While "Extreme Makeover: Cobbs Creek Park" is the crown jewel of the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department's first year of existence, the long-awaited merger of the Fairmount Park Commission and the city Recreation Department has also produced these two gems:
Pride of Fishtown: "When she was 13 years old, playing on this field, my sister Anne fell/slid and got a bad cut on her right forearm," said Sandy Salzman, executive director of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, standing on Shissler Rec Center's ancient baseball/soccer field.
The former railyard along Blair Street near Berks was covered in sharp cinders for 50 years until it was transformed this spring into emerald-green grass.
"We thought we had cleaned the cut out but there was something left in her arm," Salzman said. "Everyone said it was a cinder. Many kids from the neighborhood had them in their arms and legs. Anne would show off the lump as a badge of honor."
Thirty years later, Anne experienced sharp pain when she leaned on her arm. Her doctor did a biopsy. "It wasn't a cinder," Salzman said. "It was a piece of a green-glass Coke bottle."
Today, Fishtown kids can slip and slide without taking home a piece of Shissler's field in a limb because Parks & Rec Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis partnered with Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, whose 7th District contains Shissler Rec, and Councilman Darrell Clarke, whose 5th District constituents use it, to turn a Field of Screams into a Field of Dreams.
DiBerardinis recalled: "We said to them, 'You [each] kick in $150,000, Mayor Nutter kicks in $100,000 from the city's capital budget, and everybody gets a $400,000 facility."
He also partnered with Salzman's New Kensington CDC, the William Penn Foundation, the Philadelphia Water Department and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to create a two-block greenway from Shissler Rec to Palmer Park, build Shissler's stormwater-managing rain gardens and permeable parking lot, and plant a tree-lined "green ribbon" from Shissler to Penn Treaty Park on the Delaware River.
Hawthorne Park: After several years of planning and fundraising, the site of the Philadelphia Housing Authority's demolished Martin Luther King Jr. towers is scheduled to become the city's newest public park next spring - a $2.1 million green space at 12th and Catharine streets with tree-lined lawns and an elevated stage.
When construction, now under way, is completed, Hawthorne will be the first new city park created under Mayor Nutter's Green 2015, a plan to transform 500 acres of underused city land into public green spaces.