Then one day, I woke up to the feeling of my house shaking. It felt like it was literally falling apart. When I flew to the door to see what was going on, I could immediately see beautiful big white squash being thrown on top of a big pile of food that had already been ripped up by large trucks sent by the city.
We had received no warning or notice from the city whatsoever. When I finally found somebody who would talk to me, he said they had gotten orders to clear the lot for “maintenance.” He said they had no knowledge of the garden because I had spoken to another city agency that owns just one of the lots. Now, the lots look the way they did before our beautiful garden, blighted and ugly. The city hasn’t done any “maintenance” on the land since that day.
What this story says to me is that residents need to have more control over vacant land in their communities. All around the city, people have great ideas about how to use land for gardens, affordable housing, parks and other vital community needs. If done right, the land bank bill currently before City Council has the potential not only to streamline the process so you don’t get different answers from different agencies, but to also empower communities by requiring a specific percentage of land be given to individuals and community groups that will use it for real community benefit.
Doris Berris is a member of Temple Presbyterian Church in North Philadelphia, which is part of the Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land.
Eyes on the Street is collecting stories about the effects of vacancy on neighborhood quality of life and community development in Philadelphia. If you want to share your story, send it our way.