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Philly Parks and Rec Commissioner Kathryn Ott Has a Plan for Us

Photo Credit: Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

Tiptop Playground at Hope and Allen streets in the Fishtown neighborhood could be considered an eyesore if the community around it even realized it was there. “To have that space reclaimed and made into something that is really relevant to the community today, that’s what we’re looking to do with Rebuild,” says Kathryn Ott Lovell.

The city’s Rebuild initiative will invest approximately $500 million in underserved parks, libraries and recreation centers. According to Rebuild, when the Fairmount Park Conservancy supplied $5 million in Hunting Park, crime in and around the park decreased by 89% over the next three years. The success of that initiative prompted Mayor Kenney to push for the Rebuild investment. Now, the future of spaces like Hunting Park could very bright.

Can you discuss the scope of the Rebuild initiative?
The focus of Rebuild will be in underserved communities. It’s really an opportunity for the city to create better equity among our parks and open spaces. We’ve done this really incredible job of investing in public spaces around Center City, but we haven’t seen the same investment in neighborhoods, especially neighborhoods in need.

During ThinkFest, you discussed how cutting edge the Fairmount Water Works was when it was built in the 1800s. What similarly innovative projects is the city working on today?
The Fairmount Water Works was created to protect the city’s water supply. We’re in a similar situation with our country now around combined stormwater overflow systems. When we have a big storm, our sewers fill up and the overflow goes into our water supply and creates a huge issue for the quality of our water and the resources we need to spend cleaning it. Over the last five to 10 years, the city has been a national leader in using green stormwater infrastructure to manage stormwater. You don’t see it, it’s hidden. But it’s in every project that we’re doing and cities all over the world are looking to Philadelphia to see how we get this done because we’re doing it on such a massive scale.

Ten years from now, how would you like to see people utilizing Philadelphia parks and public spaces?
I would love to see a city that has great public spaces in every single neighborhood. I’d like to see parks as real destinations, giving people the incentive to travel to different parts of the city and get to know their city through its parks and playgrounds. I think it’s really important that parks become more accessible for people of all ages and all abilities. Those are the kinds of conversations we’re having with Rebuild, that accessibility and equity are more than just economics. It’s also about the needs people have and how we can reach those needs.

How do you get a community engaged in a newly renovated park?
It’s the best time, actually. It’s hard to get people engaged when there isn’t that sort of carrot at the end of the stick. It’s much easier to say, “Ok, there is a future and an investment being made. And we want you to be our thought partners in what this space could look like.” What we see is when you get people engaged in that conversation, those folks will stay engaged in that space over the next 10, 15, 20 years. They become advocates.

Innovation starts by serving the community, and the people, who inspire you to chase your passion. That’s why UnitedHealthcare is proud to shine a spotlight on Philadelphia’s forward thinkers and their outside of the box ideas through the Inspiring Innovation series. To find out more about UnitedHealthcare, visit uhc.com/phillyinnovation.