“We have to meet this moment,” said At-large City Councilmember Helen Gym about the 2023 budget and its impact on Philadelphians (Philadelphia Tribune photo).
By Brian Saunders
PHILADELPHIA — As At-large Councilmember Helen Gym looks at her legislative agenda and Philadelphia’s budget priorities for 2023, the city’s livability is top of mind.
“We have choices to make,” she said. “You know, there’s no question that at a time when our city and you know I define our city, by the residents, by our youth, and by our families when they are meeting crises that have been unimaginable. We have to meet this moment.”
She said it starts with the city’s gun violence crisis. Since 2020, there have been well over 1,000 homicides in Philadelphia — an overwhelming majority by gunfire. Gym said that it is not as widespread as it appears to be, and the focus should be on the 57 blocks and 10 ZIP codes that have been reported as having at least 10 people shot.
“We have to be targeted in our strategies around public safety, which is not equivalent to policing,” Gym said. “Policing is one part of public safety. It is an important part of public safety but is not the only thing to do with public safety.”
Gym said a city should deliver clean streets, a functioning transit system, a quality school system, and help families in need through times of crises.
She said, however, that with limited resources, it cannot be done.
For instance, Gym said she would like Free Library of Philadelphia branches to be open on weekends. The
Gym said that she was told the library’s operational budget does not suffice to open up for five days currently. However, in 2019 a promise was made to City Council that the libraries would be open six days a week.
The library’s budget would have a $10 million budget increase from 2019 in the 2023 budget proposal. However, according to Gym, that budget will only help libraries move to five working days.
“The problem with that budget, though, is that if I see an increase in the budget, it’s getting me to five days a week libraries, and that’s not even definite,” Gym said. “And no libraries open on weekends.”
Gym said she would also like to see every Philadelphia school offer arts and music programs.
“Our city deserves livability, and that livability should be defined by the residents, the families, the young people, the seniors who have lived in this city year after year and deserve a chance to have a livable city,” Gym said. “A quality public school, a decent public transit system, public safety defined by multiple things, a green city filled with parks, recreation, and opportunities. Those have always been the building blocks of what I thought Philadelphia ought to be.”
Gym said that it is time to recognize the departments that need investment the most during this budget season.
“So on the Parks and Rec side, the budget has not dramatically increased,” Gym said. “And as a result, the programming has not been concentrated in the neighborhoods that we think it ought to be concentrated on.”
She said city officials need to assure parents that their children are in a safe space when they go to recreation centers. The city’s Parks and Recreation budget is roughly $68 million, on par with the 2019 budget. However, several recreation centers are not open or only have one staff person at a time, mainly in areas where there is a higher threat of violence.
Gym said that the City Council’s focus is on investment in public safety.
“Restoring and bringing back neighborhoods that have been long under siege if we fail to do that, I think that is more dangerous,” she said.
Gym said she needs a coordinated gun violence plan.
“The problem with that plan is I don’t believe libraries will solve it,” Gym said. “I don’t believe police officers are going to solve it. I don’t believe that incremental things in schools will solve it. Give me a safe corridors program for kids before and after school, on weekends, evenings recreational opportunities, and diversion to get as many kids off the streets as we can.”
Brian Saunders is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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