by Mathias Stangl-Riehle
The Philadelphia Parks Alliance is a non-profit organization built around creating a citizens’ movement, which shapes public policies for Philadelphia parks and recreation centers—allowing for a more healthy, vibrant and sustainable city for all.
Now that we got that short spiel down, let me tell you about my time with the Parks Alliance.
Before my time here, the thought of interning consisted of getting pushed around, being tasked with pestering jobs—you know the “rookie go get me coffee” or “hey you go pick up our lunch” (and of course they don’t give you the right amount of money and you’re out a few bucks). As an intern at the Parks Alliance my experience has been the total opposite. Heck, George, our executive director, is the one making the coffee and will even pour you a cup.
At the Parks Alliance I’ve done everything from GIS work, to community outreach, to rallying with a few Philadelphia Eagles. My favorite part of interning with the Parks Alliance has been getting involved with various neighborhoods and communities throughout the city, which has been a new and exciting experience. Through our many events and community outreach, I’ve been able to directly connect with the people of the city, in a way I never have. I’ve been able to hear their wants and needs for their parks and rec centers, and visually see how badly these communities need improvements. It has been a fulfilling experience to see how my work here at the Parks Alliance has contributed to the huge step the city’s reinvestment into parks and rec centers, through the passing of the Soda Tax.
When I first started with the Philadelphia Parks Alliance, it seemed like we were at square one. When I came into the office on my first day it was just George and I, but it felt like at least ten people were there because the guy is full of energy. To know George is to know his excitement and passion for the Parks Alliance. From the first day on, he made it very clear that there was a lot of work to be done. He had recently become the executive director and was looking to make much more of an effort to get the non-profit out into the communities and be more impactful as a city-wide organization than it was in the past. He let me know that he was dedicated to working with the areas that were struggling the most and wanted to see the city be more invested in supporting these communities.
One of the biggest dilemmas we faced was accessing records and data that would help us accomplish our goals. Along with getting our foot in the door with community leaders. Yet, with countless phone calls and endless visits with rec center advisory councils and local program leaders, we were able to get the push we need through building these connections. We were able to make solid bonds with those looking to reach the same goals as us—looking to improve their neighborhoods, and looking for a healthier and happier city.
In the first few months at the Parks Alliance I was skeptical as to what we could accomplish. Sure we had gotten connections, mapped out a few key areas, gained an understanding of funds—or lack thereof—going toward parks and rec. Nevertheless, the same question kept popping in my head.
Yeah, we are here to help, but without some real city funding how are we going to provide these communities with the total reinvestment they need?
It felt like the shot we’d been waiting for when Mayor Kenney announced his budget to include a new sugary drink tax which would fund capital investments for Philadelphia’s parks and recreation centers. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this plan was the answer to my question, and would soon set our agenda here at the Parks Alliance for months to come.
From that point on there was much to be done and a ton to get organized. We had to make sure all communities were active and involved, which consisted of begging community members to spend numerous hours in city council meetings. In addition, we spent time educating people about the benefits of the new tax plan in a city that opposes the idea of any new taxation. Even more of a challenge, we had to face a multi-billion dollar industry that worked relentlessly to stop us. After months of hard work, events, outreach, success and a few failures, we were able to get the Soda Tax passed, allowing the city’s parks and rec centers to receive the funding they so desperately needed.
Although things have been a little calmer here at the Parks Alliance, now is not the time to lay off the pedal; now is the time to keep the ball rolling. Our agenda is to continue reaching out to communities and providing them all they are promised; to give everyone an equal share of the pot.
Ultimately, my time with the Philadelphia Parks Alliance has been full of enthusiasm and excitement. From the changes to the organization, to the connections I’ve made within the community, to the passing of the Soda Tax—I’ve been able to gain a lot from my time here.
Although my work here may be coming to an end soon, this is not the case for the organization and the city of Philadelphia—this is just the beginning.