Mifflin Square Park in store for major revitalization

The “Making Room for Everyone” master plan is the brainchild of nearly 1,000 locals, including more than a dozen organizations.

Mifflin Square Park, located between Wolf and Ritner and 5th and 6th Streets, is undertaking a massive revitalization project called, “Making Room for Everyone.” Started by SEAMAAC in 2016, the master plan, which includes green infrastructure projects, sports facilities and more, is the product of nearly 1,000 people from the community. (South Philly Review/Grace Maiorano)

From multicolored seating to sushi-filled food trucks, Whitman dwellers may notice new aspects popping up around Mifflin Square Park.

But, rainbow benches and California rolls are merely the start to a multi-year revitalization project mapped out for the South Philly green space.

The “Making Room for Everyone” master plan, which was spearheaded in 2016 by Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association Coalition, or SEAMAAC, a local immigrant and refugee alliance, has been the ongoing product of more than a dozen local organizations and stakeholders, including Councilman Mark Squilla, Friends of Mifflin Square Park, Whitman Council, Inc., LoMo, United Communities Southeast Philadelphia, Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, Bhutanese American Organization, Parks and Recreation, Philadelphia Water Department, Mural Art Program Restored Space initiatives and the 3rd Police District.

“I think, we’re going to come out with a better result when there’s more voices and more viewpoints, because we can’t see everything,” said Andy Toy, director of development and communications for SEAMAAC. “None of us have the full picture.”

Along with an initial grant from the William Penn Foundation, the undertaking plans to receive the majority of its assets through Mayor Jim Kenney’s Rebuild initiative, funded by the Philadelphia Beverage Tax. Total costs are projected between $2 million to $4 million, according to project stakeholders.

Amid this colossal insight of nearly 1,000 individuals, key brainstorming derived from the park’s immediate residents — one of the most diverse demographics in South Philly.

“This park is a key location within the neighborhood where SEAMAAC does a lot of its work,” Toy said. “It really is the epicenter of immigration and refugee communities that we work with in South Philadelphia.”

Serving as a multicultural meeting ground, Toy says this park was especially important to preserve, not only for Asian immigrants and refugees but other existing members of the community, which includes diverse demographics of white, Asian, Hispanic or Latino, African American and other populations.

Considering records of racial violence in the park, like a shooting rampage that unfolded among gangs in fall 2015, SEAMAAC and its partners thought it was especially crucial to encompass the thoughts of all local residents while drafting a concept design for the park.

In fact, this mindset was even used during the RFP process, as eventually Hector Design Service from Newark was chosen for the task.

“(Hector) had a very strong sense of understanding immigrant communities, communities of color, low-income communities, figuring out ways to engage people,” Toy said.

Mifflin Square Park (South Philly Review/Grace Maiorano)

Breaking language barriers, Hector used items such as Legos and other objects to allow non-English speaking adults and children to express what they’d like to see — or what they feel is lacking — in the park.

After nearly two years of collecting perceptions, Hector and the team boiled down the most popular commonalities, including the installation of bathrooms and water fountains, designated quiet spaces, sports facilities and non-convoluted exits and entrances, which have often been corners of conflict.

“There was a lot of discussion about looking at the edges of the park in terms of the history of it being, sometimes, a point of strife,” said Damon Rich of Hector at a recent Mifflin Park Square project meeting.

While “super-seating” — or oversized chairs, sports programs and the SoPhiE food truck, which features immigrant chefs, have already been put in place, a gamut of other elements has surfaced in the latest concept design of the project, such as meditation areas, peace paths, nature paths, hard courts, stage and storytelling areas and adult exercise areas.

While most of these features will be built upon funding availability, the first definite phase of the plan surrounds the addition of green infrastructure from the water department. Specifically, a rain garden will occupy 5th and Wolf while underground storage basins are planned for the other three corners. Shaded sitting plazas will be built on top of these basins.

These sustainable pieces, which are part of PWD’s 25-year Green City, Clean Waters initiative, is set to break ground in Mifflin over the next year-and-a-half.

Since the concept design has been finalized, now the team is focusing on a “call to action,” informing as many residents as possible, including circulating a petition to neighbors urging the implementation of the project.

Mifflin Square Park (South Philly Review/Grace Maiorano)

“Now that we have this, we’ll look for the resources and the political strength to push it forward and make it, eventually, a set of construction documents, pull down a capital budget and put it in the ground,” Rich said.

Concurrently, the team is waiting on action from the Rebuild initiative, which plans to designate $300 million in bonds to these neighborhood projects, according to the city. Considering Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent upholding of the soda tax, these revenues could be available sooner rather than later, but as of now, the project does not have an official end date.

In the meantime, SEAMACC and its partners strive to keep planning ongoing while not losing sight of its cornerstone.

“We’re really about being welcoming to all but making sure that the people who live here are really going to benefit,” Toy said. “To us, the social justice side of things is that we want to improve it but we’re not improving it for others. We’re trying to make sure that the people that live here really get something good.”

For more information about the Mifflin Square Park project, visit mifflinsquareplan.org.