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Plan to green school yards and rec centers announced

Philly and a national conservation group aim to transform 10 school yards and rec centers, starting this spring.

This press release just came out from the city:

In a major step forward for the "greening" of public spaces in Philadelphia, Mayor Michael A. Nutter formally announced today that the City and a national conservation group will partner with the School District to green as many as 10 school yards and recreation centers starting this spring.

The new groundbreaking initiative marks the second phase of the City's innovative Green 2015 Action Plan. It was announced at the William Dick Elementary School, which will partner with the adjacent Hank Gathers Recreation Center in North Philadelphia on a pilot project to significantly expand green space for public use. In addition to the School District, Green2015 partners include the Philadelphia Water Department, the Department of Parks and Recreation, national conservation non-profit The Trust for Public Land and the Mural Arts Program.

"This is an exciting collaboration for the City of Philadelphia," said Mayor Nutter. "Working with our partners, we will be able to green places where our children play. Making Philadelphia the greenest city in America involves infrastructure changes and creating healthy, sustainable spaces. However, it is also about educating our children about the environment so that they are prepared to care for it in the future. I am confident these improved school yards and recreation centers will do all of the above."

The partnership will initially focus on redesigning and redeveloping the William Dick Elementary Schoolyard, Hank Gathers Recreation Center and Collazo Park, with additional recreation centers and schoolyards to be announced in the coming months based on the success of the pilot. One major advantage of the partnership is that it allows the City and the School District to pool limited public resources to focus on areas where public schools and City recreation centers are located close to each other.

The partnership also leverages federally-mandated stormwater management funds, committed state funding through the Pennsylvania Department of Conversation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and private philanthropy raised by The Trust for Public Land from the William Penn Foundation, MetLife Foundation, National Recreation Foundation, and others. The TPS Foundation is also providing support to incorporate public art at various sites as part of the overall initiative.

The William Penn Foundation was one of the original supporters of the planning and public engagement effort to draft the Green2015 Action Plan and is now providing significant resources for the pilot project. "This program represents a triple bottom line for Philadelphia. It cuts down on paved surfaces, which helps to keep heavy rains from washing pollutants into our water supply," said Janet Haas, M.D., the Board Chair of the William Penn Foundation. "It repurposes existing city property, putting assets we already own to better use. And it brings communities together in attractive public spaces around their schools and recreation centers. In a time of economic scarcity, that level of impact is no small feat."

When fully implemented, the project envisions the greening of 10 school playgrounds and City recreation centers at a total cost of $9 million, about two-thirds of which would be met through combination of State, City, and School District sources. The Trust for Public Land is leading the effort to raise private funds to leverage public funding from the City and School District, and will also be establishing a stewardship fund to assist local organizations with maintenance and programming for each site.

"When we launched the Green2015 action plan last year, our goal was to chart a course for action that would make our city more equitable, livable, and competitive. Now we stand in partnership to make good on that goal through the greening and connecting of our community assets, parks and recreation centers and schoolyards," said Michael DiBerardinis, Deputy Mayor, Environmental & Community Resources/Parks and Recreation Commissioner. "With this partnership and the community, these sites will provide children and families with places for recreation and increase the attractiveness of our neighborhoods—all by taking affordable steps to transform land into publicly accessible green space. Green 2015 is a smart choice, makes sense for Philadelphia, and we look forward to engaging with many partners to advance this work."

Pedro Ramos, Chair of the School Reform Commission said, "When schools, communities, and local agencies work together as we're doing in the Green 2015 project, we're given a unique opportunity to maximize value all around us. The children and everyone participating in this project are learning why it's important to care about public spaces like city parks, school yards, and neighborhood playgrounds. At a time when the District must make the very best use of limited financial resources, this project offers the potential to provide cost-effective new ways to improve the quality of life in our city by creating more publicly accessible green space and protecting the environment at the same time."

Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug shared the Water Department's enthusiasm for Green2015. "If we want to change the world, we need to begin by nurturing the seeds for change at our schools. The city's children - our children - are the true stewards of a sustainable future for Philadelphia. Our children need to grow and thrive amongst trees and green play spaces to truly learn about and value the elements of the natural world that clean our air, manage our stormwater and provide those precious spaces of beauty in our urban environment. PWD is thrilled to be working with its Green2015 partners - PPR, TPL and Mural Arts - to leverage our shared resources to collectively transform schools and adjacent public spaces into green acres that ultimately renew our rivers and streams."

Because one in eight Philadelphians does not have a public park or playground within walking distance of their home, the Green2015 plan outlines the opportunity to link the City's twin goals of increasing outdoor recreational spaces and improving stormwater management through the creation of parks, playgrounds, and other recreational areas with green elements.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national non-profit conservation organization that conserves land for people and is the nation's leader in creating parks in cities. TPL is dedicated to ensuring that everyone—in particular every child—enjoys easy access to a park, playground, or open space.

Through its Parks for People–Philadelphia program, The Trust for Public Land will play a key role implementing the Green2015 Initiative of Mayor Nutter's Greenworks Philadelphia sustainability plan, helping transform 500 acres of land into neighborhood green playspaces by 2015. TPL will work with the City of Philadelphia to identify existing schoolyards and recreation centers as prime opportunities for conversion into greened play spaces and recreation areas, thereby providing healthy, outdoor recreational resources for all Philadelphia residents, especially children.

"The renovation of urban parks and playgrounds and the creation of green spaces that allow city dwellers to connect with nature and lead healthier lives is a high priority for The Trust for Public Land," said Will Rogers, president of TPL. "Clearly, the City has the same priorities and understands the importance of this work. We are glad to be working in a strong multi-level partnership with Mayor Michael Nutter's office, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, the School District of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Water Department, other public partners, and local communities. Win-win partnerships like these get real traction and deliver on-the-ground results."

Community engagement will be a critical element of The Trust for Public Land's unique design process; teams of Philadelphia students, city and school staff, and community members will be involved throughout the design process—evaluating existing conditions, selecting new amenities and play equipment, and developing use and maintenance plans—to ensure that the parks and play¬grounds meet the needs of the communities they serve and are safe, accessible resources.

"We believe in the power of art to unleash new possibilities, create common ground, and bring together people through transformative projects," said Philadelphia Mural Arts Program executive director Jane Golden. "Mural Arts is thrilled to be part of this public-private partnership, and looks forward to working with all of our partners and the community to create engaging, sustainable spaces for youth."