Philadelphia Vacant Land and Community Gardens 101

By Alicia Dorsey

This is a cross-post from Red Hen Exploring. The original article can be found here

Philadelphia is addressing blight and crime by revitalizing stressed communities with community gardens and green space. I have been learning the process of acquiring vacant land and hope to assist in building community with the knowledge I have acquired from The Public Interest Law Center, PHS, Soil Generation and other gardening groups. Pictured is a community garden in Strawberry Mansion on my families block, if you look in the background you can see vacant lots, one in which my family has been squatting on for about 15 years and another growing grass as high as our crops.

Those vacant lots have become a topic of conversation for us residing on Natrona St. I shared the information about acquiring the land with neighbors and they are very interested in learning more about ownership and growing their own food for there is a waiting list to get a bed in the community garden with East Park Revitalization. Learning about the waiting list was music to my ears for building community via community gardens can be a long process, the demand of the waiting list gives me an edge in establishing community gardens.

I'm in the process of researching the vacant lots and preparing a presentation to share with the community about what I have learned about the lots and what our options are. After sharing this info I hope to get the community invested in the planning process of what we would like to do with the vacant lots. Do we want to start a community garden or market farm? do we just want green space? what type of zoning are we in and will need for our green space/community garden? What do each of us bring to the community building project? Thankfully we have the Public Interest Law Center who works pro bono to assist communities and homeowners with legally acquiring vacant land if we have any complications.

There are so many great resources in Philadelphia that look to assist community gardens and a land bank will be operating soon as the go to place for acquiring vacant land for community use. One of the benefits of the land bank is that community can become owners of property in their community and may not have to pay back taxes and penalties some of the lots may have.