In East Falls, they call those born and raised there the Old Guard, and newly arrived young families the New East Falls, says Beth Gross-Eskin, a "Fallser" for 35 years.

She is among the more outspoken opponents of a playground proposal that has illuminated divisions between those two groups in the neighborhood along the Schuylkill in Northwest Philadelphia.

"Having space for unprompted and unsuggested play is a privilege," said Gross-Eskin, an educator. "We have neighborhoods in the city where they have nothing."

At issue is a campaign that picked up steam this year to build a playground in six-acre McMichael Park. Proponents say a playground would create a sense of community. The debate echoes a similar controversy over the park a decade earlier that never reached a consensus.

"Have you ever driven past McMichael Park and wondered where all the people are?" asked Joyce Brady, a mother of four who has spearheaded the pro-playground movement, during a community forum about the fate of the park attended by about 100 people Tuesday evening. "It's for the community to come together."

The forum at Gustine Recreation Center, 4700 Ridge Ave., was cohosted by Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and City Council. Parks and Rec Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell and Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. attended. Parks and Rec spokeswoman Moria Miller said that no decision was on the horizon, and that it is unknown how a playground would be funded.

Opponents of a playground include Friends of McMichael Park, a group that helps to maintain the park and wants it to remain a passive green space. They say funds would be better used elsewhere, and point out that several other playgrounds are in walking distance of the park, including one renovated in 2014.

At Tuesday's forum, playground supporters said other playgrounds are hard to reach by foot, especially with small children.

"I appreciate that the people who spoke against [the playground] raised children here decades ago, but I'm raising my children here now," Holly Maher said in support of the playground.

Brady, the playground proponent, showed a time-lapse video she made at the park over four days. In the 45 minutes she spent filming each day, she said, she saw only one person.

Playground opponents scoffed at the idea that children need a playground to have fun, saying the park and its beloved turtle statue (nicknamed "Morton" after the park's namesake, former Philadelphia Mayor Morton McMichael) are all they need.

"I've never seen a child come here and sit and say, 'I'm bored,' " said former resident Alexis Franklin, coordinator of Friends of McMichael Park.

Both sides have embarked on social-media campaigns and have distributed online and paper petitions and fliers.

At the end of the forum, Jones said the next step is to meet with three representatives from each side to discuss a potential compromise, and commended both sides' passion.

Until then, however, the neighborhood remains divided. Ultimately, playground opponents said, the debate belies a sense of entitlement by supporters. The park was good enough for the families of the Old Guard for generations, opponents argue, so why are playground supporters trying to create a New East Falls?

"Advocates for a McMichael playground did not invent parenthood," said resident Bill Hoffner during the forum. "The trees, grass, and openness already attract families to East Falls."

@oliviaexstrum