Yesterday my travels took me not so far, just " next door " to Philadelphia where the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, known as PHS, took us on a tour of green spaces which they have created in partnership with the city and neighborhood organisations.
The rain poured down, but we boarded our trolley and off we went. Like all big cities, Philadelphia has abandoned lots, which are strewn with trash and worse. They are eyesores and dangerous places. Simply cleaning the space up, seeding it with grass , planting the odd tree or two and enclosing the whole with a rail fence, has made a huge difference to neighborhoods. Not only because of the aesthetics, but the space is now safe and usually becomes a public space where the social life of the neighborhood can take place . Some spaces were used to grow beautiful vegetable gardens - the excess produce is even being given back to the community food bank !
The green space also alleviates rainwater run-off because it absorbs the rain before it rushes into the sewer system , an appropriate topic yesterday. Usually property values increase as well . A win/win situation created with only a minimal input of money.
Rainwater management was a big topic and we could see it in action, as in this special teaching installation at a school.
The drainpipes from the rain gutter snake across the wall in a wonderful pattern, like a gnarled old vine. Some of the sections are made of clear pipe, so you can watch the water rushing down. The rain is funneled into a concrete collection basin ( barely visible to the left of the long windowbox ) at the ground , which is divided by strips. This dissipates the water on to the paved patio and channels it into the planted beds surrounding the space.
The best stop came last, however. We visited a small, 20 acre park , high on a hill overlooking the city and the Schuylkill river. Members of the neighborhood organisation which takes care of the park met us to give us a tour and tell us about all the changes which they have made with the help of PHS, the city and a lot of their own hard work. There were open grassy spaces, stately old trees, new plantings, the requisite playground, a gazebo where a wedding was about to take place in the pouring rain !!! and a marble memorial to the fallen soldiers of WW I.
The park was given to the city in the 19th century and was a happy place, used by lots of people. After many years, it fell into disuse and became a dangerous place where drugusers and pushers lurked in the overgrown vegetation. It was so bad, that it was known in the neighborhood as Pill Park. When I asked what happened to turn this terrible situation around, I got the most astonishing answer.
Two people whose houses bordered the park simply started to cut the overgrown grass and to clean the place up. That's it, simply two people making a start. And today the space is the focal point of the neighborhood, there are concerts in the gazebo, children play on the playground, there is a big vegetable garden in a corner, a fundraiser to support soldiers in the Middle East was being announced , in short, it has become an important part of the community once again and all because of those two people who took action, no matter how small.
I ended my trip to Philadelphia by a visit to an art supply store where I scored not only lots of terrific bookmaking stuff, but - oh joy - there just happened to be a bookmaking demo and I made a little book with Coptic stitching. Now doesn't that make your heart feel all warm and happy ? It did mine ! Gardens and books - what a great day.