1. What is PHS Philadelphia LandCare? What is “cleaning and greening”?
PHS Philadelphia LandCare is a nationally recognized model for an interim landscape treatment that addresses the widespread challenge of land vacancy plaguing city neighborhoods. The LandCare program transforms vacant lots using a “Clean and Green” treatment that includes by removing all debris and weedy vegetation, grading the site, adding compost-enriched topsoil, planting trees, sowing grass seed, and installing a wooden post-and-rail fence around the perimeter of designated vacant lots. Landscape installations occur every spring and fall and take place over a six week period. All “Clean and Green” sites are cleaned and mowed twice a month from April through October.
Landscape installation and ongoing maintenance is performed by city-based landscape contractors, who are selected through a competitive bidding process. Each year PHS selects 15 to 20 contractors, who are primarily minority-owned companies or community organizations with landscape maintenance ability.
2. Why install fences? Plant trees?
Fences were originally installed to discourage short dumping of construction debris, a common occurrence on many blighted lots. The wooden post-and- rail fence is not intended to keep people out of the lots, but rather to define the perimeter and signal that the lot is a well-maintained property and part of a city-wide program. The fence has become the “brand” of the Philadelphia LandCare program.
Trees provide environmental benefits, including cooling the urban heat island effect and making the air cleaner, while also beautifying many tree-deprived neighborhoods. The presence of trees contributes to the positive visual and social impact of the program.
3. Who pays for the PHS Philadelphia LandCare Program? How much does it cost?
The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Housing and Community Development contracts with PHS annually to implement the Philadelphia LandCare program, as well as other city-wide greening projects. The average cost to “clean and green” a vacant lot is between $1,000 and $1,300, depending on the parcel size. Bi-weekly cleaning and mowing during the growing season is typically $150 per property each year.
4. How much land is cared for in this program?
Philadelphia LandCare, through all of its initiatives, manages the maintenance of over 12,000 properties, which is more than 16,000,000 square feet of land, throughout the city. Each year, between 300 and 400 lots are stabilized and added to the program.
5. How long has this program been in existence?
The methods employed by Philadelphia LandCare were refined during two pilot programs in targeted communities between 1996 and 2003. In 2004, PHS expanded the program to the city-wide scale, which is supported by an annual city contract. 2016 marks the beginning of the thirteenth year of the city-wide program.
6. Do community volunteers clean and maintain vacant land?
No. The scale of this program makes it impossible to rely on neighborhood volunteers to maintain the large quantity of land currently managed by Philadelphia LandCare. However, PHS has long standing relationships with dozens of community organizations throughout the city that have been enlisted as allies to support this program.
7. What is the Community LandCare Program?
The Community LandCare program, a component of Philadelphia LandCare, contracts with 18 community organizations annually to clean and mow 3,000 parcels of vacant land, which has not yet been improved through the “Clean and Green” treatment. More than 100 community residents are employed through this program, giving them a direct role in keeping their neighborhoods clean and safe. The Office of Housing and Community Development and PHS selects the Community LandCare organizations through an application process every three years.
8. Is “Clean and Green” work confined to City-owned lots?
There are about 40,000 vacant lots in Philadelphia. The City owns around one-quarter of the vacant land and the remaining land is privately-owned. Many of these private owners are deceased or have no other known address. Philadelphia LandCare attempts to address the state of blighted land on both publicly and privately-owned land.
9. How do you get permission to enter privately-held land?
The City’s Department of Licenses and Inspections determines if a property is in violation of city ordinances and notifies the owner on record of the violation. If the owner does not respond to the citation, PHS is granted right of entry to abate the nuisance on the property.
10. Are the private owners billed for the cost of this work?
Yes. Owners are billed for the cost of removing the blight and for ongoing maintenance visits by the City of Philadelphia. Failure to pay results in a lien on the property.
11. How do you choose the neighborhoods you work in? How do you select lots?
Target areas and particular sites are selected in consultation with the staff of the Office of Housing and Community Development. Philadelphia LandCare is a community development program and is intended to improve the quality of life and support private and public investment in neighborhoods. Elected officials, community-based organizations, and other city agencies also contribute to final selections.
12. Can the “Clean and Green” treatment reduce crime and improve health?
In 2011, Dr. Charles Branas, an epidemiologist from the University of Pennsylvania, and his team of researchers published an analysis in the American Journal of Epidemiology that demonstrated a significant reduction in violent crime, particularly gun crime, around lots that have been “cleaned and greened” by the LandCare program . The research team is now conducting a comprehensive randomized trial study that will measure broader determinants of health and public safety.
13. Why is the City of Philadelphia committed to this program?
The Philadelphia LandCare program has had a tremendous impact on the appearance of neighborhoods throughout the city, replacing weeds and debris with thousands of park-like sites. The program is well-regarded by residents and elected officials alike, and because of careful management and the utilization of economies of scale, the cost per square foot of the program has not increased more than a few cents over 10 years. Over 800 “Clean and Green” properties have been redeveloped into new uses that include housing, commercial properties, and green space amenities. Nearby properties have also increased in value significantly. Recent research has determined that every dollar spent on “cleaning and greening” generates an additional $224 in housing wealth, a cash-on-cash return on investment of a whopping 22,000%.
14. What should I do if I have a problem lot in my neighborhood?
It’s impossible for the LandCare program to “clean and green” all of the 40,000 vacant lots in the city because resources are limited. However, residents who are experiencing problems associated with vacancy can call Philly 311, the City’s emergency service number and request a lot clean-up. Persistent problems should be reported to your City Council office.
15. How do I get access to a vacant lot to start a garden?
You must determine the owner or owners of the lot in question and request permission to garden on the property. The Office of Property Assessment provides owner information on their website here.
If the address of the owner of record is the address of the lot, it is likely that it is an inactive owner. If the owner of record is the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Philadelphia, or the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp., you may request permission to use the lot here.
If you chose to use the lot as a garden you assume the risk that it may be taken over by the City or purchased by someone else at Sheriff’s sale. For information on starting a community garden contact PHS Garden Tenders here.
16. Can this program be helpful to efforts in other towns and cities?
Yes. There are many elements of Philadelphia LandCare that have wide-spread application to cities large and small. In the past few years PHS has conducted workshops, given tours, and consulted with representatives from organizations and government agencies from more than 20 cities.
Learn More. Contact PHS.
Bring LandCare to Your City
Although the PHS Philadelphia LandCare Program tackles blight in the City of Brotherly Love, the problem of vacancy is pervasive in cities large and small around the nation. To figure out how to scale this solution to cities of all sizes, Learn More Here.