TAKING ROOT: GARDEN
As buds appear on trees and the wind softens its bite, Philly's garden scene gears up for the season. But this sight isn't limited to the spring — Philly’s garden culture is reviving the city socially, economically and environmentally. Over the past few aren't simply modest vegetable gardens; they're urban farms, community gardens, pop-up gardens and beer gardens, and they're taking up residence in the heart of the concrete jungle. The question is, why are gardens becoming an “It” thing in Philly, and what does that mean for the city? BY ANDIE DAVIDSON REVIVING THE URBAN SCENE: POP-UP GARDENS
Images courtesy of Isabella Cuan.
38 THE WALK / SUMMER 2015
mble through the city streets in the summer, and you might stumble upon an unexpected patch of green in a lot that only a few months before hosted only weeds and trash. These pop-up gardens are becoming increasingly common in Philly. A pop-up garden is a temporary installation, usually set up in a vacant city lot, featuring plants, edible veggies and various programs and activities. The roots of the pop-up trend in Philly can largely be traced to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's (PHS) annual pop-up garden, which launched in Center City in 2011. Since then, both the pop-up movement and the PHS garden in particular have exploded. According to PHS Director of Communications Alan Jaffe, the PHS popup has blossomed from 5,000 visitors the first year to 6,500 visitors the second year, 28,000 in 2013 and 52,000 this past summer. "Philadelphia is embracing the concepts," Jaffe said. "They’re getting more and more popular [and] we’ve seen other organizations and businesses opening up similar kinds of outdoor gardens." Initially, the PHS garden focused on daytime programming, a spot for families and local residents to learn about gardening and PHS programs and to simply relax outside. Education is still a component of the garden: visitors can learn about the types of plants that can be grown in urban gardens and get tips on starting their own green spaces. As of 2013, however, PHS kicked up the game with the introduction of a beer garden, evening programs and tasty bites from local restaurateurs and food trucks. Similar spaces such as Spruce Street Harbor Park at the Penn’s Landing Marina and Garden Variety in Northern Liberties picked up on the trend with outdoor dining and gathering "yard" spots. Suddenly, gardens were no longer simply daytime neighborhood novelties but rather summer hotspots. And this focus on fun is the key aspect of the gardens. Most pop-up gardens, though they may grow a few vegetables, don't have the space to focus on food production. They do, however, enliven the urban landscape. On a literal level, the gardens spruce up vacant lots and unfrequented areas, turning urban eyesores into "urban oases." Beyond that, they serve as social gathering spots, bringing communities together and fueling Philly's summer scene. "With the pop-up gardens, we’re giving people a new experience in the urban environment," Jaffe explained. "We’re giving them an opportunity to enjoy the streets of Philadelphia in a new way, the energy of the city in a new way." Beer gardens are now taking the lead in this, attracting a younger urbanite crowd looking to enjoy sultry summer nights. In addition to the advent of the beer garden in PHS's summer pop-up, several other pop-up beer gardens have hit the Philly scene in recent years, including the Independence Beer Garden in Old City and the beer gardens at Eakins Oval, Spruce Street Harbor Park and Morgan's Pier. Many of these serve local craft beers, further supporting local trade with Philly beers like Yards and Flying Fish. Yet it isn't all fun and games. On top of creating a fun nightlife scene, these spaces also help forge a safer city overall. "We know that when we clean empty lots, we actually make neighborhoods safer,” Jaffe noted. “There’s less violence in neighborhoods where we work." Vacant lots are notorious hotspots for crime, and evidence (including a 2011 study by Penn professor Charles Branas) has linked rehabilitated green spaces to reduced levels of violence. It makes sense: instead of a shadowy cave, you have a bustling crowd of people and legitimate business. On that note, the gardens also offer an economic boost to neighborhood businesses. More people means more sales, so lively garden crowds (read: shoppers) are a boon to nearby shops. According to Jaffe, PHS has observed up to a 10 percent increase in business in shops surrounding their gardens. Additionally, he notes that “greening" spaces improves property values as much as 10 percent. "We’re making [the city] more attractive," Jaffe said, "and when you make a neighborhood more attractive, you also stimulate economic redevelopment in those neighborhoods."