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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