A Hidden Gem in North Philly

If you haven’t heard of the North Philly Peace Park, then you are missing the story of a hidden gem in the Sharswood community of Philadelphia. The NPPP is directly in front of the Blumberg Projects in N. Philly. Close to Girard College and the newly closed-down Vaux High School. Residents of this community started this garden and learning center three and a half years ago on land that stood vacant for many years.

Long time resident Tommy Joshua spearheaded the idea to create a place where residents would have access to free vegetables and herbs, as well as educational classes; effectively building the self-sufficiency and resilience of the community. With the enlisted help of some occupy groups in the city, residents set out to create what is now the North Philly Peace Park and educational center.

Through the years the NPPP has been home to hundreds of volunteers, residents and visitors where they help to create a thriving vegetable and perennial garden, earthship classroom ( a sustainability designed building created from reused materials), and small food forest. On weekends there are shared meals and bonfires, learning experiences and friendships made. This past summer they hosted the first community-run Urban County Fair where over 300 people came to participate in workshops, listen to local musicians, lend their voices to the urban agricultural scene is Philadelphia and build relationships in the community. This is truly a community-driven project! From the intergenerational relationships being built to the collaboration of people from different cultural backgrounds, learning and growing is happening here.

I mentioned this was a hidden gem earlier in the article for a few reasons. Being located in between the infamous Blumberg Projects and lanes of abandoned blocks, where development turned its face away from the long-time residents in need, decades ago, this garden is a welcomed addition. The residents who are active in this project have shown their interest and skills in community planning and put themselves in the driver’s seat of what is being built in their neighborhood. I have been volunteering at the Peace Park for the last two years, and what is most promising about this venture is the ownership and pride that the children & elders of the Sharswood and Blumberg area have shown for the park. On any given weekend you can drive by and see dozens of children working and playing alongside the elders in their communities.

What is concerning is that The North Philly Peace Park is now being threatened with the promise of development in this area. After years of abandonment and decay, the Philadelphia Housing Authority has acquired funds to tear down the Blumberg Projects, and has created a new neighborhood design that includes moving their official headquarters to the area. Some residents see this project as a sign of progress and improvement. However, the current plans also appear to effectively displace the NPPP. At best, NPPP will likely be moved to an unknown location. Blumberg Project senior residents currently only have to walk or wheel themselves across the street to harvest vegetables or participate in the activities held there. Will a new location be accessible to them?

Last week PHA held a meeting with the residents of the Blumberg project and surrounding Sharswood residents where they talked about the expansion and services that would be offered and answered questions from the nearby residents. They laid out their plans for development, introduced their community partners and even our councilperson, Darryl Clarke was there, giving his blessing to the project. Though throughout all this, the tenure of the Peace Park is still in question. The PHA director indicated that NPPP would have a place in the new development, but it’s still unclear whether NPPP can stay and serve the seniors across the street or if the Peace Park will be given a new home or where that home might be. In essence, there is still no clear answer to the security of the North Philly Peace Park with regard to these new development plans.

If you would like to find out more information or get involved in helping the North Philly Peace Park secure land tenure in the Sharswood community. Please email phillypeacepark@gmail.com

or check out their facebook page atwww.facebook.com/northphillypeacepark

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