South of Penn Community Lot
A vacant lot in Reading, Pennsylvania, that was once full of abandoned cars and trash now serves as a focal point for neighbor-led programs, art, and activities for youth in the community.
On a Friday in September 2021, a 110-pound turtle was walking along a patch of grass while children learned about reptiles and insects. The reptile show was part of a series of programs such as movie nights, cleanups, porch concerts, and art workshops that have been taking place at the South of Penn Community Lot. The lot is located in the southwestern corner of Reading in a neighborhood that has seen disinvestment and violence in recent years.
The journey to transform the lot began in 2018, when neighbors raised their concerns about the then-abandoned lot at a community meeting. Jeanette Buchanon, a resident who has lived in the neighborhood all her life, asked community organizer Tony Veloz to help lead the efforts. After the meeting, neighbors were interested in using the space for new programming and events.
Initially, neighbors approached city administrators to acquire permits for individual events. After some challenges with obtaining permits for each individual event, residents realized the most efficient way to proceed with programing would be to gain temporary control of the lot. They requested a memorandum of understanding from the city to allow ongoing use of the lot. The process of creating and approving the memorandum took four years to complete, and was recently signed in April of 2021.
After temporary control was granted, the group organized a series of cleanups and put up “no parking” signs. Neighbors organized volunteers to cut the grass and do other basic maintenance. Little by little the lot has taken on a new identity as a usable communal space.
Putting programming together has been the easy part, according to Tony Veloz. Maintaining the momentum and keeping volunteers engaged has been their challenge. But through consistency, a volunteer reward system, and rotating shifts, the group is working to make lot a community space for years to come.
Property Type: Residential Lot (no structure)
Project Type/ New Use: Event(s)
Project Purpose: Beautification; Community engagement, Improve safety
Initial Cost: Under $10,000
Funding Source: In kind services
Organization Type: Community Leader
Implementation Partners: Nonprofit – Arts & Culture
Community Type: Urban
Contributions By: Daniel Egusquiza