A Friendly, But Firm Rebuttal

Keep McMichael passive, you say? The community doesn’t want a playground here? Oh really? Chris McCabe’s got questions for Alexis and her Friends. 

EastFallsLocal lets talk about mcmichaal

TO ALEXIS FRANKLIN AND HER “FRIENDS”
(an editorial by Penn Street resident Chris McCabe)

The recent letter from Alexis Franklin (the “coordinator” of the Friends of McMichael Park) regarding Joyce Brady’s proposal for a playground in McMichael Park is welcome and enlightening, as it sheds some light on the internal workings of the Friends, the longtime and devoted stewards of our beloved McMichael Park.

As a longtime resident of East Falls (18 years) and supporter of a playground in McMichael Park (I lobbied for one 10 years ago, when my children were 8 and 6 years old), I offer the following comments and a rebuttal of sorts to Ms. Franklin’s letter.

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Ms. Franklin opens her letter by saying that the “Friends” met on May 10 “shortly after our clean up day,” with 20 members voting unanimously first, that children “should be encouraged to play in McMichael Park” (as if anyone had ever suggested otherwise) and second, that “equipment was unnecessary and unwanted.”

The “Friends of McMichael Park” maintains a Facebook community page, where news, photos, events, etc., about McMichael Park are posted. This is the official page for the Friends, according to the Parks & Recreation website which lists various “friends” groups for City parks.

The Facebook page also refers to a landing page which is actually part of the EFCC website. Nothing was posted on the Friends Facebook page or the EFCC website about a meeting of the Friends, or a planned vote by the Friends on the topic of a playground in McMichael Park.

I would note that neither the Facebook page nor the EFCC website has any kind of a sign-up button or other means for an interested resident of East Falls, or a regular park user or volunteer, to “join” the Friends of McMichael Park, or even to make a monetary donation to support the Friends.

Eastfallslocal facebook collage friends mcmichael

All of which begs the question, what is the criteria for “membership” in the Friends? Is it published anywhere? Frankly, no one knows.

It would be helpful and inclusive for the Friends to announce definitive criteria for membership in the Friends, or better yet to simply welcome, with open arms, anyone in East Falls who wants to join and become a member, and to participate in discussions, forums, meetings, events, planning, fundraising, and the like.

I infer from Ms. Franklin’s letter that there are now only 20 members of the Friends. Who are they, and when and how did they become eligible as members? At least two of the members (Ms. Franklin and her husband) admittedly no longer live in East Falls. If an East Falls address is not a prerequisite for membership, how many of the other 18 members are also non-East Falls residents?

More importantly, does this mean that the Friends, under Ms. Franklin’s direction and leadership over the last 26 years, has managed to recruit only 20 people to become members?

That’s a disappointing statistic, unless, of course, the Friends really doesn’t want any new members to join up. And, how many of these 20 members became members in 1990 when the Friends was first formed?  My educated guess (based on a closed Facebook group, also called “Friends of McMichael Park” is that at least seven have been members since 1990, meaning that the Friends has added only 13 additional members over the last 26 years, a net gain of one new member for every two years.

EastFallsLocal 5-11 McMichael proposed playground area turtle bench bus txt

How can the Friends possibly sustain itself, and foster perpetual support for McMichael Park, over the next 26 years, and the 26 years after that, without welcoming new members and having a formal structure that has a built-in leadership succession plan, and that is open and accountable to the greater East Falls community on whose behalf the Friends profess to speak and advocate?

By comparison, many other City parks friends groups have put into place formal structures, with donations being tax-deductible, with elected officers and directors, full-fledged websites, all with the aim of fostering sustainability, transparency, accountability, and built-in succession for the years and decades to come. Here are links to some friends groups for other City parks:

Clark Park

Louis I. Kahn Park

Fitler Square Park

Fernhill Park Facebook page (an open group)

Vernon Park

Why hasn’t the Friends adopted such an organizational structure after 26 years? I don’t know, but it’s a good question that deserves an honest answer.

Ms. Franklin next refers to “research” provided by some Friends members which refers to NYC’s Central Park which is chock-full of big and small playgrounds that happily co-exist in the pastoral, green and peaceful settings of beautiful Central Park.  Here’s a helpful link.

EastFallsLocal 5-11 McMichael proposed playground area far survey behind text

Ms. Franklin then takes issue with the fact that the proposed playground is “undefined,” in footprint and design.  Well, of course, it’s undefined.  What did the Friends expect? Fully developed and permitted construction plans?

If that had been the case, the Friends would be complaining instead that they were unfairly or improperly shut out of the design process. The playground was only just proposed within the last three weeks or so, and Ms. Franklin knows that there is no definitive placement or design yet determined.  Of course, folks have suggested an area no larger than that already occupied by the turtle and sandbox (and close-by benches), but that location is not set in stone.

Ms. Franklin also points to other, neighboring playgrounds which some Friends members “felt” are underutilized.  By what standard?  Did Friends members visit those playgrounds on a regular basis and observe their use?

And, anyway, so what? Is she implying that a playground in McMichael Park will be underutilized? Or, is she implying that playground proponents should just mind their own business, leave the park to the Friends, and visit these other playgrounds instead since no one is using them?

EastFallsLocal 5-11 McMichael buttercup text

Of course, as we have all seen on the Nextdoor forums, and elsewhere, there are just as many folks, if not many, many more, who “feel” that McMichael Park is vastly “underutilized.” I have lived in East Falls for 18 years, and can personally attest that the park has appeared to me on many occasions to be greatly underutilized.

The Friends has now been around for 26 years.  When was the last time that the Friends conducted a poll of East Falls residents, or of actual users of McMichael Park, to find out:

— Why they’re in the park and where they’re from,
— How often they use the park,
— What do they like or dislike about the park,
— Should dogs be allowed in the park (so they can do their business in the grass where, we are politely told, kids are also supposed to roam free and engage in natural, unstructured play, unencumbered by unsightly, man-made structures),
— What events do they attend in the park,
— What other uses would they like to see in the park,
— Do they want concerts in the park,
— Do they support a playground or a dog run in the park,
— Do they want the park to remain passive space, etc.?

Has the Friends ever thought to actually take a census of the total number of users of the park over the course of, say, one week, or in the different seasons, to see how many people actually use the park on a daily basis, as opposed to simply gaze upon it with loving eyes, from far away or from across the street?

Ms. Franklin also states: “Several members at the meeting successfully raised children utilizing McMichael Park as a natural play space and place for parents to socialize without any equipment.”

EastFallsLocal 5-11 McMichael playground signs marks circle

I’m not sure how this comment is relevant to a civil and polite discussion about whether a playground should be installed in McMichael Park.  It’s sort of like saying, “we older folks did fine a job raising our kids, who all turned out OK, without an ugly, plastic playground in the park, and you can too, if you just put your minds to it.”

Then, Ms. Franklin appears to go so far as to imply that pro-playground folks are actually to blame for letting the Ridge & Midvale business district fail:  “Ask all of the proprietors who invest in this community how they feel about neighbors not walking down the hill to buy a cup of coffee or use the bank or frequent a restaurant.”

This is a preposterous statement, and is downright rude.  So, now it’s our collective fault if the business district fails because we’re all too lazy to walk down Midvale to Inn Yard Park and buy a cup of coffee or a donut along the way?

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We could easily inquire why the Friends won’t just walk a few blocks to Wissahickon Park if they are so eager to enjoy some natural, passive green space, but that would be irrelevant, not to mention rude and unproductive.

Ms. Franklin ends her letter by saying:  “The location of Inn Yard Park represents an important gathering place for our families and our community in support of this growth and our future.”

Well, respectfully, there is obviously a huge difference of opinion on this point. Many East Falls residents and families strongly believe that McMichael Park, the core, central park of our neighborhood, represents an ideal location for a public children’s playground, the placement of which will hardly destroy the intrinsic nature of McMichael Park, but will leave vast acres of the park untouched and free for passive enjoyment by those who prefer a “passive” park over an active one.

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In fact, it would appear that the overwhelming consensus of the community is that McMichael Park is a perfectly fine location for a children’s playground. By the current count of signatures on the competing online and door-to-door petitions, more than 550 persons support a playground in McMichael Park, whereas only 111 persons are in favor of preserving McMichael Park as a “passive” park, a more than 5-1 ratio in support of a playground.

Please note that the thoughts expressed in this rebuttal commentary reflect my personal views and opinions alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other supporters of a playground in McMichael Park.

Thank you.

Chris McCabe
Penn Street

**UPDATE** New Developments from East Falls Forward’s May meeting, including a presentation by one of the local artists commissioned to create an organic play space at McMichael. Plus, a Friend fields questions & comments.

(ed note: we recently took some video of the proposed playground area, below)

20 Comments

  • Evelyn

    It’s funny that people now want to join the friends group because they want something. Had they taken an interest before the proposed playground, maybe they would be included. It’s like going to an event for the first and only time because you heard there would be a giveaway.

    • Sean

      Evelyn,

      Your “event giveaway” metaphor would be more accurate if all new members were getting new playgrounds in their backyards. And if the event had (digitally) locked doors at at least a few previous meetings.

      These new voices want a shared space for what they see as a better McMichael park, and are making efforts to help make one happen. If more total people see McMichael as a better park *with* a playground, and would therefore have more engagement with the park and want to see its quality upkept, how good of friends to McMichael are these “Friends” to not see the upshot of that?

      • Evelyn

        My point is that just because people want something in this park they are just now interested in membership in a group. Their desire to become part of the friends of McMichael is selfish in the fact that they only want to join to get something.

        Before the playground issue, there obviously was no interest in joining this group so how important is the park to them? It only seems important if a playground is added.

        • Sean

          But your point also implies that the current “Friends” are *not interested* in getting something. Their “something” is the state of McMichael currently. If the friends were truly interested in attention and care about the park, wouldn’t the stance be that they would be glad to see more attention for their space, and although they disagree about this issue, invite these people with open-arms into the group? Invite them in and converse, change a mind or let them change yours.

          A friends of a park group, without a possessive intent, would be happy with improvement attempts, regardless of individual personal stance. If parents are bringing their children to a park more often, common sense would say that they are likely “future park-helpers” as well.

        • Cricket

          It is an incorrect statement to say that people had no interest in joining a friends group. This “Friends” group is secretive, does not solicit membership, has no formal structure, and there’s no easy way (until recently, when we all found out that it’s Alexis Franklin’s baby) to find out how to join. I have been a resident of East Falls for well over 20 years, and only now am finding out all about who decides what gets done at the park

    • Chris McCabe

      Sorry, that’s not what I suggested or implied. I didn’t say that I wanted to join the Friends. What I said was that no one really knows how to “join” the Friends and get a “vote”. It’s a “closed” group and has been for 26 years, at least that is the way I perceive it, as do many others.

      But, to take your point a step farther, if 100 persons had expressed an interest in the park and the “Friends” 10 years ago, and had consistently volunteered in the park for 10 long years, and then expressed their strong support for a playground in the park, are you really suggesting that Ms. Franklin and the original contingent of Friends would have allowed them a “vote” on the topic, or would have willingly stepped aside so that a new contingent of Friends could lend their support for a playground?

      The Friends clearly expressed their disdain and fierce opposition for a playground in McMichael Park 10 years ago, and if you think that Ms. Franklin and the “Friends” were ever going to change their minds, or allow the position of the Friends to gradually evolve, due to the infusion of new members and volunteers, from one of opposition to one of support, then I think you’re mistaken.

  • MorganB

    Evelyn,

    I think it’s great that you’re a longstanding member (so I assume…). But this does not give you any of the rights associated with ownership. You have no more of a right to a controlling influence over what happens in that park than somebody who just moved here yesterday.

  • Adrian

    Well said and good rebuttal, Mr. McCabe. I cannot believe that there are people actually opposed to a small natural playground. Thankfully the support for the playground is running 5 to 1. BTW my children are fully grown and not having their own children anytime soon, so I would have no use for the playground. However I hope to enjoy the smiles and laughter of East Falls children using the playground in McMichael park.
    Adrian Lo
    Coulter Street Resident

  • Pete Williams

    Natural playground… That sounds like rocks and trees and plants and grass and sticks and water to me.

  • Chris McCabe

    Evelyn, you state: “It’s funny that people now want to join the friends group because they want something,” and “My point is that just because people want something in this park they are just now interested in membership in a group. Their desire to become part of the friends of McMichael is selfish in the fact that they only want to join to get something.”

    I am glad that you admit that, by “joining” the Friends (however that is accomplished), someone will indeed “get something.” Well, what is that “something”? It’s the same “something” that the current members of the Friends wanted when they volunteered in the park and formed the Friends.

    No, it’s not a playground in McMichael Park; rather, it’s a voice, a voice in favor of a playground, but also a voice at risk of being drowned out by the collective voice of a tiny minority of 20 individuals who just so happen to enjoy a privileged status in the eyes of Parks & Recreation officials. Allow me to explain.

    Ultimately, City officials, elected or otherwise, like City Councilpersons, traffic engineers, and professional park managers, who thankfully answer to all of us (as part of the democratic process), are the final arbiters of whether a public amenity, like a traffic light, speed bumps, a stop sign, a wider, safer street, or a playground in a public park, gets approved, funded, and built by the City. Theirs is a civic process that takes place inside City Hall, the MSB, and One Parkway that not all of us are privy to.

    But those same City officials often look to community opinions on whether such amenities – speed bumps are a very good example – are welcome and needed in a community. When it comes to City parks, Parks & Recreation specifically recognizes “Friends of …” groups as close collaborators: “Friends groups are community-led organizations primarily established to support and advocate for specific park areas. Friends groups work in close partnership with PPR staff to create welcoming community green spaces and positive experiences with nature at the neighborhood level.” Note the phrasing “close partnership.” What does that mean?

    I’m not entirely sure, but I have a strong feeling that it means a City official, in deciding whether to fund or support a public amenity like a playground in a public park, even one that a vast majority of the local residents are in favor of, will likely ask what the local park Friends group thinks about the proposed amenity and may even choose to defer to the considered opinion of the local park Friends group on the suitability or appropriate placement of the particular amenity.

    So, Evelyn, that is why people may now want to “join” the “Friends.” To get their majority voice heard over the potentially much louder voice of a tiny minority of people who seem to operate the Friends like a private club.

    Just ask yourself this question. Are the Friends just a group of hardy, like-minded neighbors, who like to volunteer in their spare time to plant flowers, prune, and mulch in McMichael Park for the fun of it, with no desire to influence what happens in McMichael Park? Of course not! If that were the case, then Friends would not have registered with Parks & Recreation for official recognition, and they would not have met to hold a playground vote, and we wouldn’t be reading a letter from Ms. Franklin about the vote, and none of us would really much care what a few of our neighbors thought about a playground in McMichael Park.

    No, the Friends are just as selfish as the rest of us. I do not believe that they are so altruistic that they have nurtured McMichael Park and volunteered for the last 26 years for the sheer fun of it, without any expectation of getting something in return. They have done so, and they refer to themselves by the official-sounding name “Friends of…”, because they absolutely believe that by doing so (a) they can have a greater voice over what happens in the park, which they alone will then be able to control, and (b) their vision of the park as a passive green space will prevail in the eyes of City officials, even if their vision of McMichael Park is not one that is shared by the vast majority of East Falls residents who happen not to be members of the Friends.

    As long as the Friends of McMichael Park is recognized by Parks & Recreation as a quasi-official “friends” group, with all of the rights and privileges that is afforded to such recognition (do you think that Ms. Franklin does not have, and has not had, the “ear” of City officials on matters concerning McMichael Park?), then yes, all of those in favor of a playground in McMichael Park may have a desire to join the Friends of McMichael Park, so that their voice is heard as well and so that they can have a “vote” too.

    But, make no mistake, this desire to join the Friends is no more selfish than the actions of the current members of the Friends who formed the “Friends” and then sought official recognition, first from the Fairmount Park Commission and then from Parks & Recreation, in order to advance and lobby their desire to preserve McMichael Park as passive green space only without a playground.

    Thank you.

    • Evelyn

      I think you need to put more energy and time into something more productive then your lengthy and time consuming replies. You could use the time you’ve taken to orchestrate such replies and get together with everyone who wants a playground and present a well thought out plan, or a blueprint if you will. Since this was an issue Alexis presented. Instead of copying and pasting things from google on what you found about city officials and Parks and recreation.

      Thank YOU

      • Steve Fillmore

        Evelyn: Chiming in here to remind you that we want to hear from both sides of this issue but only if it’s respectful. FYI Chris is a respected Phila attorney, not some google-spewing hack as you suggest (without answering any of his points, btw). We’ll wait for Chris to let us know if this comment should be removed.

      • Sean

        A reply that basically boils down to “stop wasting your time talking to me” says more about your place in an urban fabric than you perhaps would like. If reasoned and considered disagreement (“democracy”) isn’t your thing, I’m looking forward to your “abstain” votes for any community decisions in the future.

      • Chris McCabe

        Evelyn, it has been my plan all along to assist the pro-playground folks to come up with a well-crafted playground design which is compatible with the unique setting and charms of McMichael Park that we all appreciate and enjoy.

        But, you’re the one who replied to my rebuttal and called the pro-playground folks “selfish”, which I objected to with what I thought was a well-reasoned reply.

        I just happen to believe that they’re no more selfish than Ms. Franklin and her neighbors who, yes nursed McMichael Park back to health 26 years ago (for which we all owe them an enormous debt of gratitude), but who also formed the “Friends of McMichael Park” in order to “get something” – semi-control over a public park, that we all own and are entitled to use, by leveraging their special relationship and partnership with officials of Fairmount Park and Parks & Recreation.

        If that is not their intent, then they can simply disband the “Friends of McMichael Park”, but continue to volunteer in the park as they see fit. If they do that, then this whole mini-controversy regarding the “Friends” will go away, with placement of a playground in McMichael Park being decided by City officials who will have to consider the wishes of the entire East Falls community, and not just a tiny group of individuals (20 people in all!) who think a playground in the park is a bad idea.

  • MorganB

    Steve and Chris:

    I urge you to leave all comments intact and let them speak for themselves. Given enough rope, people tend to hang themselves.

  • John Margerum

    I support the idea of a playground in McMichael Park and I’m willing to make a contribution to move the design of a playground forward. The park is an under utilized gem that would be improved by installing a playground for families with kids. It will add to the enjoyment of living in East Falls.

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