Prioritizing the well-being of Philadelphia’s youth: Investing in youth sports infrastructure

op-ed

By Beth Devine

As leaders of the Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative, we are deeply invested in the well-being and development of our city’s young people. With a membership of over 85 nonprofit organizations dedicated to using sports as a tool for connection and growth, we commend Mayor Parker for acknowledging a fundamental truth: that sport and play are not just recreational activities, but fundamental rights that must be adequately supported for our children.

Over the past eight years, PYSC has been at the forefront of supporting the youth sports community while studying the state of youth sports in our city. Through our efforts, we have seen firsthand the incredible work of hundreds of providers who tirelessly deliver sports programs to over 100,000 children. However, as we engage with these providers, we consistently hear about their challenges, namely, the lack of space and resources.

Our recent Citywide Assessment of Play Spaces and Programs, conducted in partnership with Parks and Recreation and Temple University, has shed light on the urgent need for increased maintenance of our city’s play spaces. Preliminary data from the assessment revealed alarming findings, including safety and appearance concerns at 20% of locations, with 24% of assets deemed unusable due to issues such as poor lighting, graffiti and litter. Furthermore, a staggering 33% of assets lacked adequate lighting, while surface conditions fell below acceptable standards.

While initiatives like Rebuild and the FDR Park project offer promising prospects for upgraded play spaces, the reality remains that many of our existing facilities are in dire need of maintenance and upkeep. Every child deserves to play in safe and inviting environments, and there is no excuse for anything less.

We commend the proposed budget increase of $150 million over five years for Parks and Recreation spaces. However, we urge City Council to not only support this budget increase but also consider the importance of long-term maintenance. Sustainable investment is essential to prevent the need for rebuilding in the future. A service as critical as our expansive Parks and Recreation system must no longer be expected to do more with less. This increase is a first step in alleviating years of under-investment in our system.

Moreover, we recognize the vital role of community-based organizations in bringing play spaces to life. Yet, many of these organizations lack access to traditional philanthropic funding streams. That’s why PYSC is proud to announce the launch of the Philly Youth Sports Fund, which will provide $50,000 in grants to deserving organizations serving thousands of children. This initiative, championed by Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, exemplifies the kind of direct support that is needed to ensure the continued success of youth sports programs in our city.

We all know that investing in youth sports is an investment in the future of Philadelphia. By prioritizing the maintenance of play spaces and supporting community-based organizations, we can create a city where every child has the opportunity to thrive through the power of sports. Let’s come together to build a brighter, more inclusive future for our youth. ••

Beth Devine is executive director of the Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative.


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