Scattergood Foundation

Advancing Innovative Strategies for Change in Behavioral Health

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

Name of Innovative Program: 
Tacony Creek Trail
Sponsoring Organization
Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
Name of Innovative Program Lead: 
Rob Armstrong
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
Project Description: 
 The Tacony Creek Trail in Philadelphia will connect park users to presently underutilized and neglected open park space in an underserved community. By constructing and maintaining this trail, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) is committed to providing access to natural lands located within a densely populated area of Philadelphia and the opportunities for exercise and escape from the urban environment which this brings. We firmly believe this is an innovative catalyst, providing countless city residents with the tools for improved mental health as well, using public land and connections to nature to achieve this goal.  There is a great body of research which describes the necessity of contact with nature for healthy mental development. The trail will provide direct access to nature in an era when many people are suffering from what Richard Louv describes in his book, Last Child in the Woods, as “nature-deficit disorder.” 
Creativity and Innovation: 
 The Tacony Creek Trail went through a lengthy design process to connect all adjacent neighborhoods, as well as the East Coast Greenway, a national trail system, to Tacony Creek Park, therefore maximizing the amount of park users. This was achieved by designing gateway areas to the park which connect to the trail and allow neighboring residents to connect to the natural areas of the park that were previously used for illegal activities. Once inside the park’s boundaries, the design team took great care to design the trail to maximize the amount of interaction of the trail user with the heavily forested and beautiful natural watershed areas previously inaccessible to park users. The result is a complete transformation of Tacony Creek Park allowing for experiences with nature to a previously deprived community and promoting mental well-being through interaction with the natural environment.
 The Tacony Creek Trail as designed, constructed and maintained by PPR, promotes its mission as the city agency committed to improving health through connections to the natural environment. The trail is the catalyst for positive interactions between governmental, non-profit and civic agencies. PPR’s leadership supports the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) in its successful completion of their Tacony Creek Stream Restoration project, presently in the design process. In addition, this project allows for capacity building for other non-profit organizations such as the Tookany-Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership (TTF) and the adjacent Scattergood Foundation. It will allow for outreach to the community for events such as 5K runs, environmental programming and clean-up days, thus promoting leadership roles for local organizations with support from governmental agencies.  It also allows local civic groups to engage in developing their roles as community stewards, providing settings in a natural environment for activities and team-building exercises. 
 PPR, along with its fellow city agency, PWD, is committed to sustaining its working relationship with local organizations such the TTF Watershed Partnership and the Scattergood Foundation to continue community/neighborhood access and use of the Tacony Creek Trail. The trail is the catalyst for programming for generations to come, reversing the decades of neglect and illegitimate usage of what will be a natural jewel for the local community. The trail promotes positive relationships between government, non-profits and the neighborhoods. In so doing, all organizations have a vested interest in the continuation of programming surrounding the trail as well as promoting active use of the trail, thereby increasing the mental health of the local residents through connections to the natural environment.
 The area surrounding Tacony Creek Park is similar to several other large, urban areas which have suffered from a decreased tax base, depopulation, deindustrialization and the loss of a secure family unit in recent decades. The success of the Tacony Creek Trail will provide an example to other large American cities, such as Philadelphia, struggling with cost effective measures to increase positive experiences with nature for the local population and the attendant improvements to mental health this provides. The Tacony Creek Trail will be an example of how to effectively turn around neglected public areas through partnerships between city government and local non-profits, which provide outreach to local at-risk populations.
 PPR maintains a trail-counter program in other parks within its system that contain paved, multi-use trails. A metric for usage on the trail will be the introduction of trail-counter technology in Tacony Creek Park. In addition, the introduction of environmental programming for area residents and neighborhood schools, as well as 5K running events, will all be quantifiable since organizations such as PPR and non-profits such as TTF Watershed Partnership and Scattergood Foundation will track the number of events and participants. As people begin to reclaim Tacony Creek Park by utilizing the trail, a direct result will be a decrease in illegitimate and negative usage of the public space. The direct experience of trail users with nature, while hard to quantify, will also greatly promote mental health and reverse the trend of “nature-deficit disorder” so prevalent in heavily urbanized areas today.