construction are the first steps in bringing a new Starbucks to Dilworth.
“But wait,” I hear you asking, “Isn’t this a public park, how is it even possible that a private corporation like Starbucks could set up shop there?”
Dilworth Park, like many of the Philadelphia’s public spaces, has been leased to the privately operated nonprofit. In this case, it’s the Center City District, which manages the park and has decision-making power over what happens there. Some recent decisions have included closing the public park for private events like Diner en Blanc and Philadelphia magazine’s yearly Best of Philly party.
It’s worth noting that while I’m frustrated about the appearance of a Starbucks in one Philly’s most accessible and beautiful parks, I don’t have a universal dislike for the kind of public-private partnerships that made it possible. After all, the private groups that maintain Franklin Square and Dilworth Park go above and beyond to keep the parks clean and in some cases, even support local artists by bringing their work to public spaces. Generally speaking, I think these kinds of partnerships can be good. One shining example of a positive public-private park partnership is Spruce Street Harbor Park. That public park is under the private management of Delaware River Waterfront Corporation and in recent years, has been a gigantic success in bringing in tourists and creating an open, outdoor, free space for Philadelphians of all ages and backgrounds.
But building a Starbucks in one of our parks absolutely crosses the line. What officials at City Hall allowed Dilworth Park to be leased without strict rules against stuff like this? And who at the Center City District thought this was acceptable? Philadelphia should not sell off our public parks for profit. If private groups are going to manage our parks, they must put the interests and needs of Philadelphians first.
Adding a Starbucks does not benefit the best interests of Philadelphians, even those might argue in favor of enjoying a cup of coffee in the park. Don’t forget: There is already a Dilworth Park-themed coffee shop on the other end of the park. And there’s a La Colombe mere feet away from where they’re building this Starbucks. Not to mention the many other Starbucks locations within a few blocks of Dilworth.
I can think of so many better things to build on this tiny parcel of land, if the goal of this add-on was to better serve Philadelphians. Things like playground equipment for all the kids who enjoy the park to use (and yes, having that area protected from traffic). Or how about a mini-public library with select community-related services. Or even free-standing mural walls to feature rotating murals by local artists. Any number of things would better serve us.
I’m disappointed in Philly officials for this. Our public space is too valuable to be sold off like this for profit. If anyone from the Center City District or City Hall are reading this: Do better. Philadelphians deserve better.
Conrad Benner is a Fishtown-born and -raised photographer, podcaster, curator, and founder of StreetsDept.com, a photo blog that discovers art on the streets of Philadelphia. A version of this piece first appeared on StreetsDept.com.