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Catharine Park: The smallest green space in Philly

How the tiny park went from blighted to beautiful

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It may be the tiniest park in Philly, but Catharine Park in Graduate Hospital has undergone a huge makeover, with neighbors rallying to transform a blighted, crime-ridden corner into a beautiful public space.

Catharine Park takes up just 0.02 of the 10,200 acres of parks in Philadelphia, making it the smallest green space in the city, according to the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation department. It first opened in the 1970s under the Rizzo administration.

But over the years, as the neighborhood fell into hard times, so did Catharine Park. The small public space became a big problem for the city, turning into a hotbed for crime and drug deals. Eventually, it got so bad that the city put up a locked, chain link fenced around it, turning the once-public space into a forbidden, underutilized corner.

That’s where the story of Catharine Park’s story really begins. In 2007, neighbors rallied to prevent the city from selling the lot to a developer. By building a new structure on the lot, it would diminish the already dismal amount of green space in the neighborhood, residents argued. A few years later, they began their plan to re-utilize the park and turn it into a welcoming, public pocket park once more.

The plan called for demolishing the concrete sidewalk and existing slabs inside the park, replacing them with reclaimed brick and permeable pavers. More greenery, including a small side garden, was also added, as well as playground equipment and more lighting. With the help of neighbors, designers, and business owners, Catharine Park re-opened in 2013.

Today, the tiniest park in Philadelphia has become a gathering hub for neighbors, hosting free public events during all seasons. It’s a worthwhile lesson in how one small change can have a significant impact.