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Not just a walk in the park

MES in the Community, Hannah Kass

A Penn alumna wants to help Philadelphians enjoy their green spaces

When Lindsey Walker (MES ’13) started the Master of Environmental Studies program at Penn, she enrolled in as many field classes as she could. “I have always been passionate about the environment,” she recalls, “and I realized that I was really craving a better knowledge of the natural world.” Courses in geology and ecology taught Lindsey how to interpret natural environments, from understanding the basic geology of a watershed park to naming the native trees and plants that grow there.

Now Lindsey wants to help Philadelphians fulfill their need for peaceful, natural spaces: “You can have all sorts of outdoor experiences right here in the city,” she says. As Stewardship Coordinator at Fairmount Park Conservancy, Lindsey works with about 115 neighborhood-based volunteer groups, called the Park Friends Network, who help keep Philadelphia’s parks clean and green. To help residents learn about their local parks, the Conservancy plans guided hikes, bike tours and community events like Love Your Park Day—which a record-breaking 107 parks participated in last fall. “Love Your Park Day is special because each community decides on the event they want to have,” says Lindsey. “Some parks plant trees or flower bulbs, some pick up trash and litter. In the fall, it’s often raking and collecting leaves. The event is unique to each community.”

Lindsey Walker, MES ’13
Lindsey Walker, MES ’13

Lindsey and her colleagues have their sights set on revitalizing the 348-acre Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park at the southern end of the Broad Street Line—and as the plan develops, they’ve been talking to residents every step of the way. “There’s not a lot of green in South Philly,” Lindsey explains, “if you ask people what they want, they want access to nature and green space. They want to be able to go on a run around a lake or walk on a peaceful trail.” To ensure that the Conservancy received feedback from a pool of residents that represent the South Philadelphia demographics, Lindsey partnered with interpreters who could translate in-person surveys and community meetings into the many languages spoken in the neighborhood, and with local organizations such as Aquinas Center and the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition who were able to connect them with residents who currently use the park. “South Philly is very diverse,” says Lindsey, “and it’s really important that the park we plan is responsive to the needs of the people who live there now and who are going to be living there for the next 20 to 30 years. We have to do our best to reach out and engage.”

For Lindsey, taking care of the city’s parks means taking care of the city’s people. “The environment is at the core of what got me into this work, and I still really value that,” she says. “The Conservancy taught me that everything we do has to be grounded in service to the people that live in the community.”