Marilyn Dombowski awakes each morning to a constant reminder of the vacant lot issue in Philadelphia and Port Richmond, because whenever she wants to sit on her porch, an abandoned lot is the first thing that she sees.
“I have one crappy view from my porch,” Dombowski said, “that’s why I don’t like sitting out here.” She isn’t the only person with the problem; many vacant lots surround the neighborhood that Dombowski calls home.
In Port Richmond there are many overgrown, vacant lots filled with high grass and trash. They are infested with animals and bugs, and cause quite a headache for residents that live around them. Some are areas where buildings used to be but were torn down, and some were nicer lots that have been un-kept for quite some time.
The city of Philadelphia has many organizations that gather volunteers to clean up these vacant areas and make them prospering green spaces for the residents they surround.
Organizations like the New Kensington Community Development Corporation Land Use Management Department help places like Port Richmond clean up their vacant lots. The Director of Land Use Management Marlene Buck could not be contacted for comment. Yet, the Land Use Management, with the help of volunteers use funding from public and private sources to fix up vacant lots and make them clean open spaces. They remove the trash, add top soil and plant grass seed to clean up the areas while also adding trees and sometimes fencing. The area is then put on a monthly maintenance plan to keep the open space green and enjoyable for the community.
In the new Greenworks plan for the city of Philadelphia to make the city the greenest in America which is a goal of current Philadelphia Mayor, Michael Nutter. On page 39 it is said that Philadelphia has tens of thousands of vacant lots, but with the help of the Office of Housing and Community Development as well as neighborhood-based groups, they have been able to start cleaning out some of the lots and improving the appearance of many areas.
Philadelphia’s Redevelopment Authority has been taking over many of these vacant lots, and the goal is to sell most of the space to private residents. Yet, they do want to keep some of the lots clean and open green spaces for the residents to let them enjoy and to help with the health of the community.
Christine Knapp, the director of OutReach for the Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture) and Sustainable Philadelphia, believes that people will benefit from the clean open spaces that are being created, “a healthier environment means healthier people. Reducing air pollution will reduce asthma rates, reducing toxic pollutants will reduce cancer… a healthier environment is linked to a healthier community.”
Knapp added that making these open spaces as well as the upkeep of parks will help the community because it will, “provide neighbors a place to connect and recreate. Trees have been proven to calm residents and reduce crime.”
It can also help with property values. According to “The Determinants of Neighborhood Transformation in Philadelphia” by Susan Wachter, there is a 30 percent increase in housing around clean, green vacant lots.
“There are many things that each individual and community can do to help the city become greener. From reducing energy consumption, recycling more, caring for local parks, eating local foods, using alternative transportation methods, donating to environment organizations and educating others, there are many options,” Knapp said.
Knapp’s suggestions to the residents of Port Richmond to help create a greener neighborhood is “for individuals to take one step at a time. Pick something you want to work on and just focus on that until you have it down. For example, try to reduce your energy bill by 10 percent, or try to recycle everything you can. Then move on to something else. For communities, it is nice to find something that can bring people together–create a community garden, plant trees together or set up a farmers market.”
Pauline Hurley-Kurtz, an associate professor for the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture at Temple University, has a research interest in open space preservation and sustainable development. She believes that the Port Richmond community as well as other communities in Philadelphia should begin to plant more trees to create a greener area. “Street trees and in yards would greatly benefit the environment by helping to reduce pollutants, greenhouse gases and urban heat.”
Trees and creating open green space has more than just environmental benefits, “it has many social benefits in terms of creating community and giving people a respite in their daily lives,” Hurley-Kurtz said.
Hurley-Kurtz’s suggestion to Port Richmond is to begin to clean up the vacant lots and create community gardens. “Community gardens are a great benefit in that they are means of growing fresh food in cities- in neighborhoods that often do not have supermarkets or farmers markets.”
In “The Effect of Community Gardens on Neighboring Property Values” by Vicki Bean and Ioan Viocu, there is a 9.5 percent rise in property values within 1,000 feet of a community garden within five years of its opening. This could increase the home values in Port Richmond and make it a popular community to live in. Clean open spaces and community gardens are great selling features when purchasing a property nearby.
According to nextgreatcity.com, the 10 actions it believes will help communities to provide renewed energy and strength is to create public river fronts, expand recycling, improve transportation stops, stop sewer backups and flooding, adopt modern zoning, use clean energy and construct energy efficient buildings, replant neighborhood trees, maintain healthy parks, clean and green vacant lots and reduce asthma caused by soot. All of these actions are achievable for the city and Port Richmond.
Dombowski, who is too elderly to clean up the vacant lot across the street from her home hopes that at some point volunteers from the neighborhood will come together to clear off the lot and make it a peaceful view for her to enjoy. “There are a lot of vacant lots that need to be cleaned up around here,” she said, “and we can’t wait till these groups come out and do it for us. The neighborhood kids should be pitching in. It’s a shame because other people made this mess, and now we have to clean up after them.”
The city is trying to clean up the vacant lots that are all around in hopes to make the city cleaner and create better living. It will also lure new residents into the city and help it prosper. Port Richmond is just an example of a neighborhood in need of more clean green spaces. For now, Dombowski will have to look at the vacant lot across the street a little longer until a clean-up begins.