Reclaiming a vacant lot for the health and enjoyment of a community -- as well as native wildlife -- doesn’t happen overnight, but a partnership between Audubon Pennsylvania
and the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge
promises to make it happen by the end of this year.
As Flying Kite
lands in Kingsessing for our summer On the Ground residency
, these two organizations are continuing a partnership with landscape architecture students at Philadelphia University
focused on underutilized land throughout Southwest Philadelphia
Audubon and John Heinz have been collaborating for a long time; the partnership was formalized over the last 18 months.
"We’ve been working very closely, starting with the southwest portion of the city because of its proximity to John Heinz Wildlife Refuge," say Audubon Community Stewardship Program Manager Ryhan Grech. "[The Cobb’s Creek watershed] is also one of Audubon’s priorities. Both of us are looking to dive in with community engagement and work on the pocket park notion."
That means extensive community engagement (aided by leadership from groups like Southwest CDC
, Empowered CDC
and Philadelphia More Beautiful
) on which lots to target for improvements and what sort of designs meet local needs.
A "secondary motive" for the work, adds Grech, is increasing the amount of quality habitat for the Philly area’s native birds and pollinators.
For their spring semester, 11 landscape architecture students from Philadelphia University participated in community meetings and surveys targeting about 30 vacant lots in southwest Philly. They learned that residents want more safe spaces for kids to play and learn, more educational areas, and more opportunities to grow food or participate in community gardens. Stormwater management was also key.
In March, the students presented preliminary ideas at an open community meeting, and then applied that feedback to seven designs presented at a second meeting in late April. Following that, an online survey
has continued to narrow down the locations and customize the plans. By the end of the summer, they hope to have decided on a single site and distilled one tailored design reflecting community needs.
Which space they’ll have a right to revamp is part of the picture, too: With help from the city’s new Land Bank
and support from City Councilmembers Kenyatta Johnson and Jannie Blackwell, project partners hope a local CDC will take on a lease for the chosen lot, allowing the transformation to move forward.
This is not just another semester-long student survey project with no action, Grech insists -- with their proximity to Philly’s major educational institutions, Southwest Philly residents have had enough surveys.
"In the fall, Heinz and Audubon are bringing the resources to the table to implement," she says. "We’ll start working with contractors at that point."
"Our intention is not to stop with one site," she adds. "We intend to keep going."
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ryhan Grech, Audubon Pennsylvania
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