Planting Season

Cobbs Creek area draws forecast for brighter future

(Photo Left) Workers from Tree Philly at a tree give-away, near the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center. Photo by Alicia Burbage.

When the city’s Parks & Recreation Department and TD Bank teamed up to give away free trees alongside Cobbs Creek Parkway on Nov. 12, Alicia Burbage urged followers on social media to collect a fig, plum, pear, cypress or maple tree and, along the way, “rediscover Cobbs Creek!”

Burbage, outreach and civic engagement director for Cobbs Creek, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Department, has spent nearly 42 years in this section of West Philadelphia.

“I think it’s a part of the park system that’s been forgotten,” Burbage said of the tract of public land that spans 63rd Street and borders Delaware County. “I think people go to other parks in the city for different events and activities, and some of that may exist right around here. Cobbs Creek is so rich in resources.”

The Cobbs Creek Park and Recreation Center complex encompasses a gymnasium, indoor basketball court, pool, locker rooms and the Laura Sims Skatehouse, used for ice hockey and roller hockey.

The park and its facilities are about to get an upgrade.

They have made the city’s Rebuild list. The $500 million Rebuilding Community Infrastructure Program seeks to “revitalize neighborhood parks, recreation centers, playgrounds, and libraries across the city,” according to the Rebuild website.

There is a need for public officials and others to actively worry about the viability of the adjacent Cobbs Creek neighborhood (bounded by Market Street to the north, Baltimore Avenue to the south, 52nd Street to the east and Cobbs Creek Park along 63rd Street to the west). Following the “white flight” that began in the 1940s, the area became a bustling African-American, middle-class and working-class neighborhood, whose residents enjoyed the park’s hiking trails, golf courses, ball fields, tennis courts, campgrounds and other amenities.

But the passing years also saw less and less maintenance of the expansive park. Industries that employed the neighboring residents closed their doors and crime grew. Parts of the park are plagued with illegal or “short” dumping. And tragically, earlier this month, the strangled body of 20 year-old art student Kierra Johnson was discovered in the creek.

Still, some observers insist that it will only be a matter of time before the area becomes part of the city’s gentrification streak. If people rediscover the neighborhood, they may see a return from public investment in the area.

Parks & Recreation now bases its operations out of the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center at 700 Cobbs Creek Parkway. The convenient location wasn’t the only reason that the department chose to distribute its 100 trees in the area.

“We try to incorporate all geographical areas in the city,” Lori Hayes, Director of Urban Forestry for Parks & Recreation, said of the tree give-aways. “We don’t just concentrate on Wissahickon or Penny Pack.”

Hayes said the event was very well received, “The weather was sunny and clear and we were in a visible location,” she said. “People just drove up, and social media helped.”


Planting Season
Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.


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