PHS Philadelphia LandCare is a nationally recognized model of landscape treatment to address the widespread challenge of land vacancy plaguing the city’s core. As part of a strategic approach to neighborhood redevelopment, PHS works with community-based organizations and City agencies to transform Philadelphia’s vacant land into neighborhood assets.
Under contract with the Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development, PHS developed Philadelphia LandCare, which “cleans and greens” selected lots in key neighborhoods across the city. This includes removing all debris and weedy vegetation, grading, adding compost enriched topsoil, and planting grass and trees to create park-like settings. A signature post and rail fence defines the land as a cared for property. After improvements are completed, the sites are regularly cleaned and mowed during the growing season.
Philadelphia LandCare provides custodial management for 10 million square feet of land, more than 8,000 lots, and provides jobs for over 100 Philadelphia residents.
Community LandCare is a component of Philadelphia LandCare. Thirteen community-based organizations are contracted to clean nuisance lots that have not received the “clean and green” treatment. Neighborhood residents are provided employment cleaning and mowing lots on a monthly basis. More than 2,100 properties are maintained through the Community LandCare initiative.
Although the landscape design is simple, the results are dramatic. Blighted lots diminish the potential of a neighborhood, but when transformed, the land is revealed and with that revelation the potential for other uses can be imagined. Since the inception of the program, 850 properties have been developed for new housing and businesses.
The economic impact goes beyond encouraging development; it also stimulates neighborhood wealth. Drawing on research conducted in concert with University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Susan Wachter and Grace Bucchianeri, Dr. Kevin Gillen, Senior Research Consultant with the Fels Institute, told Philadelphia City Council, “Following conversion of a vacant lot, the median gain in housing wealth to the affected households was estimated to be approximately $35,000…” He went on to note that every dollar spent on ‘cleaning and greening’ generates an additional $224 in housing wealth.
One of the aims of the program is to make neighborhoods healthier and safer. In the fall of 2011 Dr. Charles Branas, associate professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, published a major study on the health and safety effects of the LandCare Program in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Dr. Branas and his team of researchers found that greening was linked to significant reductions in certain crimes, such as gun assaults, as well as other indicators such as stress and low exercise.
As a result of this comprehensive approach to managing abandoned land, Philadelphia now has an innovative model that is applicable to other cities. This targeted system not only improves the appearance and livability of communities, it also contributes to public health and safety, raises property values, and stimulates new investment.