Tag Archives: vacant lots

Lots of Possibility: Grassroots vacant lot project with Mural Arts Program underway in Germantown

Doley-Lot-Collage

One of the biggest issues facing W Rockland Street has been managing the block’s new public spaces. In 2014, Aine and I submitted a proposal to the City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program aimed at improving conditions within the vacant lot on the corner of W Rockland Street and Greene Street. We are excited to announce it was approved! The project is now underway and will be completed during the summer months of 2015.

Lot at the corner of W Rockland Street & Greene Street

Lot at the corner of W Rockland Street & Greene Street

The proposed project aims to activate and beautify the vacant lot. The highly visible location makes it possible to further the connection between neighboring blocks around W Rockland and bolster what we’re building here. Improvements will include light landscaping and features that help to break-up the space, making it easier to maintain and inviting use; the installation of a community message board; new plantings and flowers; and a mural on the facade of the last house of W Rockland Street. The mural, visible from Greene Street, will face the open space. The project may also include other interventions developed during the community engagement process.

We hope to make our grassroots neighborhood revitalization efforts more sustainable by turning this vacant space into a safe place for residents.

The project is designed to be temporary but durable and accomadate long-term temporary use, in this period between blight and possible redevelopment.

It will also be accessible and costs will be kept low, so that the ideas put in place here can be easily replicated by anyone elsewhere – from your average D-I-Y citizen to grassroots community groups like ours.

Zoom around this Google Map of the space and get a lay of the land. 4819 Greene is owned by the City of Philadelphia; 4817 Greene is privately owned by the tax delinquent and missing-in-action Church of God by Faith; and 4815 Greene is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Special shoutout to the lady crossing the street in the satellite image!

THE WALL

Michelle Oosterbaan, a contemporary artist working with the Mural Arts Program, will paint the mural. Oosterbaan is currently working on the color pallet and mural concept, after meeting with residents and talking about the ideas and things they would like the mural to evoke. Her abstract mural at Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology (PCAT) in West Oak Lane is what first caught our eye.

The mural will add beauty and brightness to Southwest Germantown and link the houses on W Rockland and Greene. The side-wall of the house where the mural will be painted was previously blocked by the abandoned properties that once stood on Greene Street, and now has a new audience.

Kevon flies a paper airplane in October 2013 in front of 74 W Rockland St, where the mural will be installed.

Kevon flies a paper airplane in October 2013 in front of 74 W Rockland St, where the mural will be installed.

Michelle Oosterbaan’s “Pulse” at Philadelphia Center for Art and Technology, a collaboration with the Mural Arts Program.

EMPOWERING D-I-Y CITIZENS

Many people think maintaining vacant land is really the city’s responsibility, and that might be true. But shouldn’t it be easier for residents who want to care for and reimagine these spaces? With this project, we think we can make it easier.

It seems kind of bonkers that the solution for community-managed vacant land tends to go from keeping lots litter free and the grass mowed, to community gardens and urban farms, with little in-between. A fence around a vacant lot is sometimes not enough. And let’s face it, community gardens are hard – we know this because we built one in another vacant lot at the top of our block. We want to uncover more creative in-between uses for vacant lots that can be done on the cheap. 

At the same time, there are many residents living in Philly neighborhoods, like ours, that lack resources and organizational capacity to take on this kind of project from scratch. We think they just need a how-to. 

Every part of this project will be documented and shared online here at rocklandstreet.com for anyone to adapt or copy what we’ve tried, without having to reinvent the wheel. We’ll post tips for getting neighborhood participation, detailed instructions for how to create anything we build for the lot, clever fundraising tactics, and more.

OFF THE WALL

Interestingly, this wide open space is a relatively new addition to our neighborhood fabric, thanks to the demolition of two abandoned rowhouses that towered over the community, some say for over 20 years.

It wasn’t until June 2011 that the footprints of the looming three-story houses (4815 Greene and 4817 Greene St) joined the adjacent overgrown lot (4819 Greene), already a popular illegal dump site.

The story of how that happened is not exactly typical.

Over Memorial Day Weekend in 2011, Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter paid a surprise visit to the block to see the Grow This Block! garden project – a day on which over 30 households on W Rockland St planted fruit, veggie, herb, and flower gardens in their front yards. The Mayor had read an article by Inga Saffron about the planting project in The Philadelphia Inquirer and showed up with the newspaper in-hand. It was then that he toured the block and saw the condition of the abandoned properties.

Wildness. Google Maps image of the space in 2008.

Wildness. Google Maps image of the space in 2008.

L&I had already declared the buildings imminently dangerous, after a re-inspection requested by the community. But within days of the Mayor’s visit, the demolition was scheduled.

“When neighbors are trying to make something happen, we, the city, have to meet them halfway,” Mayor Nutter told the Inquirer.

What happened next is perhaps more typical.

After the houses were demolished (yay!) the lot was left unprotected without a fence, and the ground remained a sandy pit with bits and pieces of rock and concrete from the houses (doh!). Soon cars and trucks began parking in the lot and illegal dumping returned. Navigating what to do next was challenging.

By 2013, it was clear we had to find an alternative use for the vacant lot and work to turn the space into something that neighbors could enjoy. We began with simple beautification projects. We also hosted community events in the lot, including yard sales and a kids Halloween party.

The bottom of the block began to look and feel differently. It began to look like a space people cared about.

The question now is how to make more people care about this vacant lot (and others around the city), which is a big part of what this project is all about.

LOTS OF POSSIBILITY

Taking action
2009 – 2011
In 2009, residents on W Rockland St began organizing cleanups of the lot and the abandoned properties, working to maintain the area and put an end to illegal dumping.  Philly Spring Cleanup, April 4, 2009.

In 2009, residents on W Rockland St began organizing cleanups of the abandoned properties, working to maintain the space and put an end to illegal dumping. Philly Spring Cleanup, April 4, 2009.

4819 Greene St after W Rockland St Project’s Philly Spring Cleanup 2009 project in which the lot was cleaned.

4819 Greene St after W Rockland St Project’s Philly Spring Cleanup 2009 project in which the lot was cleaned.

4819, 4817, 4815 Greene St after W Rockland St Project’s Philly Spring Cleanup 2009 project in which the lot was cleaned and graffiti was removed from the front of the houses.

4819, 4817, 4815 Greene St after W Rockland St Project’s Philly Spring Cleanup 2009 project in which the lot was cleaned and graffiti was removed from the front of the houses.

Demolition of 4817 and 4815 Greene St in June 2011, funded by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), managed by the Redevelopment Authority.

Demolition of 4817 and 4815 Greene St in June 2011, funded by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), managed by the Redevelopment Authority.

W Rockland St's very own sand lot. The condition  of the lot after the demolition of the houses in June 2011.

W Rockland St’s very own sand lot. The condition of the lot after the demolition of the houses in June 2011.

Germantown Beach. Kids play in the sand lot in September 2011.

Germantown Beach. Kids play in the sand lot in September 2011.

An evolving space
2012 – 2015

GET INVOLVED

If you’re interested in helping make this project happen and supporting The W Rockland Street Project, there are lots of opportunities to get involved.

Our first community meeting was held on Monday, June 22 at the steps of the DePaul Catholic School. Join us at the next one (date TBD) and contact us if you have immediate questions.

We will be working to increase communication and engagement with residents of the 4800 block of Greene St, who face the vacant lot, the flanking 100 blocks of Logan St and Wyneva St, the 4800 block of Germantown Ave, and other surrounding blocks.

Sign-up for our email list! Keep up with The W Rockland Street Project! We’ll send very occasional emails with stories from the block, along with updates about our vacant lot project with Mural Arts Program.


Full disclosure: Emaleigh Doley is currently working on the Mural Arts Program’s citywide public art exhibition Open Source (coming October 2015) as a programming consultant. The idea and development of this project however predates that engagement. 

Germantown Cleanup Meeting Monday, March 12 at 7 p.m. at St. Francis

Philly Spring Cleanup 2009, volunteers in the corner lot at W Rockland and Greene St. View more photos from the 2009 cleanup on Flickr.

W Rockland Street has participated in the annual Philly Spring Cleanup in 2009, 2010 and 2011. We’re super excited that April 14, 2012 will mark the block’s 4th year participating in the city-wide project. W Rockland Street Neighbors will be sponsoring a Germantown Cleanup Meeting for residents in SW Germantown on Monday, March 12 at 7 p.m. at St. Francis of Assisi Parish to talk about two important projects extending beyond W Rockland St.

Goals for the Meeting:

1. Talk with SW Germantown Neighbors and DePaul Catholic School about the future of the lot at the corner of Greene & Rockland St and creating a community garden.

Neighbors on W Rockland St have been working to maintain the area for the past several years and keep the space clean and clear of illegal dumping, which long plagued the vacant lot at the corner of W Rockland and Greene. W Rockland St residents aggressively advocated to have the blighted houses at 4817 and 4815 Greene St torn down, which loomed over the neighborhood for nearly 20 years (maybe more). In June 2011, the buildings were demolished, after Mayor Michael Nutter paid a surprise visit to W Rockland St to check out the Grow This Block! garden project. The demolition was funded by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), managed by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Philadelphia. For a look back, check out photos of the abandoned houses and learn about the demolition project:

2. Learn about and sign your block up for the annual PHILLY SPRING CLEANUP on Saturday, April 14.

Every block that signs up officially has the opportunity to receive donated supplies for your project including bags, shovels, rakes, brooms, gloves, new recycling bins, special bulk trash pickup and more.

We’re encouraging the blocks surrounding W Rockland St to participate alongside us in the Philly Spring Cleanup. Learn how to register your project at the meeting, or visit www.phillycleanup.com for more information.

We hope you can make it! Check out the flyer below. If you would like to print a copy or share the information, download a PDF of the flyer right here.

St. Francis of Assisi at 4821 Greene St
Enter on Greene St through Courtyard
(between Logan St & W Rockland St)

Questions? Email rocklandstreet@gmail.com or call (215) 805-8091.

Harvard panel on Philadelphia sparks thoughts on the dilapidated built environment

By Emaleigh | Last week, I ended a job, got a new one and went to Cambridge on the fly to attend The Philadelphia Story: Planning. Politics. Reality, a panel at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Everything aligns in a Philadelphia story, right? The event was organized by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s architecture critic Inga Saffron, who is on a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard, and fellow Loeb Anne-Marie Lubenau, who has worked to transform Pittsburgh – PA’s second largest city – through design of the built environment.

Speakers included Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter; Alan Greenberger, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development; Harris Steinberg, Director, PennPraxis; and Glen Abrams, Manager of Policy and Strategic Initiatives, Office of Watersheds. One might expect to find this group at City Hall, but here they all were in Massachusetts.

The Philadelphia Story - photo via Changing Skyline

The Philadelphia Story was a walk through the city’s planning past to today’s scene. The audience heard about Greenworks Philadelphia, stormwater infrastructure initiatives and the innovative “Green City, Clean Waters” control plan, the Master Plan for the Central Delaware and the unfortunate expansion of the Sugar House Casino, the challenges of I-95, limitations of the city’s former transactional political system, the need to institutionalize programs and create systems beyond the 4-year plan, and then some. Head over to Inga Saffron’s blog or check out Ashley Hahn’s story on PlanPhilly for detailed accounts of the panel. For more about how the event influenced my own thinking, stay right here.

Part I: Planning and the Dilapidated Built Environment

The path of the conversation at Harvard pushed me to consider planning that effects Philadelphia’s struggling neighborhoods. My perspective is weighted by my experience in Germantown these past few years and the concentrated neighborhood improvement and stabilization efforts that my sister and I are spearheading on W Rockland Street.

I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the dilapidated built environment. Philadelphia is lined with aging houses in declining conditions. Given the number of Philadelphians living in poverty and the high rate of joblessness, among other factors, home repairs won’t make the priorities list any time soon.

When I pass through parts of Southwest Germantown in particular, I picture the scene 10-20 years ahead, looking beyond abandoned properties and at the conditions of occupied houses. I see my own block.

There is a tremendous need for home repair and improvement assistance programs. It feels like a crisis to me, one that without strategic, widespread action will damn neighborhoods in limbo, threatening the growth of the city.

Who is planning for Philadelphia’s neighborhoods that are literally falling apart, where residents struggle to maintain century year-old houses (like those on W Rockland Street), where gap-toothed blocks of row homes are dotted with vacant lots?

At Harvard, Mayor Nutter remarked, “Changing systems is one thing, changing culture is another.” My connecting point here is that there is a need for a system that is scaled for Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, like Germantown, which is focused exactly on that – changing culture in struggling neighborhoods, not through social services, but through planning and design and urban interventions that in turn build community, engage residents and set a new tone.

Read more

The 4th Annual Philly Spring Cleanup is Saturday, April 2 & W Rockland Street is participating!

It’s that time of year again. The 4th Annual Philly Spring Cleanup is just around the corner! The city-wide cleanup will be heldon Saturday, April 2 beginning at 9 a.m. This is the 3rd year W Rockland Street is participating. Our first year was an huge success. Tons of neighbors came out to give the block a Spring cleaning and a group of students from Drexel University helped us to clean the vacant lots on the block, which were total dumping grounds at the time. Our second year, was even better! More neighbors got involved and student volunteers from St. John’s University, brought to us by organizers at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, came all the way from New York to pitch in.

2011 is here and we have bigger and better plans for transforming our vacant lots into permanent green space. Looking to get involved? Volunteer for our cleanup project! Register online here or email rocklandstreet@gmail.com.

W Rockland Street Cleanup and Lot Transformation Project

We have no funding, nor do we work with any partner organizations. Our group is comprised of a handful of block home-owners working to implement much needed change in our community.

Goals for the 2011 Spring Cleanup:

  • Clean up all 3 vacant lots (minor cleaning compared to previous years!)
  • Install garden beds in the largest vacant lot of the 3.
  • Install fences in order to help curb future illegal dumping issues – all 3 lots.
  • Cleanup and beautify our own homes and yards.
  • Cleanup the street and sidewalk areas along the entire block.
  • Work with our neighbors to cleanup in front of vacant houses (there are several).
  • Work with our neighbors to assist the elderly in cleaning up their properties.
  • Say no to litter and illegal dumping! Respect our neighbors. Make Rockland Street a beautiful, trash free and safe place to live for all residents!

Future Goals for W Rockland Street:

  • Following our initial cleanup, we hope to continue hosting regular cleanups.
  • We would like to have the entire sidewalk and curbs redone on both sides of the street.
  • We would like to have trees planted on the block in vacant lots and along the sidewalk. (Is it possible to get trees from the city?)
  • We want to make Rockland Street clean and beautiful and keep it that way.

Today, W Rockland Street took the UnLitter Us Pledge

Today, W Rockland Street took the UnLitter Us Pledge and completed the online application to become an official Litter Free Zone! I have been really excited about this program since I read the first press release about the launch. To me, UnLitter Us is a great campaign because it is about long-term solutions to litter. It really starts (and ends) with transforming people’s thought process and how they actually think about and address litter. It’s about changing a person’s mindset.

With W Rockland Street, it is a constant struggle but we have seen a decline in litter overall through our efforts. We are looking forward to seeing how the Litter Free Zone can help us continue to move forward.

Here’s my favorite UnLitter Us TV-spot: The City Has A Heartbeat

Find out more about the program on the Streets Department website!

Success @ Philly Spring Cleanup

Kids at the Philly Spring Cleanup

Kids at the Philly Spring Cleanup

On Saturday, April 10th, W Rockland Street joined Mayor Michael Nutter and thousands of volunteers in neighborhoods across Philadelphia for the 3rd Annual Philly Spring Cleanup. This year was a big success. We had much more participation from block residents than last year which felt pretty awesome. Kids and adults of all ages including longtime residents and homeowners to new neighbors and renters worked alongside each other throughout the day with many neighbors helping one another out. I have to say that I was honestly very surprised by the turnout. It really was an amazing day.

Block residents cleaned alleyways and vacant lots, beautified homes and gardens, and removed trash from the sidewalks and streets. Neighbors also used the cleanup as an opportunity for home improvement projects. Basements were cleared out, an old deck was torn down and more. The trash piles were HUGE!

A growing trash collection site

A growing trash collection site during the cleanup

We were also once again joined by volunteers who came all the way from New York City to help out! Last year, a big group of fraternity brothers from Drexel University helped us clean the worst vacant lot on our block (remember this, ugh). This year, block residents worked alongside our wonderful student volunteers from St. John’s University, brought to us by organizers at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. The church is also home to W Rockland Street – located at the bottom of W Rockland Street between Logan and Green Streets. When we saw the students in their matching t-shirts come marching through the school yard with one of the priests from the church we were beyond excited. We could not have accomplished our project to such a degree without the volunteers!

Thanks also to the Philadelphia Department of Streets and sanitation crew for the special trash pick-up and to the Philly Spring Cleanup for once again providing much needed supplies. We were able to give residents recycling bins, brooms (best corn brooms ever by the way), trash bags and work gloves. We also had rakes and shovels for the bigger projects.

Next up for W Rockland Street is the first block meeting of 2010 on April 17. Looking forward to it.

View more photos from the cleanup on Flickr.

Let’s Keep Up the Sweep Up!

The St. John's University volunteers with kids and block residents

St. John's University volunteers with kids and block residents