Community development, environmental restoration, and educational reform must go hand in hand.
We seek partnerships among advocates for each in order to combine forces and resources. We believe that youth have a crucial role to play in this process. This conviction comes from three decades of work in low-income communities on projects that simultaneously address issues of poverty, race, deteriorated neighborhoods, polluted water, and troubled schools.
West Philadelphia Landscape Project
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Ecological Urbanism
MIT 2012-

Ecological Urbanism weds the theory and practice of city design and planning, as a means of adaptation, with the insights of ecology (the study of the relationships between living organisms and their environment and the processes that shape both) and other environmental disciplines.


Ecological urbanism is critical to the future of the city and its design: it provides a framework for addressing challenges that threaten humanity, such as climate change, rising sea level, declining oil reserves, rising energy demands, and environmental justice, while fulfilling human needs for health, safety, and welfare, meaning and delight. The class applies principles and methods of ecological urbanism to West Philadelphia's Mill Creek watershed, with a different focus each year.

Fall 2018

Holding Ground

After more than a half century of redlining and disinvestment, capital is flowing into West Philadelphia's low-income, African-American neighborhoods, and owners are losing their homes through predatory lending and unscrupulous practices of speculators. To make matters worse, tangled deeds make it difficult for heirs to claim a deceased relative's property. These neighborhoods are in dire need of investment, but not through tricking and cheating homeowners out of their homes. Working with Monumental Baptist Church and its community development corporation, the class will develop an action plan to address this crisis.

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Fall 2017

A New River for Philadelphia

Working with ecological artist Newton Harrison, the class explored what planners and designers can learn from artistic methods. We began with an overview of theory and practice followed by the task of envisioning a New River for Philadelphia on vacant land in the buried floodplain of Mill Creek. The projects promoted ecological restoration, neighborhood transformation, and the empowerment of youth.

Visit the class and see student work (Coming Soon)

Fall 2015/2016

Philadelphia Green Schools

The focus of 2015/2016 was on highlighting and creating opportunities to connect and empower Philadelphia’s public schools, neighborhoods, and public agencies. The class brought together three mutually supportive movements – green schoolyards, community schools and place-based education – to suggest powerful programs, partnerships and outcomes. Led by Professor Anne Whiston Spirn, with the assistance of Mami Hara, students created a set of inter-related projects intended to amplify the impact of existing opportunities to address Philadelphia’s public education crisis.

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Fall 2012/2014

In 2012/2014, each student researched and presented a successful case that could be applied to Philadelphia's Green City, Clean Waters program.

See cases from 2012

See cases from 2014