Manton St. Park’s Poor Prognosis

For decades, an area of land just off the northwest corner of 4th & Manton Streets sat vacant – overgrown with weeds, littered with trash, and a hotspot for other illegal and unwanted activities in this quaint area of Pennsport.

A couple years back

Finally, this past summer, a group of neighbors banded together to beautify this “pocket park” and plant a neighborhood garden, only to eventually learn that all their hard work was probably for nothing.

A few weeks ago. Much improved

According to the City of Philadelphia, Manton Street Park is not a park at all. For the better part of the last decade, it was owned by a CDC that ostensibly intended to build homes on the lots. When the CDC went under about a year ago, the land reverted back to the city, and was, in short order, placed on a list of vacant, blighted city owned properties to be auctioned off. Considering what it looked like at the time, this isn’t surprising.

According to the South Philly Review, the leaders of Friends of Manton Street Park & Community Garden approached the Parks & Recreation Department and Councilman DiCiccio’s office this past Spring, prior to their revitalization efforts. Parks & Rec said the lots were a part of their inventory, the Councilman’s office gave approval, and work began. None of the reports covering this story have mentioned whether the community ever reached out to the Office of Housing and Community Development, the city department listed as the property owner in public record. We wonder whether someone in that office could have spared everyone from the regrettable chain of events to come or whether someone was contacted in that office, but provided bad information as well.

All summer and fall, neighbors labored over the clean-up efforts without realizing that the land was packaged with the adjacent lot and auctioned off in October. The Friends were working on the park until November, when some neighbors spotted some land surveyors at the park.

Planters next to the park

An investigation followed, and the Friends learned that an agreement of sale had been signed before the Friends had knowledge of what was going on, much less the power to stop it. City officials insist that signs about the auction were posted beforehand; neighbors say no signs were ever seen. Once the agreement of sale goes through, construction on three new row homes should begin in short order, per a zoning application from architects KJO Design & Planning.

Some posters on Philadelphia Speaks forum argue that Manton Street Park may not be a necessity, as it sits a stone’s throw from other bigger parks, like Jefferson Square Park and Sacks Playground. Others say that these pocket parks are needed in any neighborhood, as it provides a safe gathering place for families, friends, and children to play, especially in these up-and-coming neighborhoods.

Armed with letters and a petition, the Friends are hopeful that their recent meeting with Councilman Frank DiCiccio will be able to stop the sale and return the park back to the community.

We just don’t see it happening, unfortunately. An agreement of sale is a legal document and the city can’t simply renounce it without consequence. If the city were to back out of the agreement, the spurned potential owners would likely have a strong legal argument to purchase the lots, in the end. But not before a protracted and expensive legal battle.

What an unfortunate situation for a community that so impressively came together this summer. There are a number of what-if and could-haves in this story, but no real bad guy to point the finger at. Though the park might not survive, we imagine that the bonds formed by neighbors will continue to grow and develop moving forward. Hey, there’s got to some silver lining to this story, right?