Philadelphia Park Designed for, not Against, People Experiencing Homelessness

In an effort to make public spaces more inclusive, a new pocket park in the Callowhill neighborhood will seek input from people experiencing homelessness on how to make the space more welcoming and functional.

2 minute read

March 22, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Anti homeless bench

"Hostile architecture" includes separated benches, spikes, and other features designed to deter people from occupying the space for extended periods of time. | Laurie Avocado / flickr

Unlike most public parks, which actively discourage people experiencing homelessness from using their facilities, a new Philadelphia pocket park will be designed, in part, by and for people experiencing homelessness. Alfred Lubrano reports on the project, funded through a $82,500 grant from the William Penn Foundation and managed by the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, the city's oldest and largest homeless shelter.

According to the National Recreation and Park Association, "nearly half of urban park and recreation agency directors in the United States view the homeless population as a 'nuisance that impedes other people’s enjoyment of park resources.'" In many cases, park authorities use "spikes, bumps, uncomfortably designed benches, and other pieces of so-called hostile architecture" to discourage long-term and overnight use. By contrast, the Philadelphia pocket park, located on a small stretch of North Pearl Street adjacent to Sunday Breakfast, seeks to provide a welcoming space for all community members. "The ideas for what the park will look like will come out of what residents and community members are interested in seeing," said Heidi Segall Levy, director of design services for the project. As of now, there is no plan for public bathrooms, "which foster safety concerns," but park plans call for hand-washing stations, storage space, and comfortable seating.

"We believe a successful public park is one that doesn’t exclude by design or stewardship anybody by race, ethnicity, housing status, or socioeconomic status,” said Judilee Reed, the William Penn Foundation’s program director of creative communities. Construction on the park is scheduled to start in 2022.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 in The Philadelphia Inquirer

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