“What’s your park?”
When the City of Philadelphia asked its residents that simple question, they found that 1 in 8 residents – 200,000 people – couldn’t come up with an answer. Why? Because there isn’t a city park within a 10-minute walk of where they live.
Philadelphia is understandably proud of its 4,000-acre Fairmount Park, but much of the city’s population lacks access to neighborhood green spaces which provide recreation space, manage stormwater, and raise property values. The city’s response is a plan called Green2015. It aims to turn 500 acres of vacant and underused land into parks, which would make the distribution of parkland far more equitable and provide manifold financial and environmental benefits.
Though privately owned vacant rowhouse lots cover 5 percent of the city’s land area, the plan focuses on tapping into 2,400 acres of available public land, over half of which is schoolyards. Park development will be targeted towards park-poor areas with high populations of children, seniors, and low-income households.
The report notes that the new green spaces won’t necessarily resemble traditional city parks. For example, many of the parks will be made by adding trees, running tracks, and small lawns to asphalt-covered recreation centers and school playgrounds. Schoolyards represent a great resource: there are over 400 acres of schoolyards supporting a population of 36,000 students in park-poor areas of the city. It is calculated that every acre of greened schoolyard provides 260 residents with park access.
The city will achieve this goal without any new taxes in part by relying on cooperation from foundations and community organizations. The report highlights an initiative in Detroit as a model for increasing tree cover in the city while also putting vacant lots to productive use. A group called The Greening of Detroit runs a program which uses vacant lots as urban tree farms (a single acre, if fully devoted to growing, can yield up to 1,400 trees). The trees are tended for 3-5 years, and then transplanted into the community.
A secondary priority of the city is better stormwater management, in part because the Water Department can provide funds for park development through its Green City, Clean Waters program. A greened city acre can prevent 900,000 gallons of water from entering the sewer system each year.
In addition to these recreational and environmental benefits, Philadelphia sees significant economic value in this initiative. In a later post, we’ll expand on some of the other effects that Green2015 could have on Philadelphia’s property values. We’ll also highlight some creative land re-utilization strategies employed by other cities burdened with large quantities of vacant land.