Word on the Street - September 2013


Thanks for visiting Grounded in Philly! We send the Word on the Street out regularly to let you know about groups who are building community through our site, about steps you can take to support community gardens, farms and open space, and about resources that can help you with your community building work. Stay tuned! Click here to receive Word on the Street directly in your inbox.

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I have loved this garden...

Thanks to @MowniaMowtruse we saw this tweet earlier this week: "Found "I have loved this garden..." 19th & Lombard @ammph #PHL @PHS_Gardening"

The sign in the picture reads, "I have loved this garden every day over the last four years. Please help yourself to organic green beans, wild flowers, herbs, pots and soil before a builder destroys the complex on the 30th."

Healthy Foods Green Spaces is working to preserve threatened gardens like this one. There are many gardeners and landscapers who are at risk of losing the land and food they steward.

We hope you'll think about joining us as we work to build a collective voice for gardens and farms around the city, so that the voice of spaces like this one can be heard.

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Breathing Life Into Dead Space

By Aissia Richardson

Reprinted with permission from the author; originally posted on the EPA's Environmental Justice in Action blog. Aissia Richardson and the African American United Fund are members of the Healthy Foods Green Spaces coalition.

For over 31 years, the mission of African American United Fund (AAUF) has been to actively engage Pennsylvania’s African American community to collectively address social, environmental and economic injustices by pooling resources to enhance the quality of life of those most affected by these problems. I created the AAUF African Marketplace Health and Wellness program in 2007 to highlight health disparities in the African American community after my father suffered a stroke and subsequently was diagnosed with heart disease.

After my father had his stroke, he was afraid to leave home. He stopped working, stopped teaching, and stopped exercising. All activities he had previously enjoyed. As a work therapy project, I asked him to help coordinate this new program to educate our family and our community about preventable disease and to connect African American men to traditional health care providers. Sadly, my father lost his battle with heart disease in 2008 and died the day before our first healthy food cooking demonstration took place. As a tribute to him, I vowed to provide access to health care for the poor and in minority communities, to present information about how to maintain health and recognize warning signs of preventable diseases and to work with young men by talking with them early about maintaining their health.

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Amendments to Conservatorship Law Will Create Opportunities for Gardeners

The “Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act” currently gives community members and nonprofit organizations the ability to return blighted properties back into productive use. The Urban Tree Connection successfully used this conservatorship process to transform a blighted unused plot of land into a vibrant community garden. A proposed bill, HB 1363, will expand this Act so that, in addition to properties with buildings or structures on them, conservatorship can be used for vacant properties. This is great news for individuals and groups looking to put some of Philly’s 30,000+ vacant lots to use. ...

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Legal and Policy Resources for Gardeners

Legal and policy issues are often less visible than other challenges or opportunities that arise within a garden. Dig, Eat and Be Happy: a Guide to Growing Food on Public Property by ChangeLab Solutions provides a framework for some of these issues to make the process feel more accessible and, hopefully, more enjoyable.

Section 2 breaks down common types of agreements, including important distinctions between leases, licenses, permits, joint use agreements, and informal agreements. In Section 3, the authors explain issues of liability, utilities, maintenance, growing practices, contamination, access, security, and improvements in relation to the common agreements. Section 4 provides information relating to food production on school district property. With continued school budget cuts harming aspects of our schools, a healthy food-producing system on school campuses could create powerful benefits for students and communities! To conclude, the guide lists resources for multiple categories such as fundraising and joint use agreements.

ChangeLab is a think tank that focuses on law and policy innovations for the common good. Here, they presents a range of advice beginning with how public agencies can be an ally for your project. Click HERE to access the guide.

Other online legal resources for gardeners can be found here:, a wiki site maintained by the Sustainable Economies Law Clinic (Garden Justice Legal Initiative maintains the land access section).

The Urban Agriculture Law Project, A legal blog maintained by Becky Lundberg Witt.

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This Is How It’s Supposed To Work

This glowing review of Grounded in Philly reposted with permission.

This Is How It’s Supposed To Work by Mark Headd, Chief Data Officer, City of Philadelphia

Openness in government strengthens our democracy, promotes the delivery of efficient and effective services to the public, and contributes to economic growth.

Federal Executive Order on Open Data, Section 1.

People in the open government community talk a lot about the potential and promise of open data. The things that it might enable. The problems it might help fix. The possibilities.

Each new instance where we see open data get used to address a problem facing a city or a community is a testament to its true power, and a validation of the work governments do to open it up and make it usable. When we see open data get put to use in the way that we envision it, it can be a very gratifying thing.

A new website in Philadelphia focused on the challenge of unused vacant land demonstrates how open data is supposed to work. It’s built using a variety ofdata sources made available by the City of Philadelphia, and it allows people to discover vacant land in their neighborhoods.

This isn’t the first web site to aggregate data on vacant land in Philadelphia, which underscores how pressing an issue it is for our city. One of the things I like most about the site is how it frames information about vacant land with an eye toward reuse. The site tells you the planing and zoning district a property is in, as well as the City Council district.

It tells you if there is a structure on the property by checking it against the city’s Stormwater Billing system, and if a user thinks it might be suitable to convert into a community garden there are resources available to assist.

Want to watch a specific property, or organize neighbors around it? Want to improve the data by uploading a photo, or indicating whether something is reported incorrectly? Want to purchase a property through a Sheriff Sale or through an arrangement with a private owner? The site has information and resources to assist with all of these.

The site even hints at where the City of Philadelphia should go next with it’s open data efforts. One of the data sources used by the site is an independently built API for property information. The data powering this API is actually scraped from the City’s website because it is not currently available as a data download or through a city-owned API. This is something we are currently working to change, but the fact that this site makes use of scraped data underscores the need for the City of Philadelphia to release this data in a more open format.

This site is everything that advocates of open data hope for when they work to make data more readily available and to provide documentation on how to use it. What’s most interesting about it is that not once did the sponsors or developers interact with City IT staff while building it. Data that is truly open means that users don’t need to ask for permission before they use it, or for instructions on how to use it.

Open data works best when it is readily available for those that need it, to build useful services and apps that help address the challenges facing our communities.

This is the way that open data is supposed to work.

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Action Alert - Land Bank bill

The City needs a Land Bank NOW to deal with our vacant land crisis. There are 40,000 vacant lots in Philly, and they are a blight on our neighborhoods and a drain on our city. A land bank, which is a public authority created to acquire, maintain and sell vacant properties, can take in unused public land and severely tax-delinquent private land and put it to productive use.

The Land Bank bill (#130156), introduced by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, will create an equitable, transparent, and accountable land bank that prioritizes affordable housing, economic development, community gardens and urban agriculture!

City Council needs to hold a hearing and vote for this bill.

Take action! Send a message to City Council! Tell them this is important to you and that they should hold a hearing for the bill. You can use the form letters created by The Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land and the Philly Land Bank Alliance here and here, respectively. It may be going on summer recess, but we need to continue to let Council know we support this bill.

Finally, if you want to show your support for the bill while also enjoying refreshments and celebration, come to the Grounded in Philly and Healthy Foods Green Spaces Launch Party on Wednesday June 26th from 4:30-7pm at the Teens4Good Farm on 8th and Poplar Streets in Philadelphia. You can fill out the letters at the Take Back Vacant Land table. RSVP at

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You're Invited!

If you really want to see what all the fuss is about, join us in person on Wednesday, June 26th at our launch party and press event!

4:30 - 7:00 p.m.

5:30 p.m. Press Conference

Teens 4 Good Urban Farm

8th & Poplar Streets

Philadelphia, PA


And, get ready for:

  • a stellar speaker line up
  • representatives from local gardens, groups and organizations
  • a virtual tour of Grounded in Philly
  • letter campaign to city council regarding the need for a hearing on the land bank bill
  • seed bombs!
  • othe fun activities, refreshments, and great company.
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The Problem is the Solution

There’s an old garden saying for taking something that presents as a challenge and turning that challenge into a positive outcome: “The problem is the solution.” We hope that now that you’ve checked out Grounded in Philly, that saying will start to come to mind when you walk past a vacant lot covered in burnt out tires and trash or you see signs of persistent hunger and lack of access to quality food in your neighborhood.

If people can get to them, not just physically but legally, vacant lots can be opportunities for neighbors who want to respond to food insecurity and neighborhood blight in ways that are truly reflective of a community’s identity, values and culture. Many folks throughout Philly neighborhoods have already found ways to turn the crisis of vacant lots, 40,000 vacant lots that is, into community-driven projects that have helped provide access to fresh food, community green space and neighborhood development.

But there’s no comprehensive, city-wide process, program, law or agency that facilitates connecting people to land and ensuring those who have already made that connection can continue their thriving projects. The physical demands for turning a vacant lot into a garden or neighborhood space may require hard work and can be tough, but the initial process of deciding to turn a lot into community space should be transparent and clear. Finding an appropriate lot, securing it, and finding other people to partner with should not be the misdirected, misconstrued, severely complicated process it is today.

So that’s where Grounded in Philly and Healthy Foods Green Spaces come into play.

Grounded in Philly is designed to make the process of securing and using vacant land sane and simple. And Healthy Foods Green Spaces is working to magnify the voices of neighborhoods, individuals and organizations that support urban agriculture and community gardening initiatives and turn that magnified presence into sustained action toward city-wide reforms.

Now, you can actually figure out who owns a lot and find resources for how you might secure that lot. You can attend a coalition meeting and take action to urge City Council to pass a comprehensive land bank bill. You can upload a photo of the community garden you and your neighbors have been working on for years and figure out how to keep your land.

Since these are such big, new steps for our fair city and since at the heart of this work are the relationships we build as fellow residents, citizens and neighbors, we’d like you to celebrate with us as we launch into these two new initiatives. Join us on Wednesday, June 26th from 4:30 – 7:00 p.m. at the Federation of Neighborhood Centers’ Teens 4 Good Farm at 8th & Poplar in Philadelphia. Enjoy entertainment, refreshments, a press conference (possible special guest appearances included!) with your fellow activists and organizers. RSVP here or just show up!

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