We spend so much of our days surrounded by concrete, brick and numerous other feats of modern-day infrastructure that it’s easy to forget that this city is home to a whopping 120 public parks. I’m talking expansive stretches of green with real trees, grass, flower beds and park benches where you can plop down and forget, if only for a few moments, that you’re smack dab in the middle of a hustling, never-sleeping city.
So where are all these parks? We know about the big ones, like the 1800-acre Wissahickon Park and popular go-tos Washington Square Park and Rittenhouse, but have you ever been to the Olmstead-designed Marconi Plaza, with its stately statues and fun little neon playground? How about Campbell Square in Port Richmond? Hunting Park in Nicetown?
If your answer is no, that may change very soon. To boost park visibility, Parks and Recreation and Fairmount Park Conservancy teamed up on a project called Movies in the Park. The initiative brings 21 free, outdoor film screenings to community parks across Philadelphia—in both well-tread spots and several you’ve likely never stepped foot in.
Parks and Recreation has screened movies in public parks before—but this year they wanted to try something a little more official: They created a more concrete schedule that was released citywide. The aim is that it will reach more people, luring them to parks outside their community and encouraging fellowship across neighborhoods.
“We want people to travel to different parks, and experience different neighborhoods and people they wouldn’t have gotten to talk to,” says Commissioner of Parks and Recreation Kathryn Ott Lovell.
And what better way to do that than with the magic of cinema—an art form that has long bridged social and economic gaps in society.
“It’s something everybody relates to and everybody does,” Ott Lovell says. “When you go to a movie theater, you see every walk of life—every age, race and income level. [Movies in the Park] gives us an opportunity to bring those people together in a meaningful, lighthearted way, to give them a chance to interact with people they wouldn’t normally interact with.”
Ever since famed urban activist Jane Jacobs, we’ve known that such vibrancy is a good thing for cities. But it’s also a good thing for our parks. The increased foot traffic gives Friends of Parks groups the chance to grow their ranks—to engage with folks who may be interested in being stewards of their park, to generate email addresses for mailing lists and nab a few more likes for their Facebook pages. In turn, the next time they put out a call for volunteers, or promote a fundraising event it’ll reach more eyeballs.
“Active parks are happy parks, safe parks, clean parks,” Ott Levell says. “The more we can build awareness that parks are important—that they’re more than just a green space, that they can be community builders—the better off our whole system will be.”
The outdoor movie screenings kicked off this week, and will continue every Monday and Wednesday night through August 31. Every event is free, open to the public and family-friendly, so bring your kids. Film options include newer flicks, like Home, Zootopia, and Inside Out, and a couple modern classics that will inspire nostalgia in mom and dad. (Aladdin screens July 18 and August 8 at Pleasant Hill and Upper Roxborough Reservoir, respectively.)
Screenings start at sundown, and are preceded by music and activities that begin an hour before showtime. Refreshments are available for purchase, with all funds benefitting the Park Friends Network.
Your next chance to catch a film is tonight, June 27—a showing of The Peanuts Movie in Marconi Plaza. On Wednesday, June 29, you can see the latest Rocky spinoff, Creed, at Lemon Hill—fittingly within view of the Art Museum steps. See the full lineup here.
On top of the 21 films that are part of this project, Parks and Recreation is hosting around 30 other family-friendly outdoor film screenings in a handful of series taking place through early-fall. A summerlong series in Northeast Philly’s Burholme Park begins Friday, June 24 and continues through October 28. There’s also a weekly movie series happening along the Schuylkill Banks, a monthly one in Hawthorne Park, and a “Street Movies” project kicks off in August at Mifflin Square Park. Find details on all those and more here.Philadelphia Parks and Recreation