The West Philadelphia Landscape Plan: A Framework for Action

A Framework for Action outlines a set of strategies for landscape improvements and establishes a framework for the diverse groups who shape West Philadelphia -- individuals, local organizations, corporations, and public agencies -- to work within.

The scope of the plan is more comprehensive than what are commonly known as “greening” projects, for the landscape of West Philadelphia is more than parks, gardens, and street trees; it includes the streets, sidewalks, and public utilities which structure the city, as well as playgrounds, parking lots, plazas, private yards, and vacant lots that fit within the larger framework. Major transportation and stream corridors provide a neighborhood-wide structure serving the needs of local residents and the larger region, a framework within smaller projects may be tailored to suit the people who make them happen.

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
Home > Resources > Courses > Transforming the Urban Landscape
Transforming the Urban Landscape
University of Pennsylvania, 1996-1998

The challenge was to develop strategic plans for vacant land that addressed regional water quality and local community development and to explore how a new middle-school curriculum organized around “The Urban Watershed” could integrate learning, community development, and water resource management.


Specific projects varied from year to year, but each course started with a short sketch problem. Once Mill Creek flowed through West Philadelphia. Now it is buried in a sewer, invisible to most people, but it continues to shape landscape and life. How can the buried river be revealed and rainwater celebrated so people feel and know the importance of these urban waters?

Students then explored how stormwater detention in the Mill Creek watershed could reduce water flow in sewers after rainstorms, what would such detention areas would look like and how they could be integrated with environmental education.

Sulzberger Middle School was located along the buried floodplain of Mill Creek. University students met once a week with middle school students and designed an approach to environmental education where the whole neighborhood was the classroom with the school at the center.

The course drew from the resources of the West Philadelphia Landscape Project and from historical documentation generated by a spring course, Power of Place, which also collaborated with Sulzberger.

Fall 1996

Revealing and Restoring Urban Waters

Students designed two outdoor "classrooms": an urban grove/street tree nursery and a series of water features that combined play, ponds, and stormwater detention. Both projects were to be living laboratories planted and maintained by middle school students as part of their curriculum.

Visit the class website

See designs for the street tree nursery

See designs for the water garden/detention basin

Fall 1997

Mill Creek Mini Golf

Students designed a miniature golf course on vacant land in the Mill Creek neighborhood where the nine holes told stories about the natural and cultural history of the neighborhood and where water hazards functioned as stormwater detention basins.

Visit the class website

See designs for Mill Creek Mini Golf

Fall 1998

Landscape of Learning

Students designed a small water garden/outdoor classroom for Aspen Farms Community Garden, which was built in summer 1999, then proposed a larger project on vacant land near the school.

The large wetland/water garden was to be a laboratory and outdoor classroom for Sulzberger and also a detention basin to collect and cleanse stormwater runoff. as part of their proposal, students designed an environmental curriculum for outdoor study.

Visit the class website