When it comes to how the City manages public land, the deck is stacked.
When the City leased the Cobbs Creek Golf Course to the Cobbs Creek Foundation, a West Conshohocken-based nonprofit, for $1 for 30 years, there were no competing bids. There was no discussion about how people in the community might like to utilize the land. Instead, there was a deal made behind closed doors with the foundation. Public outreach was left to the foundation, whose efforts were laughable. They counted meetings — repeat meetings, even — with contractors as well as an event at a sneaker store in Ardmore, as their public outreach. It’s as comical as it is shameful. Nearby residents didn’t know the plans until they started hearing the thundering sound of 100-year-old trees falling to the ground at 7 a.m. Estimates are that the foundation cleared 100 acres of forest.
But those are only estimates, because no survey of the land was ever made public. Parks & Rec abdicated that responsibility to the nonprofit, which claims they had that work done but never provided any proof.
The outreach for FDR Park was decidedly better — it’s hard to imagine anything worse — but still woefully inadequate. According to an open letter written by activists, nearly 80% of the respondents to the Parks & Rec survey were white, and only eight of 1,300 surveys were answered in a language other than English. But the ethnic and racial makeup of respondents probably did not matter much. Eight of the 12 stakeholders in the process were sports teams. It appears the administration knew they wanted fields for the World Cup, so they asked for input from like-minded people.
In Cobbs Creek, an actual crime was committed when the foundation, a nonprofit, made an illegal campaign contribution to Councilmember Curtis Jones. But there’s another potential crime linking Cobbs Creek, FDR Park and two other public lands, Edgely Field and Sedgley Woods.
As Bernard Brown reports in our cover story about Edgely, Philadelphia law prohibits converting outdoor park space from one use to another without following protocols, which include approval from the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commission, a body that has not met since October 2019. The law says that if the commission were to grant its approval, City Council would then have to vote on it. None of this has happened for any of these projects.
Marc Davies, an attorney and former director of the Philadelphia Area Disc Alliance, a group threatened by the plans for a football stadium at Edgely, believes that replacing a grass field with artificial turf constitutes a change in use that would require such a process. He has launched Friends of Fairmount to protect public lands that are being stewarded privately, and to ensure that true community engagement happens.
The group’s website describes the danger this way: “The Fairmount Park Commission used to make all decisions about park lands in the City, but since the Commission disbanded [in 2010], these decisions have now become more political. With no or little counterbalance or alternative say in park matters, the City will continue to use their governmental overreach making decisions on behalf of the community without actually tapping into the community or soliciting proper feedback and engagement.”
Underscoring all of these anti-democratic decisions about land use is a cavalier attitude about urgent environmental matters. Climate change is upon us. We must be vigilant now.
I’d like to express a big thank you to Alexandra W. Jones, who served as Grid’s managing editor for the past four years. She’s a careful editor, enthusiastic collaborator and just an overall joy to be around. I couldn’t have done these last four years without you, Alex, and I wouldn’t have wanted to.