By Melissa O'Brien
Located in North Philadelphia, the Nicetown-Tioga neighborhood is a priority area for PHS based on data indicating low tree canopy coverage and a lack of green space for community members to enjoy. Working closely with trusted community partners at Nicetown Community Development Corporation (Nicetown CDC) and Tioga United, PHS has been able to facilitate a new kind of community engagement process to establish strategies for using gardening and greening to improve health and well-being in this neighborhood. “Our goal was to listen first and build trust in the community, rather than saying, ‘Hey, we're going to do this. Where should we do it?'" says Samir Dalal, PHS Project Manager, LandCare.
Since kicking off this project in 2019, over 400 residents have been reached, various cleaning and greening projects have already been completed, and a comprehensive 3-year plan has been formulated with the help of Nicetown-Tioga community members. By focusing this urban greening initiative in Nicetown-Tioga — a historically disinvested neighborhood — PHS and its partners have been able to build on collective strengths and develop a plan that is deeply reflective of the community’s aspirations.
“Working with PHS brings hope that we can learn how to improve, beautify, and sustain our own communities.” -Majeedah Rashid
When engaging with residents, PHS believes in listening first, working with trusted partners, remaining transparent, and understanding how projects relate to the past, present, and future of the neighborhood. Before developing a greening plan for Nicetown-Tioga, PHS worked with Nicetown CDC and Tioga United to form a community-led steering committee called the Green Team.
When the COVID-19 pandemic happened, the Green Team met once a month over Zoom to organize a survey of residents and identify priorities for the long-term plan. After numerous community meetings, knocking on doors, and talking in person with residents at community events, the Green Team identified four priorities for the “Love Where You Live” Greening Plan to address: the reduction of trash and litter, a reduction in crime, increased access to fresh healthy food, and increased job opportunities.
Donnell Powell, a resident and member of the Green Team, says: “My experience working with PHS has been very informative and impactful. I got to meet so many neighbors by way of canvassing and door-to-door efforts. PHS was very intentional about hearing from community members and understanding their pressing needs.”
As the 3-year greening plan was being developed, PHS and the Green Team wasted no time by identifying projects that could be completed quickly with the help of volunteers. Over one week, volunteers and PHS staff beautified Rowan Walkway with new perennials, trees, and planters; Tioga Hope Garden was refreshed with new flowers planted and pavers installed; and a new pollinator garden was planted on a vacant lot at 1520 W Venango St, across from the Tioga United NAC office.
These projects serve as a blueprint for the “Love Where You Live” Greening Plan implementation. “We are encouraged to beautify where we live,” says Green Team member and volunteer Estelle Vaughn. “The involvement of PHS makes our neighbors know that there is someone who believes that we can and will help us do so!”
Over the next three years, PHS and its partners will work together to implement a number of strategies that address the key priorities identified by community members. Every step along the way — whether it’s greening the streets, planting trees, or gardening — will include ongoing community engagement efforts and a focus on creating job opportunities and training for residents.
One critical goal is to ensure all eligible vacant lots within the neighborhood are “cleaned and greened” to reduce trash and deter crime. Most of this work will be done by residents and small businesses — helping create green job opportunities and boost the local economy.
Nicetown-Tioga has approximately 10% canopy coverage, or about 91 acres of tree canopy spread across nearly 900 acres of the combined neighborhoods. Over the next three years, PHS has set a goal to train 40 new Tree Tenders to plant and care for street and front yard trees across the neighborhood to work towards 30% canopy coverage. “Nicetown and the surrounding communities have serious issues with poor air quality, which compounds chronic asthma and other respiratory disorders that are pervasive in the area. We have learned so much about gardening and how tree planting will also help improve neighborhood conditions and the environment,” says Majeedah Rashid, Chief Operating Officer of Nicetown CDC.
Another goal is to mobilize neighbors and businesses to increase access to fresh food. PHS and the Green Team will sustain and build community gardens, establish a community garden resource hub to support local gardeners, and advocate for policies that support community gardening and urban agriculture. The Greening Plan also includes efforts to ‘Garden the Streets’ by organizing community work days, creating garden blocks, and painting murals that highlight neighborhood champions.
The Nicetown-Tioga “Love Where You Live” Greening Plan represents a transformational opportunity to connect neighbors and use gardening to improve health and well-being in this beautiful and historic Philadelphia community. None of this would be possible without the input and effort of the Green Team, community organizations, and neighbors. “When all is said and done — concepts, visions, and goals are best realized when we work together,” says Majeedah. “Working with PHS brings hope that we can learn how to improve, beautify, and sustain our own communities.”