Residents form friends group, work toward improving playground space next to the El
By Melissa Komar
Sometimes, a different lens is all that’s needed to see a space in a new light.
At least that’s what has happened in the case of Tip Top Playground.
Fishtown native and photographer Roman Blazic, 66, was taking pictures of Immaculate Conception, 1020 N. Front St., for a historic designation application.
Tip Top is located across from the closed church, and although Blazic spent hours as a youth playing sports on its concrete courts, it caught his eye.
“I started taking pictures of the playground,” he said. “And, there’s certainly potential with all the development going on. And, it inspired me to shape the picture essay in that direction to bring some attention to it.”
Blazic posted his thoughts about the condition of the playground on his blog, Roman Blazic Words and Pictures, and residents responded.
Rob Serrano, who grew up in Fishtown, frequently takes his children, ages 4,5,7, and 10, to Tip Top to play, but has encountered homeless people hanging out in the playground.
“I just think it needs sprucing up, and I saw Roman’s post on his blog and reached out,” he said. “I just want to help unite the people who are interested in fixing up this space and reprogramming it into an amenity for the community. It needs a little TLC. It could be so much more.”
Being sensitive to the neighbors directly across from the playground and groups that have used the playground for years, such as Duffy String Band, is a top concern for the group as it works toward improvements, according to Serrano.
After examining the playground with Blazic, Serrano suggested starting a friends group.
Blazic previously spent six years with the Friends of Penn Treaty Park group and jumped at the idea.
The first action was creating a “Friends of Tip Top” Facebook page and everything “snowballed from there,” according to Blazic.
Since July, the group has met several times, Blazic posts a summary of the meetings on the Facebook page and a cleanup was organized in December.
Husband and wife Rob and Chris Powell have also been regularly involved with the group since its been up and running.
The Powells have lived across the street from Tip Top since 1989 and have always had a hand in the playground space.
“Over the years, we have taken care of cleaning the playground, putting out the trash and any other undesirables. We would weed whack and spray the weeds,” Chris Powell said. “In recent years, we have been calling state Rep. Mike O’Brien’s office and they would call Parks and Rec to have the weeds taken care of.”
When the Powells saw Blazic’s blog post, they reached out immediately.
“We feel as though Tip Top is the forgotten playground,” Powell said. “It is in need of a major upgrade. The last time we received any equipment for the kids was 20 years ago. There are a lot of families in the area now and they come to Tip Top for their kids to play on the slides and ride their bikes and scooters. I have seen playgrounds redone in the Port Richmond, so I don’t understand why Parks and Rec can’t put some funds into this city play area.”
Blazic hopes the official formation of the friends group will lead to obtaining nonprofit status, make securing funds easier, but being an effective friends group comes first.
“Being a registered friends group is one thing,” Blazic said. “It’s not an absolute must to be nonprofit status, however, nonprofit status definitely has its benefits. It’s very beneficial when you’re looking for donations or any other type of funding like grants.”
Immediate improvements the group would like to address include replacing or securing the fence and gates and getting new play equipment, but Blazic stressed any construction or improvements should be “sensitive to the people who live directly across the street.”
The group was officially added to Philly Parks and Rec’s 2018 Park Friends Network at the end of February.
Located under the El on Front Street, in Northern Liberties, with Fishtown literally on the opposite side of the street, the group gave a presentation at a Northern Liberties Neighbors Association February meeting to garner interest and has met with the rec leaders at Northern Liberties and Fishtown rec centers for advice.
Friends of Tip Top will participate in the annual, citywide cleanup this Saturday, marking the group’s first official public event.
“The most important issue is to raise awareness and organize that awareness into making the playground a more friendly, clean and children-ready,” Blazic said. “It’s about bringing the community together for a common cause and for the betterment of that community.”
Friends of Tip Top Playground will host “A Tip Top Cleaning” on Saturday, April 14, at 10 a.m. at the playground, Front and Allen streets. Volunteers will sweep inside the playground and the surrounding sidewalks. The city will provide limited brooms and gloves will be provide. Bring supplies. For updates on Friends of Tip Top, follow the group on Facebook or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the mailing list. The next meeting will be held on Monday, April 9, at 7 p.m. at 1010 Hancock St.
Enter the building through Schmidt’s Commons (not Hancock Street) by using the steps next to the stage. Stop at the reception desk in the lobby for meeting room location.