Formerly vacant properties shown off in N. Philly

A tour of new green spaces in North Philadelphia, including Las Parcelas on Palethorp Street near Dauphin, was offered yesterday as part of the three-day Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference. ED HILLE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
A tour of new green spaces in North Philadelphia, including Las Parcelas on Palethorp Street near Dauphin, was offered yesterday as part of the three-day Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference. ED HILLE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: September 11, 2013

PHILADELPHIA HAS PLENTY of green success stories - like the large swath of land now known as Liberty Lands Park.

Formerly the site of the Burk Brothers Tannery, the two-acre parcel in Northern Liberties was left to become a vacant weed-ridden eyesore in the mid-'90s after an effort to turn the property into loft apartments fell through.

And now?

"It's our Times Square," said Matt Reuben, president of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, noting the park, equipped with several gardens and a playground, has become the center for local events in the neighborhood and "was a major factor in helping to transform the neighborhood."

That transformation is taking place throughout the city - a fact that was on display during a tour yesterday of formerly vacant properties around eastern North Philadelphia, including Liberty Lands.

The tour was one of eight offered as part of the three-day Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference, which comes to the Pennsylvania Convention Center as Philadelphia is weighing how to tackle the 40,000 vacant properties in the city.

Bob Grossmann, director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, heads the group's LandCare Program, which cleans, greens and fences at least 400 vacant parcels annually.

"We want people in pleasant surroundings. It makes the whole neighborhood feel better and safer," Grossmann said.

Yesterday's tour included some PHS sites. To date, 15 percent of PHS properties that were greened have been purchased and redeveloped, including what is now Borinquen Plaza, a shopping area with a pocket park at 5th and Berks streets.

"We came together around greening and positive change," said Rose Gray, a tour leader and the senior vice president of community and economic development for Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha for Everyone, which directed the development of the plaza and other housing initiatives in the area. "People value that space. They respect it and use it properly."

Transforming the vacant land along Palethorp Street near Dauphin into Las Parcelas, a cultural garden, eliminated crime in an area notorious for drug-dealing, prostitution and gangs 25 years ago, Grossman said. PHS helped local community groups including Norris Square Neighborhood Project and Grupos Motivos create the garden, which exemplifies life in rural Puerto Rico with La Casita, a replica of a tiny house, a mini museum and vegetable gardens.

So, are green spaces the answer to Philly's blight problem?

"It's an answer," said Andrew Frishkoff, executive director of the Philadelphia Local Initiatives Support Corp., adding that green space helps make neighborhoods attractive to developers. "Neighborhoods can't succeed unless there's additional development. Blight remediation is an intermediate step."


On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout

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