Community Progress considers a number of factors when selecting a host city for Reclaiming Vacant Properties, but one of the most basic and critical questions we ask is: “Are the people in this city committed to addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by vacant properties?” Through our selection, we look to acknowledge good work and also capitalize on the innovations and hard lessons from that work.
Throughout this year’s conference, you will hear from a range of leaders in Philadelphia and its neighboring cities. But one of the most striking ways to learn about what’s happening is to get out of the convention center and into the communities. And there’s a never-ending supply of places to explore in our host city.
We know that you, like we, venture beyond what the average visitor seeks out. You want to see progress as it is happening and want to meet the people making it happen — hearing first-hand about their struggles and triumphs. And you want to share your experiences with, and hear from, your fellow tour participants.
To help you do this, we’re offering seven tours over two days, each exemplifying state-of-the-art practices, fresh perspectives and true leadership around revitalization. The tours give you the opportunity to investigate some of the region’s most promising initiatives:
- Visit a number of community garden and urban agriculture sites and hear how the policy reforms that opened the door to make them a reality have spurred efforts that reduce crime, create investment opportunities and incubate local businesses.
- Cross the Delaware River into Camden, New Jersey to explore neighborhoods where community development corporations are utilizing two state programs, the Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit and the Abandoned Property Rehabilitation Act, to rehab and build new housing, mixed-use developments and amenities including a museum, gym and theater.
- Explore University City District on the west side of town and gain a better understanding of how leveraging the expertise and resources of anchor institutions, businesses, and entrepreneurs has led to vibrant public spaces.
- Hop on a boat to get a new perspective on brownfield redevelopment along the beautiful Schuylkill River. Hear how reclaiming these waterfront properties contributed to investments in housing, industrial and commercial activity, community farming enterprises, tourism and recreation.
- Travel through the Fishtown/Kensington community — birthplace of one of the nation’s leading vacant lot greening initiatives. Hear about how the neighborhood’s residents are working together to make theirs the greenest zip code in the city, and visit the Big Green Block — a $50 million investment in green infrastructure.
- Learn about a holistic approach to community revitalization in Eastern North Philadelphia that addresses the social, economic and ecological needs of the area’s residents. Through nonprofit and for-profit partnerships, the area is home to some of the city’s most exciting new developments including affordable and LEED-certified housing, a plaza providing food and other missing neighborhood services, a LEED-certified transit-oriented development project and a community-owned park with cutting-edge stormwater management features.
- Stroll along three West Philadelphia commercial corridors and talk with the organizations that have helped make them places of job creation and workforce development. Turning vacant buildings and empty lots into assets including a start-up space for home caterers and a composting center, the organizations are turning these corridors into walkable, green, mixed-use areas of economic opportunity.
We can’t guarantee perfect weather, but we can guarantee that the tour organizers have put together seven great ways for you to put revitalization lessons into the local context. Whether you join one of Reclaiming Vacant Properties tours, or get out on the town on your own, we do hope that you will take advantage of all that Philadelphia has to offer.