I’d been hearing about the South Philly Meadows for some time, so I finally paid a visit. I biked from Center City — a very manageable 29-minute ride — and started to wander. The sound of traffic on Pattison Avenue began to fade with every step into the open, unplanned expanse, and the birdsongs grew clearer. To say that walking along the Meadows’ paths flanked by all kinds of vegetation was at once calming and exhilarating sounds contradictory, but that’s what it felt like. There is something liberating about this open, undefined space. Working in Chinatown as I do, that urge for freedom is a usually unmet need. The best I can do is walk a half-dozen blocks to the grass of Independence Mall, a far cry from the wilderness.
When it was time to go, for a brief moment, I lost my bearings. How did I get in here? Aside from the panic I felt about my unlocked bike (and maybe some embarrassment at getting lost so easily) I couldn’t help but think how rare the opportunities are to be in a landscape that can turn you around. Proposed slogan: “Get lost in the South Philly Meadows.” Or, if you prefer, replace “Get lost” with “Lose yourself.”
Unfortunately, these weren’t the only feelings I experienced on my trek. I was also feeling dread, eco-grief, eco-anxiety — the ones you experience when you read a Washington Post story about the destruction of the Amazon or “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert. It feels like this piece of land is a microcosm of our cultural problem, humanity’s existential problem writ small. Are we really going to suffocate our Meadows, to bury it alive, with tons of dirt and plastic?
Our City government is in the midst of making a series of profound mistakes. The results of these shortsighted decisions will mean more flooding, worse heat from climate change, more greenhouse gas emissions, less open space and more environmental injustice.
Recently 100 acres of trees — home to several protected species — were leveled for the Cobbs Creek golf course expansion. The City now intends to carpet the beloved South Philly Meadows with AstroTurf playing fields, after the landscape has been buried with truckloads of dirt.
We need to rewind a little bit first. The FDR Master Plan is part of another, unrelated instance of bad judgment: the proposed expansion of the Philadelphia International Airport. Wetlands, which we should be protecting at all costs, will be destroyed to accommodate the airport’s ability to handle more cargo. It is well documented that airplanes are the most carbon-intensive way to transport goods, and, if our City were serious about climate change — I argue that it is not — it would not be investing in enterprises that are diametrically opposed to stated greenhouse gas net-zero plans.
Destroying the wetlands will likely lead to more flooding in Eastwick, a neighborhood that has borne the brunt of racist public policy for years.
The federal government requires that the airport mitigate the destruction of wetlands. Despite numerous other potential sites, the City decided FDR Park would be the location of the make-good.
The FDR Park Master Plan might have made sense (to some) a couple of years ago, but after the former golf course started to re-wild due to pandemic-induced construction delays, it is clear that this project should be scuttled. There are infinitely better uses for the land.
Right now we need our City’s leadership to process this new information, to have the wisdom and humility to change direction.
We have a golden opportunity to protect something beautiful, and make FDR Park a park for the people.