Citywide celebration of parks kicked off at Marconi Plaza this past weekend

    Mayor Kenney, former Eagles player Connor Barwin and others helped to mark the 10th annual “Love Your Park” event.

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    On Saturday, dozens of volunteers gathered at Marconi Plaza where Mayor Jim Kenney and other city officials officially kicked off the citywide, weeklong “Love Your Park” event. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

    With shovels and rakes in hands, dozens convened at Marconi Plaza on Saturday to clean and green the South Philadelphia urban square.

    But the immense turnout served as more than a chance for some community service, as it marked the official kickoff to the 10th annual citywide and weeklong “Love Your Park” celebration.

    Hosted by the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the city Department of Parks and Recreation, the yearly event is comprised of nature-centric festivities around Philadelphia, running from May 11 to 19 with activities spanning from Wissahickon Valley Park to Boathouse Row.

    “One of the many joys of living in a city with so many unique and dynamic neighborhoods is getting the opportunity to explore them,” Mayor Jim Kenney said at the kickoff.

    Marconi was just one of about 100 public spaces to receive some “Love Your Park” compassion this past weekend.

    “What is so inspiring is that – there’s an amazing turnout here at Marconi, but there’s also 100 other parks participating in this volunteer cleanup today,” said Kathryn Ott Lovell, commissioner, city Department of Parks & Recreation. “That means there’s thousands of volunteers all over Philadelphia supporting their parks, and that is just such an inspiration.”

    The Love Your Park celebration is supported by the city’s Park Friends Network, which is comprised of more than 100 neighborhood-based volunteer groups fostering the welfare of public spaces around the city.

    One of the event’s sponsors, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, has invested in stewardship programs to partner with these “Friends” groups around the city, according to Ellen Hwang, the program director for Philadelphia’s Knight Foundation.

    The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation believes that fostering equitable, inclusive and engaged communities are special for a healthy democracy,” Hwang said. “Since 2014, we have advanced this goal by supporting our local partners in Philadelphia to reimagine and activate our civic and shared spaces so that communities might come together and be stewards of their neighborhoods and of each other.”

    Ava Novelli, Mackenzie Novelli and Jordyn Chambers were among dozens of volunteers. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

    At the event, the Friends of Marconi Plaza, which was established about seven years ago, highlighted major renovations to the South Philadelphia space, including brand new benches, designated seasonal workers and LED lights installed along the perimeter of the park.

    Marconi Plaza is back on the map in the city of Philadelphia,” said Rich Cedrone, president of the Friends of Marconi Plaza. “…You could move mountains if we stick together. Look what we did today. Everything in life, you got to have hope, and we give hope. The park’s not perfect. We’re not going to stop.”

    T. J. McGovern, Chris DeSimone and John Pastor, Jr. of the KML Brotherhood Carpenters Union offer helping hands. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

    Aside from the physical improvements, the park is working to reactivate itself as a recreational hub for the community.

    Cedrone notes that, just over the last couple of years, Marconi started to host two movie nights per year, annual tree lightings, summer concerts and even its first outside theatrical play Whispers Gone, performed by Theatre Exile on June 27.

    The Friends of Marconi partially attribute these ongoing revamps to the Sports Complex Special Services District, a local nonprofit corporation working to improve neighborhood quality of life for about 9,000 residents living in 4,100 households surrounding the professional sports stadiums.

    “We’re an integral part of the beautification and improvements that happen here at Marconi Park Plaza,” said George Hatton, the organization’s community director. “…We’re proud of South Philadelphia and we’re proud to be part of this group.”

    Hatton says the organization, which adopts and maintains green spaces around Marconi, will contribute to the installation of additional LED lights around the interior of the park.

    “Love Your Park” did not cease its celebration at the conclusion of Saturday’s activities, as Philadelphians can continue to “clean, green and celebrate” public spaces through the rest of this week. However, the event’s speakers encourage residents to cultivate their local parks all year long.

    “Cities don’t really thrive unless they have great parks, just like Marconi Plaza,” said former Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin, who is also on the board of directors for the Fairmount Park Conservancy. “The one thing that is special about Love Your Park week is it speaks to what makes parks special – parks bring people together and to make parks work…It’s everybody – volunteers, residents, friends groups coming together, and that’s what makes parks special. Special parks make cities great.”

    To find out more about this week’s events, visit loveyourpark.org. 

    gmaiorano@newspapermediagroup.com 

    Twitter: @gracemaiorano