Page 1

one move

activating vacant lots

one move: activating vacant lots Courtney Reid thesis presented to: the Faculty of the Department of Architecture College of Architecture and the Built Environment Philadelphia University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of: Bachelor of Architecture thesis research faculty thesis studio instructor: Susan FrostĂŠn academic advisor: Kenneth Jacobs professional advisor: Christopher Kircher Philadelphia, Pennsylvania May 2013

there needs to be a vision of not just how we get the land sold, but how we want our city to look. Amy Laura Cahn Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia

play is not a luxury, but rather a crucial dynamic of healthy, physical, intellectual and social emotional development at all age levels. L’Abate, Play Across the Lifecycle, 3.

abstract Urban environments are constantly changing. Neighborhoods that were once considered up-and-coming have lost their population due to suburbanization and a lack of jobs in the area. Properties were left behind, unsold, and left unclaimed by their owners to eventually become vacant for many years. The vacant lots that form in neighborhoods cause a disconnect between the people who live there. Philadelphia has over 40,000 vacant lots in its city. About 75% percent of the vacant land is privately owned (or unknown) and is not getting taken care of because there is no policy that facilitates vacant lot redevelopment. Community organizations have tried to claim these untamed spaces. They have created community gardens and fenced-in grassy areas. These rejuvenated spaces have proven to reduce blight, but these communities need more to ensure that their neighborhood will continue to be positively activated. Architecture that provides spaces for active exploration can replace vacant lots in blighted neighborhoods to allow the community to come together through social development. Having an space where residents can explore, will allow for them to learn about themselves, their environment, and their community. Just one move of small-scale redevelopment can inspire invention, exploration, and discovery while impacting the development of the environment, the self, and the community. 7

almost anything can allow play to occur within its boundaries. Sutton-Smith, The Ambiguity of Play, 3.

table of contents


position 8


thesis objectives 20


exploratory methods 22


site exploration 34


program exploration 38


works cited+bibliography 40


appendix 46


design methodology 52


design exploration 55


reflection of exploration 75

1 p osition


active exploration for development The urban environment influences the way people engage with each other on its streets and in its neighborhoods.

People tend to feel safer in

areas that are more densely packed with people and buildings. These active neighborhoods provide safe streets for children to play in, while neighborhoods with much vacancy allow for crime to happen. Vacant lots in neighborhoods separate people and disconnect the neighborhood from outsiders because of the lack of development in these areas.

Oscar Newman’s Defensible Space

Theory is based on the idea that “the physical design and layout of urban living environments are why some places are more vulnerable [to crime] than others.”1 In Philadelphia, there are over 40,000 vacant lots. The city owns only twenty-five percent of these lots and there is no consistent policy for acquiring and redeveloping these spaces.2 These lots are spaces of lost opportunities for neighborhoods to develop socially, physically, and healthily through play, which can be defined as a type of active exploration that promotes human development.

Architecture that provides spaces for active self-exploration,

guided exploration, and social exploration can replace vacant lots in blighted neighborhoods to help reduce crime and allow neighborhoods to come together through social development. Types of active exploration

Understanding active exploration as a type of play provides the chance

to look at human explorations with the basis of what play actually is. Play can be defined in numerous ways based on the different psychological, sociological, and psychological schools of thought. An overarching theme of play is that it is dependent upon the individual person involved in playing. Play scholar 1

Reynald, Danielle M. and Henk Elffers, “The Future of Newman’s Defensible Space Theory: Linking Defensible Space and the Routine Activities of Place,” European Journal of Criminology 6 (2009): 26, accessed December 11, 2012, doi: 10.1177/1477370808098103.


See Philadelphia Vacant Land Policies, page 22


Brian Sutton-Smith found that play is ambiguous due to the “great diversity of play forms, [which] owes some of its force to the parallel diversity of the players. There are infant, preschool, childhood, adolescent, and adult players, all of whom play somewhat differently.”


Play can be focused and deliberate,

just plain fun, or serious and intense. These types of play are determined by not only the individual person’s perception of the situation-at-hand, but also whether they are provided with moments of free, guided, or directed exploration. Free exploration allows a person to examine their environment to imagine and manipulate it as they wish. This can be considered an openended type of play where a person approaches a space that gives them the ability to maneuver about and change the space as it suits their needs. Guided exploration gives boundaries to free exploration. This is more of a functional type of play where people are given moments of way-finding through designed spaces to determine how they might want to learn about the spaces, people, and programs they encounter.

These spaces might seem purposeless, but

they do have an intended function. Structured exploration tells people exactly how to achieve their desired end-goal. This type of exploration calls for people of similar interests to gather together to learn about one another in order to achieve their goal.

It is pertinent to understand that “some playfulness is

momentary, other kinds, with their attendant preparations, can last throughout a season, and in some cases, over periods of years. Play has temporal diversity as well as spatial diversity.”2 In order for a space to allow for different types of exploration, it is important that an understanding of who is playing, where they are playing, and why they are playing is known.


Brian Sutton-Smith, The Ambiguity of Play (United States: Harvard University Press, 2001), 5.



Sutton-Smith, The Ambiguity of Play, 6.

Exploration of self The benefits and reasons as to why play is important to human development can be thought of in numerous ways due to the individual’s perspective of what relaxes them, what engages them, and what brings joy to their minds. The nature of individual play is based on exploration of the mind. It is widely thought to be subjective and involves “the process of trial and error – especially error – [which is] a natural and essential part of the picture.”3 The exploratory nature of play is determined by the environment that the human is surrounded.

Active exploration, or play, “is arguably

one of the central mediators in brain development” that allows for humans “to obtain and organize a developmentally appropriate experience” for themselves.4

When humans find themselves in a comfortable space, they

are more curious and willing to create their own experience and test out all the possibilities of the environment to suit their imagination’s needs. They then find themselves in a state of playfulness, where anything is possible.

If humans are given free range to engage in their environments, they have

the ability to transform their present surroundings to match what they envision in their minds. Humans will only engage in a space if they feel comfortable approaching it. The space should evoke a meaning for the person and that can only happen if the space is comfortable enough to allow an experience within it to occur and “if meaning is created by a positive connection to people, connections that create a sense of belonging, of safety, a feeling that personal rights will be protected.”5 As long as a person feels comfortable in the space 3

“Games, Gamers, and Gaming: The Importance of Play,” last modified Jun 15, 2011, gaming_the.html.csp


Wendy L. Haight and James E. Black. “A Comparative Approach To Play: CrossSpecies and Cross-Cultural Perspectives of Play in Development,” Human Development 44 (2001): #, accessed December 11, 2012,


Stephen Carr et al., Public Space, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 190.


in which they are engaging, being able to manipulate and test out new ideas without inhibitions will help them progress their own self-development.

Guided active exploration

Informal, social exploration affects the development of neighborhoods

and their involvement with managing the public spaces within.

As long as

public spaces evoke a meaning for the neighbors and allow them to explore the space, they will feel comfortable protecting and taking care of the land. It is essential, though, that the meaning of a space is acceptable for the current time and that it will be understood in the future. For architects, the “most difficult, least developed, and potentially most rewarding [discovery] would be the development of qualities and associative meaning that are appropriate to our own time and place and the experience of our emerging culture.”1 This is difficult due to the need to know the type of people who will be interacting with the space, and goes back to understanding that the individual person’s perception of play may be different than one other’s. In order to guide active exploration in spaces “our society, which lacks spiritual unity, [could use] meaningful design [and] draw inspiration from our understanding of human development and from our growing awareness of our place in the biosphere.”2 Guided active exploration spaces can provide moments of learning about the biological environment and how human’s impact may help or harm it. The visual links about the environment that can be provided in redeveloped lots gives neighbors a better grasp of understanding about what can be done to become more proactive in helping maintain healthy and active community spaces. 1 2


Carr et al., Public Spaces, 267. Carr et al., Public Spaces, 268.

Social active exploration Community input about what social spaces they wish to have in their neighborhoods will help ensure the sustained use of developed lots.


understanding the community, architects can use these social spaces to provide meaning for the community members and be “in some way appropriate to [each] person and her culture, makes her aware of her community, her past, the web of life, and the universe of time and space in which these are contained.”3 These social spaces can provide active and engaging environments for larger groups of people of all ages. In these spaces, people can learn about one another, their community, and the environment as they are engaged in playful activity. In neighborhoods with active community groups, “the repeated activities there can encourage ties to the site. The connections can be facilitated by physical attributes of the site. These physical details become symbols of group membership.”4 The physical design of the spaces that encourage active group explorations will signify that the people involved are committed to evoking a positive meaning for their group. This will, in turn, make it easier for other neighbors to want to join in the activities that take place in the space. This will increase the interpersonal and social explorations that help to create more active neighborhoods. Exploration for all Knowing that play can help foster social development, the challenge of ensuring that neighborhoods provide all age groups with access to play is vital. The development from childhood to adult causes a change in the way humans view their surroundings. Young children view their world through their 3 4

Carr et al., Public Spaces, 187. Carr et al., Public Spaces, 205.


imaginations and see multiple possibilities for the use of objects and spaces. As they grow and become adults, they “transcend the immediately available world by way of semiotic reconstruction of its meaningfulness.”1 Ralph R. Ireland talks about “The Six ‘Ages of Play’” as being difficult to understand due to the variables associated with one individual. This includes the rural or urban environment they grew up in, their religion, race, and any physical, mental or social handicaps the individual person has.

In order to provide

recreational space in neighborhoods, it is important to know the sociological aspects of the life cycle in relation to play. Ireland defines the ages of play as being the infant, pre-school children, adolescents, young adults, middle-age adults, and older adults. It is important that spaces provided for play include a variety of facilities, both indoor and outdoor, to accommodate the needs of different age groups, types of play, and seasons of the year. Ireland describes the infant as exploring the world in a stable position during their first few months of life until they are strong enough for independent mobility. Infants generally inhabit small, indoor spaces for exploration under the guidance of an adult.

Pre-school children

have grown enough to recognize those around them and socialize in small groups under guided play. At this age, children do not put up social barriers due to gender, race, creed, or handicap.2 Pre-school children are able to play in both indoor and outdoor spaces that allow them to discover the meaning of the space for themselves. Ireland determines that adolescents have more of a say as to the type of solitary activity they wish to engage in, whether it be active or sedentary. They also engage in small group play, typically with 1

Jaan Valsiner, “Co-Constructionism and Development: A Socio-Historic Tradition,” Yearbook of Psychology 69 (1996): 71, accessed December 11, 2012. index.php/AnuarioPsicologia/index.


Ralph R. Ireland, “The Significance of Recreational Maturation in the Educational Process: The Six ‘Ages of Play,’” Journal of Educational Sociology 32 (Mar 1959): 359, accessed December 11, 2012,


members of the same sex, as they play sports or have after-school playtime. Adolescents explore in larger spaces that allow for social development. The spaces they would generally encounter have meaning for them that tells them if they are allowed to enter as well as where and how to explore.


states that young adults are able to engage in different types of play that adolescents cannot afford. They tend to play in both large and small groups that include both genders. Young adults are more mobile and independent, therefore, more willing to take on larger tasks of explorations that challenge them both mentally and physically. As people grow older, Ireland says, middleage adults have limited time for play due to careers and family. Their leisure is spent watching their children or finding small moments of time to relax and explore outdoors. Older adults lose their physical capacity for active play, but still try and engage in their favorite recreational activities.3 These activities are spent either indoors or outdoors, alone or with small groups of people. Neighborhoods that provide opportunities for all types of age groups to enjoy leisure time will help bring people together to allow for their community to develop socially through active exploration. Lack of activity in neighborhoods encourages crime Residents lose leisure time outdoors when vacant lots are present on their streets because of the crime that takes place in these unmanaged pieces of land.

Criminals see these neighborhoods as unmanaged and out of the

control of any city authority. Therefore, they find that they can get away with what crime they wish because no one is around to watch.

Oscar Newman

states that, “when the image of an area is negative, it increases fear and discourages inhabitants from spending more time in their space and managing


Ireland, “The Significance of Recreational Maturation in the Educational Process: The Six ‘Ages of Play,” 360.


it on their own.”1 This instills fear in residents and they choose to say inside, where it is safe.

This also brings about problems with social and

economic neighborhood development.

Community members choose to not

hang out on the street to interact with each other, businesses move away, and housing prices decline when crime takes over. When there is more than one vacant lot on the street, the blight of the neighborhood increases.2 This is why it is important for communities to have spaces that allow them to be actively exploring outdoors. Active exploration reduces crime in Philadelphia In 1999, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society started a program, Philadelphia Green, to clean up vacant lots to create healthier neighborhoods in the city of Philadelphia.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania

followed this program in certain sections of the city for a decade and reported on the health and safety affects of cleaning up unmanaged land. They found that “greening was linked to significant reduction in gun assaults across most of Philadelphia and significant reductions of vandalism.” They also discovered that residents felt less stress and were more inclined to exercise outdoors.3 The redevelopment of vacant lots in Philadelphia has a direct affect on the people that live in these areas. If these people have opportunities to control their space, their neighborhoods will be less vulnerable to crime.4 Then, residents can feel free to actively explore their neighborhoods to create the type of community they wish for themselves and their children. The spaces should be able to create meaning and “meet the daily needs – function, form, materials, 1

Reynald and Elffers, “The Future of Newman’s Defensible Space Theory: Linking Defensible Space and the Routine Activities of Place,” 30.

2 3

See Contagion Effect, page 49 University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, “Rehabilitating Vacant Lots Improves Urban Health and Safety,” Science Daily (Nov 18, 2011), accessed December 11, 2012, 4 Reynald and Elffers, “The Future of Newman’s Defensible Space Theory: Linking Defensible Space and the Routine Activities of Place,” 26.


and the relations among them, that greatly influence the user’s experience of associative meaning.”5 This can be done as long as community groups have active voices in representing their neighborhood so that the vacant lots that get redeveloped will fit in with its social and physical context.

Conclusion on active exploration Public spaces developed around the concept of play will encourage people to partake in the active exploration of their environments. Playing instills a sense of freedom in a person. People are willing to let their guard down if they are in a state of true playfulness. Plato once said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” In order to play, “one needs to be relaxed, with a minimum of need to impress anybody, including the self” which causes people to be more willing to explore what is around them.6 This exploration can include getting to know one’s neighbors, one’s environment, and one’s community. With opportunities for socialization, the development of active people and neighborhoods occur. For Philadelphia to continue their effort in redeveloping vacant lots into clean, green spaces, they need to figure out how to further sustain these spaces for lasting management. It is important for the lots to provide spaces of meaning for individuals to discover more about themselves, their environment, and their community. Architectural exploration Architecture that provides spaces for active self-exploration, guided exploration, and social exploration can replace vacant lots in blighted 5 6

Carr et al., Public Spaces, 266.

Luciano L’Abate, The Praeger Handbook of Play Across the Life Cycle, (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2009), 13.


neighborhoods to help reduce crime and allow neighborhoods to come together through social development. Architects should be willing to explore the blighted neighborhoods they are affecting so that they know the types of facilities needed for the culture and demographics of the area. Once they know the existing conditions of the neighborhoods and the residents themselves, they can determine the location of where to place the redeveloped lots and from there, figure out what type of architecture they will be designing. The architecture can be based on the perspective of the residents and what will be meaningful for them. Neighbors will feel most comfortable engaging in spaces that they have had input in, giving them a sense of ownership. A collaborative effort between architects and communities will allow for the sustained use and maintenance of redeveloped vacant lots in urban neighborhoods.



thesis objectives



revitalize vacant lots in Philadelphia

- with spaces for active exploration

- an application that can be applied to all



reduce blight in neighborhoods - active spaces will show that the neighborhood has ownership over the open spaces


bring residents out to interact and - learn about their environment

- learn about themselves

- learn about their neighborhood


affect all age groups - children (5-12)

- young adults (13-24)

- older adults (25+)


exploratory methods

what has been done to try to activate vacant lots in Philadelphia?


“Managing Vacant Land in Philadelphia: A Key Step Toward Neighborhood Revitalization” Fairmount Venture’s Inc. Prepared for: The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society In March 2000, Fairmount Venture’s Inc. released “Managing Vacant Land in Philadelphia: A Key Step Toward Neighborhood Revitalization.” They worked with The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) for twenty-five years to convert and maintain a small portion of vacant lots in the city of Philadelphia. The lots were maintained as community gardens, parks, and play areas. Despite their efforts, the problem of over 40,000 vacant lots in Philadelphia expanded. The study was done so that they could determine how vacant land could be maintained in Philadelphia’s residential neighborhoods. They wanted the study to be an adoption of a realistic, cost-effective system through which all vacant land is maintained until an appropriate long-term use for each parcel is found. The study investigates the public policy rationale, legal basis, management approach, and the financing mechanism of a new system. The study provides recommendations for an efficient process for conveying neglected vacant lots to new owners who will redevelop, reuse, and maintain them. In the 1950s, Philadelphia had built enough homes for two-million people as they saw an increase of population. After the 1950s, there was a dramatic economic, political, and sociological shift and by 2000, there were less than 1.5 million people living in Philadelphia. Since then, the PHS recognized that there were 30,900 residential lots in the city held by owners who have not paid their taxes or maintained their properties. Blight has become apparent in the city and tax dollars have


been wasted on piecemeal clean-up efforts. The city only owns onethird of the total amount of vacant lots and does not take a proactive response in answering complaints about the decreased quality of life in the neighborhoods affected. There is no one office that ensures lots are managed after they have been cleaned. Without a coordinating entity responsible for vacant land, there is no policy to manage all the lots within Philadelphia. The current processes are complex and take years to complete. Vacant lots are financial burdens to the city. In their study, the PHS proposed an Asset Management Approach to the vacant lot problem. This approach will be comprehensive, in that one, coordinating entity is responsible for management of vacant lots; strategic, so that there is an aggressive approach to cleaning, maintaining, acquiring and transferring ownership of vacant lots; ongoing, so that every lot will be maintained until appropriate use is found. With this approach, vacant lots can become a financial return to the city. The PHS also proposed an Office for Vacant Land Management (OVLM) to help private parties acquire vacant land. The OVLM will also enforce maintenance standards. The “Clean and Lien� program will charge lot owners for the cost of cleaning and take vacant lots away from tax delinquent, negligent owners so that they can be put in a land bank for later reuse, a one-stop disposition office that streamlines the process of transferring lots to new owners. All vacant lots will be inventoried and entered into a vacant land database that is linked to, and shares information with, the neighborhood information system. The policies instated will require the city to take aggressive strategies of acquisition and transferring of vacant lots. They must facilitate sheriff sales with the goal to acquire lots rather than capture revenue.


The PHS also saw value in the City taking advantage of program partners. Community-based organizations currently lack resources from the city. Within the proposal, OVLM will find appropriate roles for the organizations that include planning for neighborhood redevelopment, marketing








communication between OVLM and the community and serving as contractors to the City for cleaning and maintenance. Another partner the City should work with would be intermediate organizations such as the PHS. They would be responsible for the monitoring, cleaning, and maintenance of lots. They will also be advocates for vacant lot management, offer technical assistance based on the best 25 practice needed,







interim and long-term open space initiatives with community-based organizations, and provide advice and consulting on environmental remediation efforts.

The PHS “Managing Vacant Land in Philadelphia� study found vacant

lots to be hidden spaces of opportunity and that the City needs to be more proactive in implementing solutions for facilitating redevelopment in residential neighborhoods to promote a better quality of life for their citizens.


“Vacant Land Management in Philadelphia: The Costs of the Current System and the Benefits of Reform” Econsult CorporationPenn Institute for Urban ResearchMay 8 Consulting Prepared for: Redevelopment Authority of the City of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations November 2010

Econsult Corporation reported that the City owned one-quarter of the total amount of vacant lots in Philadelphia. The lots are owned by different agencies with different rules and agenda. The City rarely uses tax foreclosure power to put privately-owned vacant parcels into more responsible hands. This results in neighborhoods suffering under blight. The cost of vacant lots results in $3.6 billion in lost household wealth, which reduces housing values between 6.5 – 20%. This equates to an average of $8,000 per household in the City. The City must spend $20 million in vacant land maintenance costs for waste cleanup, pest control, police and fire. There are $2 million in uncollected property taxes, 17,000 tax delinquent properties. This number has been increasing by two-million each year. This problem is caused by fragmented ownership and services that are spread across multiple agencies. There is no one entity in the government that can make strategic land use decisions. The City is in need of a strategic and coordinated response to vacant land so that they can be transformed from liabilities to assets through redevelopment, with significant gains in neighborhood stability, job creation and tax revenue generation. The City needs to show aggressiveness, work with


residents and for-profit and not-for-profit developers in a coordinated and organized manner. This can help to create jobs, vibrant blocks, and increase the population and tax-base. The Econsult Corporation suggests a reformed approach that provides efficient, predictable, and strategic acquisition and disposition of vacant land. They look at the idea of land banks in Baltimore, Cleveland, Genesee County, Portland, that are comprehensive not only in accounting for the existence and characteristic of their vacant parcel holding, but also in their ability to strategize across holding towards land retention and disposition actions that maximize a number of objectives. This includes the leveraging of proceeds from higher market properties for efforts intended to assist neighborhoods in which lower market properties exist. This helps authorities determine which parcels to hold for a higher price, which parcels to aggressively price for disposition and development, which parcels to develop for public purposes, affordable housing, and which parcels will be better to maintain to minimize blight. This approach will also require a more aggressive foreclosure system.

This approach allows for the reduction and elimination of current

costs (maintenance and property values). The approach will also allow for more and faster development in neighborhoods.


“Put Abandoned Land in Our Hands� Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land Spring 2011

The Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land is a city-community partnership to transform blight into jobs, homes and parks. In their executive summary, they state that there is a vacant land crisis. There are over 40,000 parcels of blighted land and buildings that have been plaguing the city for over forty years. The government has been unable to create and implement a workable strategy. This is because the City does not know what properties they own. They have no uniform process to transfer land. It poorly maintains its properties, which harms neighborhoods, allows for crime to occur and is a poor example for private owners. There is no policy to guide decisions about the re-use of vacant land. The City sells foreclosed properties to the highest bidder without them showing any plans for redevelopment. The Campaign suggests a solution for this vacant land crisis. They state that the City must become proactive. There should be a city-wide Philadelphia Land Bank that would have the authority to clear titles, and to transfer properties in a way that benefits neighborhoods. The city council should authorize the strategic transfer of significant number of vacant properties to neighborhood Community Land Trusts. The Community Land Trusts will permanently ensure that the properties contribute to the community and remain affordable for neighborhood residents and businesses. Neighbors struggle to build businesses in areas of blight. In the example of Kathy Vissar, who sold architectural moldings, she could


not buy a nearby property to expand her business because the city sold the land to condominiums. The building still sits there unused five years later. Residents also have tried to sustain community gardens in their neighborhoods where there are plenty of vacant lots. The current system of acquiring land does not allow for them to buy the property so they can have access to fresh food. If they use the property, they do not know when the land will get taken away from them by the City. Philadelphia’s current system is slow, inconsistent, unclear, and you “must know someone� to gain property. There are seventeen agencies responsible for vacant city lots and there is no single one that handles the acquiring, assembling, maintaining, or selling of vacant lots. There is no standard for lot maintenance and the City only sells land when there is an upturn in the market. The Campaign believes that there is a need for a Land Bank and Community Land Trust in Philadelphia. The Land Bank is a virtual bank where all parcels that the city has gained through foreclosure, eminent domain, purchase, or donation will be monitored. The Bank wipes property clean of all municipal liens and provides land with cost to a responsible owner who must agree to maintain and redevelop property within a reasonable time. This gives a chance for not-for-profit organizations and developers to reuse vacant lands to benefit communities. The Land Bank will be financed by selling properties, issuing bonds, receiving grants and accepting donations of money and land.

The Community Land Trust will be a long-term organization that will control and care for the property in their neighborhood. They can sell or rent parcels to responsible owners. They will ensure that the property will not become prohibitively expensive as market values rise, pushing 31

the existing community out. The Land Trust will act as a representation of the community so that neighborhood interests are protected. “Policies for the Sale and Reuse of City-Owned Property” City of Philadelphia April 20, 2012

The purpose of this policy is to promote and regulate the sale and reuse of City properties. The principles found within this policy are consistent with Philadelphia 2035 and other city-approved and accepted plans. The plans and policies are working to eliminate blight and revitalize neighborhoods, strengthen the City’s tax base, sell (at market price) properties without an adopted public purpose, and discount properties that provide significant community benefits, and convey land in a unified, predictable, timely and transparent process. The policies apply to the real property inventories owned by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA), the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC), and the surplus inventory held by the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Property. To qualify for purchasing and bidding of vacant lots, all Qualified Purchasers must pay property taxes and maintain properties in accordance with all municipal codes and ordinances. They should not own any property that is subject to any significant unremediated violation of City codes and ordinances. They should have never been an owner in a completed Philadelphia tax foreclosure proceeding within the past five years. They should not appear as the owner of record on the Philadelphia District Attorney’s list of land that has been confiscated due to criminal activity. They must submit a qualified bid that shows adequate plans for redevelopment, have demonstrated capacity to complete work proposed, have proved financial 32

resources, and have demonstrated ongoing operating capacity. This all must be submitted by a Qualified Purchaser. The City reserves the right to decline any offer to purchase a lot if the sale does not advance the City’s goals or comport with its policies for property disposition.

The City will take on three approaches for the sales of vacant lots, which include, open and competitive market sales, listed direct sales, discounted sales. Discounted sales will be considered if plans for redevelopment include affordable housing, economic development projects, or community development projects. Community development projects are considered when the plan for redevelopment will benefit the community by supporting the existing community, providing facilities or provision of space for new community facilities such as libraries, recreation centers, health centers, computing centers, and playgrounds. Also, the community benefits from significant improvements to the community infrastructure that include greening of schoolyards or recreation center yard to achieve stormwater management, public recreation, or community gardening goals as identified by Philly 2035. The proposed redevelopment can also plan new infrastructure or support for existing to improve safety and mobility for children, seniors, and other pedestrians, including sidewalk improvements, pedestrian plazas, traffic medians, or easement for trails. The City will also support the plans for community gardens as long as there is a sustained track record of excellent maintenance, broad community involvement and financial capacity to maintain and care for the property. Side yards may also be obtained so long as the vacant lots is adjacent to the applicant’s property with a common boundary on either side or behind the property. It must be located on a block that is predominantly occupied.

The City will also license the use of property of temporary pop-up events. The City will determine these types of uses case-by-case. 33

Until a land bank bill gets passed in Philadelphia, what is a temporary solution for reducing





How can communities come together to show they they care




spaces in their neighborhood?


site exploration


va c a n t l o t %





25-50 >50


The majority of vacant lots are found in North and South Philadelphia. Noth Philadelphia has more industrial vacant lots, while in South Philadelphia, there is a denser population of residences. Choosing to redevelop lots in South Philadelphia will insure that the interventions can affect more people surrounding the lots.


va c a n t l o t s


18th and Mountain - target user: children - located by St. Thomas Aquinas Missionary School (K-8)

between 18th/19th and Dickinson - target user: young adults - located within a dense residential block

22nd and Tasker - target user: older adults - located on an inactive commercial street

In observing visual blight in South Philadelphia, the Point Breeze neighborhood is very dense in both residential property and vacant lots. There are over 1,000 private lots and 311 city-owned lots here. The only type of social activity seen here is people hanging out on their stoops, while small vacant lots are scattered throughout, filled with mangled landscape and trash. 39


program exploration

understand who is exploring these spaces +what they will be using them for



young adults

goals learning




space size




guided: limited scope of comfort

free: accept new

structured: complex


understanding of effect on others; need safety

independence; unfamiliarity

voicing opinion; willingness to act

how many

group: -students+teacher


large group -various people from the community

what happens

-place to garden -interactive sustainable practices

-to rearrange -to make -to meditate -to climb

-to assemble -to meet -to advocate


-weather +vegetation -technology +information provided

-weather -space +remnants from previous user

-weather +indoor/outdoor -event

-interactive -educate -provide food -safety

-comfortable to enter -free to interpret -changeable

-attract outsiders -year-round use -day and night -easily viewed

familiarity +school +home

rebellious nature +interested in new

nostalgia +same age group


target audience

age: 5-12

how basis of learning challenges mental

outcomes of design comfort

age: 13-25

old adults age: 26+



works cited + bibliography


works cited Carr, Stephen, Mark Francis, Leanne G. Rivlin, and Andrew M. Stone. Public Space. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Haight, Wendy L., and James E. Black. “A Comparative Approach To Play:

Cross-Species and Cross-Cultural Perspectives of Play in

Development.” Human Development 44 (2001): 228-234. Accessed

December 11, 2012.

Ireland, Ralph R. “The Significance of Recreational Maturation in the

Educational Process: The Six ‘Ages of Play.’” Journal of Educational

Sociology. 32 (Mar 1959): 356-360. Accessed December 11, 2012. L’Abate, Luciano. The Praeger Handbook of Play Across the Life Cycle. Santa

Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2009.

Library Journal Archive. “Games, Gamers, and Gaming: The Importance of 

Play.” Last modified Jun 15, 2011. ljinprintcurrentissue/890743-403/games_gamers__gaming_the.html.csp

Reynald, Danielle M. and Henk Elffers. “The Future of Newman’s Defensible

Space Theory: Linking Defensible Space and the Routine Activities of Place.” European Journal of Criminology. 6 (2009): 25-46. Accessed

December 11, 2012. doi: 10.1177/1477370808098103

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7 appendix

thesis prep fall 2012


“lost space” collages




mind map




contagion effect of vacant land

APPENDIX The Contagion Effect of Vacant Land: The Impact of Vacant Lots on Surrounding Properties

Single vacant lot, mid-block: 8 lots affected

Single vacant lot on corner, 8 lots affected

Multiple vacant lots on corner; 11 lots affected

Multiple vacant lots mid-block; more than 27 affected

Fairmont Ventures, Inc. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Vacant Land Management In Philadelphia Neighborhoods: Cost Benefit Analysisâ&#x20AC;?



PHILADELPHIA GREEN WORKS 2015 by 2015, 75-percent of residents will have access to park and recreation resouces within a ten minute (<1 mile) walking distance of their house EAST AND WEST OAK LANE LOWER NORTHEAST PHILADELPHIA



2008: 10,300 acres

Map Courtesy of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and PennPraxis

Philadelphia Greenworks 2015

2012: 10,400 acres 2015: 10,800 acres


Half-Mile Zero Existing Public Green Space




Existing Public Green Space Green 2015 Priority Areas

Green 2015 Priority Areas



discovering “play”

< 11

12-16 17-21 22-30 31-60 60 <





create work





design methodology

there needs to be more than just cleaning and maintaining these vacant lots as blank canvases of grassy land. there is a need to activate the space through rethinking about vacant lot redevelopment as a user-directed role of exploration of space, discovery of the environment, and free play.


educational residential



young adult older adult









self community

active exploration

acting upon your curiosities to test and manipulate your environment


l ea r n in g go a l

willing to risk

transformative architecture


e x p l o r a tio n


target user

lot location

one move impacts the development of the environment, the self, and the community


design exploration

in all three prototyped designed lots, users will engage in active exploration, where they will act upon their curiosities to test and manipulate their environment through transformative architecture. the designs are modular, configurable, and adaptable to the space provided. all the designs are abstract for flexibility within the system, but have the ability to reference program.


outdoor classroom target users: children learning goal: environment idea of reveal

mountain st 58

18th st

fernon st

children seek balance between whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s familiar and new discovery


the lot features a centralized wall of interlocked components which facilitates moments of free play or program



1 the wall is built up of one component

designed to interlock with its adjacent replica to slide back and forth without being pulled out

2 the top and bottom rows are static to avoid any cantilevering of extended blocks



mural alley target users: young adults learning goal: self idea of release

18th st

dickinson st 64

young adults are willing to take risks to look for the different and unknown


the user will determine what type of space they feel most comfortable in to make their wall art



1 user can unlock, move, and lock the

closed-loop component system. as the handle portion is moved, the rest of the system follows.



picnic pavillion target users: older adults learning goal: community idea of adjusting

22nd st










tasker st

older adults have the most experience and know how to create comfortable environments for the situation at hand


the pavillion facilitates space for community gathering and transforms itself into spaces for sitting, eating, and preparing food



1each box has a counterbalanced part.

as one box goes up or down, its partner does the opposite as they are connected by a hidden pulley system

2 the boxes are structured to poles to prevent swaying








vacant lots with transformative architecture, we can facilitate space in which one can actively explore




environment, the self, and the community.


10 reflection of thesis exploration


i think he just thought of it as a process, and at some point the process would be over and when it was, what it was would reveal itself.

Odd Lots: Revisiting Gordon Matta-Clarkâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Fake Estates

here I go ... I believe that thesis has been the culmination of learning about myself throughout its course. Yes, I designed a project that I truly stand by, but I also figured out who I am as a designer. I am not sure if I can explain it right now, but I will try. My original thesis proposal was about “lost space” in cities. I was not sure where this would take me, but I accepted it’s unknown future and set out to explore. I just kept imagining small spaces. I wanted to do something with small spaces, but I didn’t know what that would be. When learning about the issues about having to policy to redevelop vacant lots in Philadelphia, I realized this made me mad. I have a strong connection to the city because I am from South Jersey (where have a strong comradery of admiration towards the city) and my grandparents grew up in South Philadelphia. I know Philadelphia has character and potential to grow to be something better than it is, but how can it ever reach its potential if the government does not even back it? Politics never made much sense to me, but here I am, wanting to fight against this issue. One Friday evening in September 2012, right before sunset, I went to a pocket park event at Moore College. It was the same day as (park)ing day in Philadelphia. Needless to say, none of the installations at Moore struck me as something I had wanted to design, but I sat down on a bench anyway and an older man approached me. He sat down next to me, asking if I had designed this space we were engaged in. No, I had not. I was just enjoying a night in Center City, still unsure about my thesis project. I started to explain to him that I wanted to redevelop vacant lots, but did not have any idea about to do with them. This man got so excited about the potential of vacant lots. He told me about how he knew Patch Adams (yes! the clown doctor!) and that he was working to fund and redevelop a vacant lot for him in North Philadelphia. He went on and on about what Philadelphia neighborhoods needed as far as access healthcare, food, and gardens go. He also went on a few rants about how my generation has a big job to do in regards to fixing up cities due to his generation’s (“greedy” as he described) destruction. I think he talked to me for a good twenty minutes until I realized that I was mesmerized because my mind was racing and couldn’t respond to 79

him anymore. He noticed this and we passed on each other’s contact information. He was Paul Glover - the same Paul Glover that was assisting Dave Kratzer’s D8 class with their studio project (the Patch Adams center). I went home so excited about the potential for my project. While I still did not know exactly what I would design, I gained some confidence in the potential for my project. That was the same night I made my “mind map.” (I will refer to this again towards the end). From that conversation, I began to think about the types of activities people of all ages could engage in under the idea of social spaces. This is when I realized that not all ages actively engage in play. I could not figure out why play only has a connotation to be directed towards children. Personally, I do not want to give up on play. I decided that I needed to test out this curiosity and design play spaces that could have an affect all ages. Where do these play spaces go? I had an agenda for finding blighted areas to place them in, but with 40,000+ lots to choose from, how do I do this? I guess once you find the right information (maps, news articles), you begin to make some better sense of things. As I narrowed Philadelphia down to South Philadelphia, I took a drive around and found myself in Point Breeze. As I traveled through its streets, I knew that this was the place I needed to affect. Its blight was apparent. Moving into January, had to get to designing. I felt as though I had so much information in my collection that it was hard to sort it all. I got a chance to talk to Aaron Goldblatt (a museum exhibition designer, and play expert). I had another mesmerizing moment. He talked to me about how all age groups experience play. Making a play space is not just about making a spot for people to engage in, as designers, we must also take into account the user’s physical and mental conditions based on their stage of development, while deciding what we want their learning outcomes to be. This was another exciting moment during the process because I was able to start letting ideas that had been locked in the back of my mind flow out onto paper. From here, I established exact site locations, programs, types of activities, and learning goals I wanted to facilitate in my designs. Here is where it got complicated. From my understanding of play, a person who has control of their environment is able to successfully attain their 80

learning goal. To me, this meant the person should have the ability to change the space they are experiencing. Further, this meant kinetic structure. The more information I layered, the foggier my design ideas got. It took me until after mid-crit to finally strip down my ideas. Trying to layer so much information, while designing a moving structure was forcing me to design things I was not comfortable with. What was I really envisioning for this project? What do I really want these people to do? I knew I had the answers in my head, digging them out was becoming the hardest part.

keep it simple. When I finally made a large-scale model of a moving component is when I realized that I needed to simplify, simplify, simplify. Here is what I have been really picturing in my head:

Kids playing outside and discovering new things.

Young adults making art in a cool spot.

Adults meeting at the local corner to engaging in conversation with each other.

All of this was to be connected by the idea that the users get to make their environment through moving the structures.

the only way to do it is to do it. just have fun. I had to keep telling myself this. Here is where I needed to encourage myself to just be myself. Here is also where I started to contemplate architecture school and my time spent within the studio realm. I realized that architecture is tough because we all strive to be creative while fighting against the forces of practicality. There are so many factors within structures, materiality, and function that can quickly negate an idea that seems so beautiful and feasible inside of your head. I had to forget about the practicality in order to push forward and finally develop three projects that I felt excited about taking to my 81

final presentation. Not only did I think they were all exactly what I had been bundling up inside of my mind, I realized they all could be feasibly made as well. While in production mode, I was referred to the Building Trust International competition titled “play-scapes.” Reading through the prompt about redeveloping a part of a city (any city in the world) into a space for play, I realized this competition brief was summarizing my thesis. This was another push of encouragement that I needed. I realized that my project is more than just another design project that I completed in architecture school. This project has potential to go further and actually become real. At this point, I was proud of myself. I made a project that can have an impact on so many levels and it is something that is needed, not only in Philadelphia, but in the world. That’s huge. When it came to the last week before the final critique, I had been toying with the idea of not having a digital presentation, and I wanted to create a presentation that reflected my project of active exploration. I was envisioning my boards hidden until I was to talk about them, and then they would reveal themselves. This vision became four 5’ x 8’ frames that allowed my drawings to hang backwards and I could flip them when it was time to talk about them. With uncertainty from others, I felt strongly about making this work. And I did. When the end result came and my work was set up right before I was about to present for the final time, I could not believe how beautiful everything came together. After flipped through my proposition for redeveloping vacant lots in Philadelphia and started receiving my critiques from the jurors, I was in awe. Everything happened the way I had imagined. The conversation was exactly what I wanted to have with the audience. The support and extension of ideas for my project brought tears to my eyes (yes, actually). I could not have asked for a better way to end my architecture school career. 82

Now, back to the mind map. As I was checking back on my previous

work, I came across my mind map. people. play. move. interact.

community. active. small changes = big difference. make changes. be willing to change.

I was amazed that I wrote all of this back in September and here I am now, in May, wondering why I had struggled to create this project if I had the ideas in my head the whole time. This is something I canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t put to words right now, but for now I will have to accept the fact that I need to trust myself. I have all of the tools I need inside of me (somewhere). I just need to be courageous in letting them reveal themselves regardless of how crazy the ideas may seem, there is always room for simplification.


in making things, there's similarities in the creative process, where you have to take a chance, where you have to sort of say, 'i'm going to put myself out there in front of people.' there's a courage to it. -Dave Matthews

small moves make a big difference

one move: activating vacant lots  

with one move of replacing vacant lots with transformative architecture, we can facilitate space in which one can actively explore learning...