The City of Philadelphia is tackling the problem of lots left derelict after the housing collapse by implementing community gardens and farms.
The U.S. is still reeling from the bursting of the housing bubble, and the impact of that bursting is particularly notable in urban centres, where dwellings are more concentrated and large numbers empty homes or homes in poor repair can lead to neighbourhoods in decay.
In Philadelphia, however, work is underway to ensure land that once contained homes or on which homes were to be built actually serves a greater purpose.
DesignPhiladelphia’s “Not a Vacant Lot” program and the City of Philadelphia’s Redevelopment Authority are doing their part to ensure foreclosed and abandoned housing lots do not go to waste.
Currently, the city is estimated to have some 40,000 vacant lots within its boundaries and while nearly three-quarters of these cannot be fixed up as they are privately owned, Philadelphia’s government is looking for solutions to help solve that issue.
Last year, the city passed a new Zoning Code to replace the half-century old code. The new code accepts urban agriculture as a land use designation. To make this happen, the city had to override certain regulations banning or limiting urban gardens and farms in portions of the city.
Now, more than 750 parcels of land house community gardens. The gardens not only provide fresh food for those struggling to make ends meet, they also beautify the city, provide social programming opportunities and boost the health of residents.
While there are still obstacles and limitations to overcome, planting gardens in dense urban centres marks a huge step up from having derelict houses or plots of land dotting cities.
Groups such as 596 Acres provide education, training, mentorship and support needed not only to grow an urban garden but also to navigate the sometimes-tricky approval process through which those looking to create an urban must go.
The recent housing bubble collapse hardly marks the first time cities have moved toward urban gardening. Indeed, trends have shown that greenery tends to pop up in cities after periods of intense growth and intensification, during which few gardens or farms are planted.
The global financial crisis put a strain on urban centres, but with a little ingenuity, cities can overcome the challenges posed and move toward a brighter – and greener – future.
Published on 30 January 2013