Tucked away on a street corner in West Kensington, the once-crime-ridden Waterloo Playground has long been overlooked. But thanks to area residents and a local charity, that won’t be true for long.
Next week, the first phase of a project to revitalize the playground at Howard and West Cumberland streets will be revealed, bringing colorful new life to the public space.
“We want Waterloo to be that oasis where people can go (to relax),” said Claire Laver, executive director of Make the World Better (MTWB), the charity behind the park renovations.
The first phase will see new lighting, fresh asphalt, benches built by the community, and—a highlight of the new space—redone basketball courts with bright surface murals designed by Philly artist Carlos Lopez Rosa.
The project is the result of several months of work by MTWB, a group founded by former Eagles player Connor Barwin, which works to revitalize public spaces in the city. The group broke ground on the first phase of the Waterloo Playground in June.
Laver said the date for the second phase is still up in the air, but that it will eventually include play structures, a “green ribbon” of trees, and a path cutting through the playground. The group is still refining the phase two budget now, but they expect a significant chunk of the cost will come from the Kenney administration’s Rebuild initiative. Commotion, a live music event this Monday, hosted by City Fitness, will also raise funds for MTWB.
While MTWB has taken the reigns on the playground’s revival this summer, Laver said the process of bringing the space back to life started before they even got involved. The local community, led by activist Edwin Desamour, had been working for several years to clean up the playground, Laver said.
“They started to make small steps... They put a coat of paint on the recreation building and cleaned decrepit swings,” Laver said. “They started to establish some life there.”
It was the community activism that drew MTWB to the space in the first place, Laver added, calling it “powerful.”
“We witnessed that process and were inspired by it.”
With two projects already under their belt—the Ralph Brooks park in Point Breeze and the Smith Playground in South Philly—MTWB turned their focus toward helping Kensington residents bring back Waterloo Playground.
When the space is finished, it will be separated into two parts by the corridor that runs through the playground. One side will see active, play structures, like the handball wall, swimming pool and improved basketball courts. The other side will be a green space with trees and areas to picnic.
The key, Laver said, is to make a playground where both kids and adults will feel welcome.