Edens Lost & Found: Building Sustainable Cities

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The New Philadelphia Story

Philadelphia is a historic city responding to many challenges, including suburban development that threatened to decimate the core city. Faced with severe budget limitations (a universal reality), it created a vast network of community-based volunteer organizations who have brought about rebirth through volunteerism and community outreach.

In 1973, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society reached a crossroads. Does it change with the times, or does it become marginalized? Lead by Ernesta Ballard and others, it chose to create Philadelphia Green and devote the profits of the acclaimed Philadelphia Flower Show to the betterment of the community. The evolution of the Society is an important part of the Edens story.

The New Kensington Community Development Corporation is a vibrant work in progress. Directors Sandy Salzman and Paul Malvey provide a tour of the neighborhood in the Edens broadcast. A sense of optimism and renewal is self-evident. An overlay map of the neighborhood shows a marked increase in real estate prices, resulting from greening and community outreach. Wooden fences have become a symbol of nurturing protection. The care and greening of New Kensington has become a tool of economic development. In the process, people have found their voice.

The Philadelphia Water Department is support the renewal efforts, as explained in a slide presentation (broadband connection recommended).

Iris Brown will provide a history of Norris Square Park and what it was like 14 years ago. Sister Carol Keck will discuss the concept of William Penn's Green Country Town. Tomasita Romero will explain how their partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society saved the community. The Federal Weed and Seed raid in 1991 threw out the drug dealers from the park. Their community center is in use throughout the day as a childcare center, a meeting hall for mothers, and a skills center for the neighborhood. It has been visited by many dignitaries and certainly qualifies as a "best practices model." The area was losing its underpinnings. Banks and supermarkets were moving out. The community effort to save Norris Square Park turned things around. Iris will talk about the merging of horticulture with Puerto Rican culture. The community's participation in last year's Flower Show was a lifetime highlight. Their next project is the creation of an authentic Puerto Rican Restaurant opening out into their communal garden. Reservations anyone?

Mayor Street created the Neighborhood Transition Initiative (NTI) program as part of a coordinated plan to save the city from the impact of "moving up and moving out." In 1960, Philadelphia had a "growing" population of 2.1M. Social scientists projected a population of over 3.0M. Today, it is 1.5M. Suddenly, issues of diminished density, building abandonment and decay required immediate response. NTI was assigned to come up with practicable and affordable solutions. Patricia Smith and Cynthia Bayete (Director and Deputy Director of NTI) will talk about Philadelphia's post-industrial economy and how it is more diversified. We will learn how the city is able to leverage $20M to create a working fund of $300M over a 5-year period. The NTI will work to remove blight, promote quality restoration, stimulate investment in new housing, and improve how the city delivers services to its businesses and residents. The challenge is to make neighborhoods more attractive for families to stay and become stakeholders.

There is great natural beauty within Philadelphia. The Fairmont Park system provides citizens with majestic riverfront views and commanding park settings, protecting the city's drinking water and enhancing its liveability and sustainability. The challenge is the creation of a sustainable ecosystem along with a thriving urban environment.

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Media & Policy Center Foundation

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