‘We can have nice things’: Philly climate activists rally for investments in public spaces

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Climate activists rallied at City Hall Monday to demand solar panels on the roofs of Philly recreation centers, libraries open longer hours, and vacant lots transformed into community gardens.

Weeks before the Pennsylvania general election, they’re calling on Philadelphia’s next mayor and City Council to “fully fund” the city’s public spaces.

“We can have nice things,” Erica Brown, West Philly resident and chapter coordinator for the Sunrise Movement in Philly, shouted into a megaphone at Monday’s rally.

Activists set up a “pop-up rec center” beside City Hall, with a mini basketball hoop, a hopscotch game drawn on the sidewalk with chalk, and tiny potted plants.

Sunrise wants to see the more than 200 library and rec center buildings in Philly retrofitted by 2030, with basic repairs, rooftop solar, climate-friendly heat pumps to heat and cool the buildings, appliances that run on electricity rather than natural gas, insulation to make the buildings more energy efficient, and flood resiliency upgrades.

“We need to be rapidly transitioning to renewable energies, so that way we can have a livable planet and a livable future,” Brown said.

The group is also pushing for additional staff, so that all libraries can stay open six days a week and rec centers seven days a week — including evenings.

“When you have these libraries that … close at like 5 o’clock, it puts you in a situation in which not everyone is able to go and actually enjoy these things,” said Sultan Smalley, a college student, native Philadelphian, and organizer with Sunrise. “Kids who go to school until 3 o’clock, they’re not able to actually go and experience the library like they should be able to.”

All neighborhood libraries are open until 5 or 7 p.m. weeknights and closed on weekends, under a new standardized schedule rolled out this week.

Budget increases for libraries over the last two years have allowed the library system to start digging out of an understaffing crisis, hiring over 200 staff members since summer 2022. Roughly 50 vacancies remain. According to a statement on the Free Library of Philadelphia’s website, planning is “currently underway” to restore Saturday hours across the system.

Many rec centers are currently open until 9 or 9:30 p.m. on weeknights, but some are not open weekends.

The city has been investing in improvements to rec centers and libraries through its Rebuild program, funded primarily with projected revenue from Mayor Jim Kenney’s sugary beverage tax. The city estimated that over 90% of the more than 400 neighborhood parks, recreation centers, and libraries are “in need of investment.” So far more than 70 of these sites have been approved for Rebuild projects, ranging from fixing leaky roofs to entirely new master plans.

  • October 17, 2023
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