Philadelpia LANDvisions Op-Ed in Daily News

by Deenah Loeb (Published in Philadelphia Daily News September 9, 2005)

VACANT LOTS and buildings are an all-too-familiar sight throughout Philadelphia.

Of the 400 participants at a town meeting in May at 30th Street Station, more than 85 percent said they live with a vacant lot or building in their neighborhood.

We have grown numb to the visual and emotional impact of vacancy in our neighborhoods. Philadelphia’s vacancy crisis is a result of urban abandonment and extensive sprawl, and is shared by cities across the nation, places where the economy is drifting as it responds to continued industrial restructuring.

Philadelphia has made a commitment to address its vacant land, abandoned buildings and distressed communities with temporary programs. As part of Mayor Street’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society developed a “clean and green” model to clear debris, plant trees and grass, and install fencing on vacant lots. The land is cleaned, revealing both prospects for change and opportunity. This is fertile ground for imagining long-term solutions that will reconnect vacant land to the ecology of the city.

What can Philadelphia imagine for its future? What ideas might we generate if we look at the 40,000 vacant properties (counted thus far) as assets, not liabilities? How does this land, representing approximately 920 acres, connect with our natural land and water resources? These questions prompted the City Parks Association to implement Philadelphia LANDvisions, a unique program that will be a model for working with the city’s natural land and water resources – reconnecting and regenerating the fabric of the city.

If we take this opportunity to shape urban form and inspire change, Philadelphia can be a visionary leader in this unlikely arena. With this vision, we can start building a sustainable and dynamic city for our future.

The City Parks Association has stimulated visionary thinking about natural resources and open space in the urban community since its founding in 1888.

CPA created Philadelphia LANDvisions and has brought together key partners – the Horticultural Society, the Reinvestment Fund and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council to collaborate on the three-phase program. The core team, along with numerous community groups, nonprofits (local and national) and government agencies, are working together to implement the vision, and to develop ecologically sound land and community planning for the city.

The first phase of Philadelphia LANDvisions – Our Voices, Our Future – was completed in May. Community participants gathered to learn about our urban ecology and shared their aspirations for the city. (Detailed information from these three sessions can be found at www.landvisions.org.)

Today’s launch of “Urban Voids: Grounds for Change” will begin the second phase of Philadelphia LANDvisions.

This international competition will generate new thinking about Philadelphia’s vacant lands and create a compelling new vision based on sound and enduring ecological principles.

The competition will seek out ideas that foster distinctive communities with a sense of place and seek new possibilities for strategic development and growth, using ecology to shape urban form.

A prestigious jury will select outstanding ideas, which will be further developed in the third phase, beginning February 2006. Philadelphia LANDvisions is more than a single case study: The process and results have tremendous implications for cities and regional eco-systems throughout the nation.

Philadelphia LANDvisions is the logical outgrowth of the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative as Philadelphia plans for its future. LANDvisions will propose a range of development and land reuse opportunities that will illustrate new forms of ecologically responsible choices for recreating a new urban fabric.

Let Philadelphia take this opportunity to be a true visionary leader, to dream and plan to assure the renewal of our land and water for the health and welfare of our citizens.

Read article at the Philadelphia Daily News online.

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