The former site of the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza Homes is now nearly an acre of green with a special nod to the slain civil rights leader – a public art installation in his honor.
“It’s a fitting tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King,” said Cindy Dunn, deputy secretary for conservation and resources with the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources who was on hand Monday for the ribbon cutting, officially opening the park. “He was a person who drew his inspiration from nature.”
The park replaces a 576-unit public housing complex that dated from 1960 and was once considered one of Philadelphia’s worst crime areas. King gave a speech at the community center in the old tower complex in 1965 and the complex was re-named in his honor in 1970. The tower was demolished in 1999 and plans were laid for the park – called Hawthorne Park after the surrounding neighborhood. Funding was announced in 2008 and ground was broken last year.
Now, the three-quarters of an acre site boasts 50 trees, 4,000 square feet of plant beds and a 19,000 square foot lawn.
At the center of it all is a stainless steel raised podium, created by sculptor Warren Holzman and called “Object of Expression,” to commemorate a speech King gave near the site in 1965.
According to Michael Johns, acting executive director of housing operations for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the lectern will serve as a “pulpit for the expression of progressive ideas.”
The park is surrounded by 245 housing units built in the housing authority’s new low-density style – red brick, single-family townhouses or apartments. Nineteen of them overlook the park.
Mayor Michael Nutter praised area residents and planners for bringing the park to the neighborhood.
“Every neighborhood should have green, open spaces,” he said, adding, “We are going to keep it clean,” explaining that by “we” he meant area residents in partnership with the city.
“Keep it clean. Keep it safe. Keep it beautiful,” said Nutter.
In addition to creating a markedly different look for the neighborhood, the park brings some cutting edge environmental features to the area.
In the southeast corner of the park, a brick plateau rises to overlook the lawn. It is constructed of 6,000 water permeable bricks that reduce storm-water runoff. Another feature of the park is a high efficiency irrigation system and drought tolerant plantings.