Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Tale of Two Park Systems

Philadelphia Police have warned joggers in Fairmount Park not to travel alone. That because of two apparently unrelated rapes have occurred in the past two weeks. As Special Victims Unit Captain John Darby states in the Inquirer - "We encourage people to use the park areas, But we're asking folks to use a buddy system."

But don't expect the Philadelphia Police or Fairmount Park Rangers to provide a greater presence on the parks extensive trail network, they can't. Once upon a time Fairmount Park had its own enforcement arm the "Fairmount Park Guard" which numbered over 500 in the early 70's. The guard was subsequently disbanded and was replaced by 18 Park Rangers and it's own Police District the 92nd. Last year the 92nd was dismantled. Coverage is now provided by the 14th, 16th and 19th Districts. To confuse things further MLK and Kelly Drives are assigned to PPD's Highway Unit, but the adjacent paths fall within the other Police Districts. What a mess.

Fairmount Park Guard All Night Bike Patrol Circa 1916 - fairmountpark.org

Meanwhile - Montgomery County Parks, Sheriff's Department and the Norristown Police have all stepped up patrols to curtail simple assaults and harrassment that has occurred on the Schuylkill River Trail. The quiet on the list serves and lack of reported incidents on trailreporter.com suggest that this strategy has been a success. Neighborhood Bike Works is also raising money to establish a chapter in Norristown. Come next June we may have to deal with the problem again but I have no doubt that they will be prepared.

It's not really fair, especially with the City's budget crisis to compare Fairmount Park to Montgomery County Parks. 50 years of systemic disinvestment has taken its toll. In the last year and a half the Mayor, City Council and groups such as Friends of Philadelphia Parks have dramatically changed the way we manage the park system. The Park reform to-do list is very long but finding some way to reconstitute the 92nd District enriched with bike patrols would be a great start.