In a neighborhood of renewal, a tree of life blooms for all

Vivian VanStory, founder and chief executive officer of the Community Land trust Corp., stands on the lot at 15th and Cabot streets where a beloved peach tree grows. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)
Vivian VanStory, founder and chief executive officer of the Community Land trust Corp., stands on the lot at 15th and Cabot streets where a beloved peach tree grows. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 08, 2009

A peach tree blooms in a parklike green space on 15th Street, south of Thompson.

Just north of there, a construction boom has changed the look of nearly an entire block of rowhouses, anchored by a renovated apartment building.

But this land in North Philadelphia, at 15th and Cabot streets, remains untouched.

"I've had people come by and tell me, 'This peach tree has fed me on many days when I didn't have any food,' " said Vivian VanStory, founder and chief executive officer of the Community Land Trust Corp., standing in the well-cared-for spot.

She said that many people who are homeless or who just may not have had any food that day have eaten peaches from the tree.

VanStory lives in one of 23 solar homes on Thompson Street. She and the land trust have been managing the open space on 15th Street, as well as another large area on Cabot, between 15th and 16th, for 25 years.

VanStory said that the peach tree grew "probably after somebody threw a seed in here, and it just sprouted up."

"If we weren't managing this space, we'd be surrounded by nothing but blight," she said. Before, the weeds "were five to seven feet tall."

The trust doesn't own the land on 15th Street, but it does own the open space on Cabot behind the solar homes. The Cabot lot must be kept free from major development because those homes require southern exposure.

VanStory said that some of the development in North Philadelphia represents both an improvement and a business opportunity.

She has been in discussions with some developers about managing the grounds around their rental properties, which mainly attract students from nearby Temple University.

At the same time, however, VanStory wants to see the green space around the peach tree remain open forever.

"Developers would love to build here, because this is prime real estate," she said. "But if we keep it green, it helps the quality of life here in North Philadelphia. It's energy-efficient. It's cooling when we have so much concrete around us."

The people who live there aren't alone in their love for the area. VanStory said that robins, cardinals and other birds flock there because of berries on some of the trees.

"I don't need an alarm clock to get up in the morning," she said. "The birds wake me up."

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