Hancock Playground has been a robust recreational park in Philadelphia’s Olde Kensington neighborhood for nearly a century. A former manufacturing site, the 1.8-acre site features play equipment, a pool, sports fields, and basketball courts. It has become a hub for area residents and neighbors to gather, relax, and play, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, it needed a lot of work.
“The park was really outdated. The play area was falling apart, and there were giant holes in the rubber surfacing due to years of use,” says SBN member Sara Pevaroff Schuh, founding principal of SALT Design Studio, a landscape architecture practice based in Philadelphia. “It needed renovation.”
In early 2019, Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation office tapped SALT Design Studio to lead the project’s design. The site then became tracked for Rebuild, the City’s investment in improving neighborhood parks, recreation centers, and libraries made possible by the beverage tax.
With the resources that Rebuild offered, SALT created a three-part renovation strategy that included forging connections with old and new residents and younger and older populations of the Olde Kensington neighborhood, embracing the neighborhood’s evolution and its diversity, and celebrating the industrial legacy of the area.
“We want to make places with people, not just for them.”
Schuh’s team then engaged with various community groups and neighborhood residents to include in the playground’s update. Community members and residents often remarked that they wanted a “softer, greener’ space where everyone could feel comfortable and families could freely play. “The neighborhood is very multigenerational. So their feedback was paramount to the construction of the project,” says Schuh. “Whenever we do a project, we always engage the community as it’s part of our DNA. We want to make places with people, not just for them.”
Based on community members and residents’ feedback to “green” the playground, SALT enlisted fellow SBN member, Rodriguez Consulting, LLC, to help spearhead civil engineering. “We love working with Rodriguez Consulting, and we jump at the chance to work with them whenever there is an opportunity,” Schuh says of the collaboration. Both SALT Design Studio and Rodriguez Consulting came up with a technique to use green stormwater infrastructure, the practice to use natural systems (or engineered systems that mimic or use natural processes) to capture, clean, and infiltrate stormwater to beautify the space.
They chose rain gardens to wrap around the play area, a porous safety surface, and replaced pavements with ample lawn spaces with picnic tables that residents could bring food and relax. ” Since it was a former manufacturing site, the property is built up above the street. We capitalized on this soil depth to infiltrate stormwater throughout the park, nourishing the plants and trees. We thought it would be a great opportunity for residents to have a stake in keeping the park green by caring for the plants and soil, and a way for neighborhood kids to play around and learn about green stormwater infrastructure,” Schuh remarks.
Construction, led by Seravalli, began in 2020, though briefly stalled due to the pandemic, and resumed once stay at home orders lifted in the summer. For its design, SALT wanted to create a compelling moment that was also not overly complicated. The team found inspiration from a mural painted on a wall by the park’s entrance. It’s swirling hues of yellow inspired the team to think outside of the box when it came to play equipment. “We used two primary colors, yellow and blue, for bigger play pieces like the large dome climbing structure, so that residents could see the park from blocks away.”
In total, the park’s improvements include a welcoming entrance with canopy trees, a toddler play area, fitness zone, in addition to the shaded lawn with picnic tables and space for programming and recreational activities. “There’s also a double-wide slide that is perfect for social distanced play, which both parents and kids will love to slide down on,” says Schuh.
Hancock Playground opened to the public in November with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Area residents had the chance to check out the new playground, play with the new play equipment, and see up close the use of green stormwater in its landscape design.
In the spring, SALT plans to work with neighbors who have stepped up to take care of the play area’s maintenance. “That’s a huge benefit, not only to the upkeep of the park but to the community. Neighbors will have a hand in making sure they can keep their park green and clean while also serving the environment,” says Schuh.
Hancock Playground is open to the public and is located at 1401 N Hancock Street in the Olde Kensington section of Philadelphia.