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With friends like these. . .

Hi, Folks!

Imagine my surprise after having been treated with the utmost respect and courtesy by both KYW 1060 and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society marketing department when our community garden won free tickets and a lovely garden tea at yesterday's Philadelphia Flower Show to pick up the Philadelphia Inquirer this morning and read *this* by the current head of Philadelphia Green.  Check out the text printed in red (emphasis mine) as to see why I am so steamed.

Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden

A mission of
St. John's United Church of Christ, 315 Gay Street, Phoenixville, PA  19460


A simple plan to greener, cleaner urban lots
Philadelphia Green will use the $1 million raised at the Flower Show to help clear and reclaim blighted land.
By Matthew P. Blanchard
Inquirer Staff Writer

The mind of Mike Groman left the Philadelphia Flower Show for a moment yesterday and traveled a short distance to the city's wasted land.

Not so far from these lush plant displays, he said, Philadelphia has 31,000 vacant lots heaped with trash and despair. This land must be reclaimed if the city is to prosper, he said. Every ticket bought at the Flower Show last week will help him do it.

Groman, 46, heads a program called Philadelphia Green, which is the sole beneficiary of the $1 million raised by ticket sales at the Flower Show. The show ended yesterday after drawing an estimated 250,000 to the Convention Center.

Now Groman's real work begins. During the spring planting season, Philadelphia Green will reclaim 1,000 urban lots with a strategy that is strikingly simple and oddly suburban.

The program, part of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which runs the flower show, won a $4 million contract last year from Mayor Street's anti-blight Neighborhood Transformation Initiative to clean and seed about one million square feet of land in targeted neighborhoods.

The massive task requires a whole new approach to urban greening, Groman said. The community "pocket" parks of the 1960s and '70s were too expensive and rarely maintained. Community gardens are nice but require too much attention.

Philadelphia Green's answer is simple and cheap. It clears lots, plants grass, and stabs a few tree saplings around the perimeter. Lucky lots get split-rail fences. It has the naked, barren look of a new suburban development. But in the city, it works. Neighbors buy the lots as side yards. Developers suddenly see the site has potential. The total cost is around $2 per square foot.

"We learned that to prevent dumping on these lots, a basic level of gardening is better than chain-link fencing or Jersey barriers," said Patricia Smith, director of the anti-blight initiative. It's cheaper to boot.

The work began in the fall planting season, when Philadelphia Green cleared 700,000 square feet. Next week, the spring work will focus on six neighborhoods: Frankford; East Mount Airy; West Philadelphia (north of Market Street); the American Street corridor (borders North Philadelphia); and two sections of North Philadelphia, one near Temple University and another just north of Girard Avenue.

Such simple interventions can have a huge impact on a neighborhood, Groman said, because they affect the mind.

He has seen it happen. Some years ago, Philadelphia Green cleaned a strip of JFK Boulevard near 30th Street Station where people used to litter.

Now they picnic on the grass. From his fifth-floor office window on Arch Street, Groman watches people act out their altered perception of the spot.

"Sometimes newspapers and trash will blow onto it," he said. "We've seen people reach down and pick up the newspaper and put it in the trash, which they would never have done."

Gardening, he said, is a force for good.

Contact staff writer Matt Blanchard at 610-313-3132 or mblanchard@phillynews.com.

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