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The local volunteer organization Friends of Clark Park is initiating a new “Master Plan” for Clark Park in West Philadelphia to install public bathrooms and make the playground more accessible. Credit: Kylie Cooper

A new master plan for Clark Park in West Philadelphia is in the works, with discussion of installing public bathrooms and making the playground accessible for children with disabilities.

Friends of Clark Park, a local volunteer organization, initiated the plan, and University City District, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, and other partners are supporting the planning process. The plan focuses on generating ideas for improvements to the park and the community's needs, according to Andrew Bowers, board president of Friends of Clark Park. 

Friends of Clark Park has been collecting community feedback through tabling, open events, and online surveys. Clark Park holds events every week, attracting community members with weekly farmers markets, Shakespeare in Clark Park performances, and Movies in Clark Park.

“The goal of this master plan is to make the park better for everyone using it on a daily basis, but also better for the large-scale events that come to the park,” Chris Richman, the director of marketing and communications at University City District, said.

When the master plan was announced, Bowers said that community members expressed concern because they thought the plan was going to negatively change the park.

“One of the biggest challenges is convincing people that anything needs to be done at all,” Bowers said.

Richman added that the master plan would address larger issues that park users do not see every day but need to be fixed to maintain the park, such as fixing the sidewalks.

College junior Noah Lewine — who lives around the corner from Clark Park and goes to the park every week — said that while he does not think the park is run down, he agreed it would benefit from some renovations.

Friends at Clark Park has been working on the master plan for 18 months and is now halfway through the community engagement phase. It hopes to release the finalized plan in April, according to Bowers. He added that the master plan is roughly estimated to be implemented by the end of 2024, although an end date is hard to set in stone since it is still in the planning phase.

Two community feedback events have taken place — one in the fall and one in December — and the third event has been postponed as Friends works with Parks & Rec through its internal design process.

“We stress [community engagement] because it gives us a chance to say, ‘Here's what the community wants.’ Then once we have that plan in place, it gives us the ability to just move forward and implement [the plan] since it’s what everyone wanted,” Bowers said.

Studio Bryan Hanes — a local design firm that has been hired for the project — has developed four schemes, each with different features. A second online survey — which is currently open to the public and has almost 400 responses — asks participants to evaluate individual components of each scheme, such as the updated playground and new walkways.

“We'll take the input that we got from everyone and develop a totally different scheme,” Bryan Hanes, founder of Studio Bryan Hanes and West Philadelphia resident, said.

One of the main improvements brought up is making the park more accessible to those with mobility issues, according to Nathan Hommel, director of planning and design at UCD. Richman added that the plan is considering the park's proximity to the HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy.

“We certainly want to make sure that the [updated] playground allows people with mobility issues to get to it,” Hommel said.

There have also been requests from the community to add a public bathroom to Clark Park, according to Hommel. UCD will be working with the Department of Health and Human Services to answer these requests.

“[Having a public restroom] is just an absolute human basic need," Bowers said. "It’s something that we really want to get done this time."

In an emailed statement to the DP,  Sarah Peterson, communications director at the office of the mayor, wrote that the Department of Health and Human Services said that the new public restrooms would be maintained and cleaned frequently.

In the comments section of an article published in West Philly Local, some users expressed concern about public bathrooms and additional seating attracting more unhoused people to the park. Lewine said that he hopes that the planners do not add any anti-unhoused architecture when considering the redesign.

UCD and Friends of Clark Park said there wouldn’t be any disruption to the park’s normal activities. Hanes, who also designed the landscaping in front of Perry World House, said it would depend on the plan’s specifics, such as potentially updating the current playground.

“Clark Park is the front yard for the community," Hanes said. "I don't know of another park in the country that has such a diverse population of users and activities."