Clark Park renovations, originally scheduled to begin in June, began Tuesday.
When the park reopens in November, it will continue its history of offering a diverse set of experiences for visitors who seek farmers’ markets, flea markets or simply quiet places to sit.
The renovation project was delayed because of problems with city contracts but is expected to be finished by Thanksgiving, according to Frank Chance, president of Friends of Clark Park.
Chance, also the associate director of Penn’s Center for East Asian Studies, said park visitors will benefit from both visible and structural changes to Park A, located at 43rd Street from Baltimore Avenue to Chester Avenue.
Among the changes that will be immediately apparent to park visitors are increased lighting, revamped green areas and improvements in the park’s paved paths.
Chance also highlighted modifications to the drainage system which, while not obvious to guests, will ultimately improve the park’s aesthetic appeal. According to Chance, the new drainage system will benefit the park’s trees by keeping more water in the park, rather than allowing the water to flow into the street.
Chance said Clark Park’s appeal has always been multi-faceted. Known for its monthly flea market and biweekly farmers’ market, the park is also a quiet respite for locals.
The farmers’ market is popular among many community members, including Penn students and faculty. Although there had been a possibility of the market being moved elsewhere in the park during construction, negotiations allowed for a special area to be created so that “the farmers’ market will stay where it is, right where it has been,” Chance said.
The Uhuru Flea Market, on the other hand, will take place in Park B — the west side of Clark Park — during September and October.
The flea market has been a source of contention in the past. Chance explained that while the weekly farmers’ market is mostly embraced by Clark Park’s neighbors, there has been resistance from some to the flea market.
Among some residents, there is “a perception that [customers] are people who would not otherwise be in the neighborhood and the park,” he said.
School of Design Professor Eugenie Birch, co-director of the Penn Institute for Urban Research, maintained that Clark Park and other parks are fundamentally public spaces.
“The great virtue of any park is that it allows people to mix from different backgrounds, and that’s the exciting thing about them,” Birch said.
However, Birch acknowledged that opening a park to a larger community can create a number of tensions between local and non-local visitors. She said crowds are a concern to residents because they create parking and traffic issues in the neighborhood, as well as “wear and tear” in the park.
Birch believes that there is “always a solution” to problems between local and non-local visitors.
She suggested that when issues arise, the key parties involved meet to discuss problems and possible solutions with a third-party arbiter, who “acts as a referee.”
Birch explained that this technique is used by park officials in New York City’s Central Park — one of the most famous parks in the nation — as well as on a smaller scale at Clark Park.
Chance said in the past, Uhuru’s political stances have caused backlash in the community.
While Alison Hoehne, chairwoman of Uhuru’s African People’s Solidarity Committee, described the community’s response to the flea market as “overwhelmingly good,” she said there have been a few members of the community who are resistant to its presence.
Chance cited an example of Uhuru organizers using anti-police rhetoric that was unpopular with some shoppers during the event.
In response, Friends of Clark Park met with the Uhuru organization to discuss the matter.
“The very good thing about [Uhuru] is that they are very responsive to the comments about what goes on,” Chance said, noting that there have not been any events with similar politically charged messages since. He went on to praise the organization for its treatment of the park and commitment to its upkeep.