A low-cost, innovative web site redesign allows citizens to advocate for free and safe access to a new city park.
For 30 years, the City of Philadelphia had planned to improve the riverfront of the beautiful Schuylkill River, which runs through its city center. In 2003, the City finally did when it reclaimed a mile long strip of land along the river and turned it into a public park. However, the only means of accessing the park at street level was by crossing over railroad tracks and although two street-level crossings existed, they were not recognized as legal and had no warning devices to keep people off the tracks when trains approached. CSX Railroad, which owned the tracks, was seeking to close off the crossings so it could park its trains at will alongside the Park. For these reasons, Free Schuylkill River Park was formed in 2003 with the mission to gain free and safe street-level public access to this beautiful park for the citizens of Philadelphia.
Free Schuylkill River Park needed an innovative and low-cost way to inform neighborhood residents about its mission and gain supporters from around the city. It also needed a way to inform policymakers about the need to maintain safe street-level railroad crossings for park users and ask them to take action, all on the tight budget of a new nonprofit.
Tech Impact worked with Free Schuylkill River Park to develop and implement low-cost, innovative technologies that would help them achieve their mission. First, Tech Impact partnered with a web designer to upgrade the current web site in order to provide a more professional communication vehicle that allowed for real-time message posting, information on the progress of the organization’s efforts, and simple ways for the community to lend support to the campaign. “The web site needed to be expanded to be more stylish, rather than strictly utilitarian, and to include a message board. Tech Impact directed our organization to a web design firm which was able to accomplish both objectives,” says Russell Meddin, Co-Coordinator of Free Schuylkill River Park.
Tech Impact then installed wireless internet cameras that broadcast live video of the park’s railroad crossings over the internet. These web cams provide 24-hour video of the park and give real-time information about whether trains are blocking access to the park. A complaint form was linked to the video web page allowing park users to alert CSX about trains blocking access for long periods of time.
The updated web site and the wireless cameras let Free Schuylkill River Park provide dynamic and valuable information to their supporters instantaneously. These technologies were virtually free to run, once set up, and provided Free Schuylkill River Park with the impact they needed, and the ability to grow their number of supporters and further their mission. “Tech Impact has been invaluable to our organization. They have made it possible for us to build our constituency and better serve it with technology,” says Russell.
Free Schuylkill River Park’s efforts paid off. Elected officials, ranging from a U.S. Senator to the Philadelphia City Council, along with numerous city alliances all united with Free Schuylkill River Park in their mission. Through the web site and other web tools, over 1,700 letters and 3,300 faxes were sent to CSX and elected officials advocating for safe access to the River and Park. Despite CSX’s efforts to force the closing of the existing street-level access, they remain open. Although the issue is still in litigation, Free Schuylkill River Park could have not been successful without web campaign tools and the assistance of Tech Impact.