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President’s Preview

September 5, 2013

Stormwater trenches, Mural painting, and urban gardening taking place on the Big Green Block - Kensington, Philadelphia - Front street b/t Palmer and Norris



Next week, over 700 professionals from around the country will descend on Philadelphia for the fifth Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference, coming together to share ideas and inspire action to revitalize vacant properties.

Reclaiming Vacant Properties will offer a host of innovative and interactive sessions on everything from the relationship between greening and improved public health, to how to respond to vacancy caused by disaster, to the evolution of land banking. We are especially excited to offer 8 mobile sessions that give participants the opportunity to get out into the city and learn firsthand from the amazing work happening in Philadelphia.

The mobile sessions will give participants a chance to dive into Philadelphia projects addressing a wide range of issues, from brownfields to anchor institutions to urban agriculture. For example, one of our mobile sessions will visit the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC)’s ambitious Big Green Block initiative.

Fifteen years ago, the Fishtown/Kensington community was littered with over 1,100 parcels of vacant land. Today, through the hard work of the NKCDC and other partners, including the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Water Department, Mural Arts Project and City of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation department, 75 percent of those properties have been reclaimed and stabilized. The area has become a model in green infrastructure, as the project aims to make 19125 the greenest zip code in Philadelphia. “The success of the Big Green Block lies largely in the extensive collaboration among the partners,” said NKCDC Deputy Director Shanta Schachter. “Each embraced this green vision and ran with it.”

In many older cities like Philadelphia, heavy rainfall overwhelms outdated stormwater infrastructure, causing wastewater to pollute many of our nation’s waterways. By capturing stormwater through a variety of innovative mechanisms, green infrastructure can help cities preserve the health of their waterways while making their communities greener, healthier places to live.

The Big Green Block does just this. As a component of NKCDC’s Sustainable 19125 Initiative, this groundbreaking project sustainably captures more than 95 percent of the block’s stormwater. In addition to the implementation of two rain gardens, two stormwater infiltration basins, and an aggressive tree planting campaign, the Big Green Block leaves no stone unturned for creative stormwater retention possibilities. The stormwater planting bed allows rain water to percolate before returning to the local aquifer, its high school is the only LEED-certified high school in the country, and both the local soccer field and soon-to-be-built basketball court allow for creative retention of stormwater.

“The value of projects like these are immeasurable to a community,” said NKCDC executive director Sandy Salzman. “In three years we’ve gone from a space that people avoided to one that the community now values.”
We are thrilled that RVP participants will have the opportunity to see the work being done in Fishtown/Kensington, leaving with the inspiration and knowledge to explore similar programs in their home communities. Together, we can create a paradigm shift where vacant properties are not viewed simply as liabilities, but rather as opportunities for transformation into vibrant and sustainable places like the Big Green Block.

I hope to see you in Philadelphia next week!


Tamar Shapiro
President and CEO
Center for Community Progress

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