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.

This Garden is a Town: Shaping the Community Garden

This garden is a town, we have everything but a penal colony,” said Hayward Ford, President of Aspen Farm Community Garden. Ford’s statement reflects a basic idea which guided our work: community gardens are a model for neighborhood-based planning. They are microcosms of community that contain many lessons for designing neighborhoods and cities A community garden is often a first step in community development and an important training ground for future leaders.

Dozens of community gardens were designed and built between 1987- 1991 as part of the West Philadelphia Landscape Plan and Greening Project, including three of those described below.

The report highlights eight community gardens, selected for their diversity in terms of how they were formed, how they operate, and how they look, to provide a glimpse of what different places such gardens can be. The gardens range from a tiny, intricate garden to a huge, amorphous one, from ones tended by one or two individuals to others where over fifty people garden. Community gardens embody the values of those who plant and end them, thereby creating a variety of physical forms and organizational structures; yet certain elements and motivations are common to all.

Shaping the Block: Redesigning Small Urban Neighborhoods

Shaping the Block describes features of the block (street, sidewalk, front yards, stoops, porches, windows) as they affect social life. The report offers proposals for how residents might reshape these features to claim their block as personal and community space. The report includes sections on 10 different block types found in West Philadelphia.

Vacant Land: A Resource for Reshaping Urban Neighborhoods

Vacant Land: A Resource for Reshaping Urban Neighborhoods describes different types of vacant urban land (“missing teeth,” corner lots, “swiss cheese,” multiple vacant blocks), how they fit into the dynamics of larger natural and social systems, and how they might be reclaimed for a variety of uses to fit the needs of particular people and places. The report also shows how vacant land and subsiding streets and buildings in West Philadelphia correlate with buried streams and filled-in floodplains and proposes solutions that address regional problems of combined sewer overflow. Vacant urban land may be a blighting influence, but it also affords a rare opportunity to reshape neighborhoods and cities.

Models of Success: Landscape Improvements and Community Development

The Models of Success report describes a range of successful landscape improvement projects and identifies key factors that contribute to success or failure. These models represent different types of potential landscape projects identified by the West Philadelphia Landscape Plan (from community gardens to parks as infrastructure corridors) and the kinds of sponsors who might implement and maintain them (from individuals to public agencies). Models of Success features the Aspen Farms Community Garden, where members of the Mill Creek community have come together to provide a valuable resource and gathering space for their community.

Many of these models of success have inspired spinoff projects; they include a variety of social programs, such as education, job training, employment, and neighborhood organizing.

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 > Action > Projects > West Philadelphia Landscape Plan
West Philadelphia Landscape Plan
From 1987-1991, the West Philadelphia Lanscape Plan and Greening Project, was a collaboration between University of Pennsylvania faculty and students and the staff of Philadelphia Green. During this first phase of the West Philadelphia Landscape project, we released five major reports (available below), launched a digital database, and implemented dozens of built projects.

Project Overview

West Philadelphia Landscape Plan and Greening Project, 1988-1991

TThe West Philadelphia Landscape Plan and Greening Project was a four-year community development and research project, conducted by Penn’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, Philadelphia Green, the Organization and Management Group, and the West Philadelphia Partnership. It was funded by the J. N. Pew Charitable Trust.

Poverty, unemployment, and the physical deterioration of housing and public infrastructure are pressing issues in many West Philadelphia neighborhoods. Landscape development alone cannot solve these problems, but even small, incremental improvements to the urban landscape significantly improve how neighborhoods look and function and the quality of urban life. Successful landscape projects serve as catalysts for other community development projects and as important adjuncts to social programs such as education, job training, and employment.

As described in "This Garden is a Town," the WPLP&GP designed and built several community gardens, including the redesign of Aspen Farms, a WPLP partner since 1988. After the projects and plans were finished in 1991, work on the digital database continued with support from Penn’s Center for Community Partnerships and the Graduate School of Fine Arts Computing Center.

The principles laid out in The West Philadelphia Landscape Plan: A Framework for Action continue to guide the work of WPLP.