Building a Park on W Rockland Street during the Philly Spring Cleanup

By Emaleigh | W Rockland Street’s Philly Spring Cleanup project on April 14, 2012 marked the block’s 4th year participating in the citywide initiative. It was a great success and we have a lot to report! View a full gallery of photos from the day on Flickr!

THE MISSION!

The goal of our Philly Spring Cleanup project was to transform one (of several) underutilized vacant lots on W Rockland St into a community garden and shared outdoor space for block residents. The plan was to create a place people want to be by turning the lot into a functional park-like environment, offering a permanent space for socializing and gardening. The lot we chose to work with is located near the top of the block at 15 W Rockland. For the past few years, block residents have maintained this abandoned lot but not without a struggle. Despite efforts, the lot often became overgrown and litter remained an issue. In order to be transformed, the lot had to become a functional space for positive activity. Earlier in the year, Ainé drew up plans for this space and it’s really exciting to see her sketches take shape.

It’s a jungle in there… Before conditions, photographed on April 6, 2012

THE ACTION!

Cutting wood for the garden beds.

To make this project happen, we worked with block residents, neighbors that we have connected with from nearby blocks, volunteers from the DePaul Catholic School (which is located on Logan and W Rockland Streets), and a crew from Home Depot.

Together, we cleared the lot of all trash and debris, dug-up huge sheets of underlying plastic (likely installed to prevent weed growth; it didn’t work!), pulled what felt like fields of weeds, cut back all overgrowth, pruned tree branches, leveled the ground, and built 10 wooden garden beds.

Hard at work in the lot. Team effort.

W Rockland St improvement projects tend to turn into a party. With all the kids involved, our group of volunteers swelled to over 40 people. We owe a huge thanks to Home Depot, whose team was spearheaded by employees from store #4109 in Cheltenham and others. Home Depot also generously donated nearly all of the lumber used for the project.

G’Town Restoration CDC connected the different Germantown groups participating in the Philly Spring Cleanup and delivered snacks for all our volunteers. This project would not have been possible without candy-colored donuts. Seriously. The organization also introduced us to Robyn Tevah, who came by to help out and teach kids about plants.

8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass talks with volunteers on W Rockland Street.

Throughout the day, we had visitors stop by to see what we were up to, including 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass, members of Germantown United CDC‘s board, and plenty of friends and family. I don’t think we would have actually succeeded in finishing building the garden beds if our Dad and Alex – master of the drill – didn’t show-up ready to work!

WHYY’s NewsWorks sent a reporter and you can see the story here: A garden emerges from Rockland Street’s weekend-cleanup effort. It’s pretty awesome to read quotes from our neighbors, expressing excitement about the project.

“When I see the kids playing in this area, I worry about their safety,” said Charles Pullett as he helped pull trash from the lot. “Today makes me very excited to live here.”

We built 10 raised garden beds and plan to add 3 more!

As part of W Rockland St’s Philly Spring Cleanup efforts, residents also spruced up their properties and gave the block a clean sweep from top to bottom. The City of Philadelphia and the Streets Department provided us with plenty of supplies to help make our project a success. We distributed work gloves, brooms, rakes, bags and even new recycling bins to participants.

At the end of the day, 10 garden beds were built and the majority of the overgrown lot was cleared. A few days later, two truckloads of mushroom soil arrived, coordinated by the great Sally McCabe at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Turns out, we need more dirt! Who would have thought?

NEXT STEPS FOR THE GARDEN

We’re still working on completing the evolving garden and hope to have all the main features installed by mid-May.

Many residents have already begun planting and are enjoying the new community space. We plan to build 3 additional garden beds, bringing the total number to lucky 13. Next step is seating! We have several benches in place already, which were donated to W Rockland St from Keep Philadelphia Beautiful last year. We’ll add picnic benches and other seating (including pallet chairs!) just in time for the summer months.

Dude, this bench was made of 3,800 recycled plastic bags. Thanks Keep Philadelphia Beautiful!

Students from Mount St. Mary’s University help us tackle the back of the lot on April 21, 2012.

One major problem that still needs solving is establishing a sustainable water source for our growing garden. We’re looking into installing new gutters to the neighboring house, attached to rain barrels. The good thing is that the rain barrels are already secured through the Energy Coordinating Agency and Philadelphia Water Department. Now we just have to raise funds for the gutter installation.

The weekend after the big cleanup project, a team of students from Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland traveled to Philadelphia and spent a full-day helping to clear out the back-end of the lot, including removing some pesky poison ivy that had overtaken the area. The space is now ready for finishing touches. The students, who were repaid with kindness and water ice, came to W Rockland St by way of our friends at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, located at the corner on Greene Street between W Rockland and Logan. We have worked on W Rockland St with groups on service-learning trips from many East Coast states, through out partnership with St. Francis.

FUTURE PROJECTS

We’re moving right along to our next big effort, which is to build a large community garden on the vacant lot that spans three properties at the corner of W Rockland and Greene Streets. This garden will be open to all SW Germantown residents, with 25-30 garden beds and an outdoor learning space.  It is a joint project of Rockland Street Neighbors and the DePaul Catholic School, which is located across the street from the lot.

Future community garden at the corner of W Rockland and Greene Streets.

Neighbors on W Rockland have worked to maintain this area for the past several years, keeping the space clear of illegal dumping. Just last May, two abandoned houses stood in this very space (at 4817 and 4815 Greene St). W Rockland St residents aggressively advocated having the blighted properties torn down. In June 2011, the buildings were demolished after Mayor Michael Nutter paid a surprise visit to W Rockland St to check out the Grow This Block! garden project, which he read about in a story by Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron.

We postponed the start of this project because of landscaping complications. The lot is sloped and will need to be terraced or require a retaining wall. We’re currently looking to work with skilled contractors and landscape professionals, and build other partnerships that will be crucial in helping transform this highly visible corner-space for the greater Germantown community.

Stay tuned for more updates.

If you’re interested in collaborating with us, email rocklandstreet@gmail.com!

OH, AND SEE MORE PHOTOS

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View a full gallery of photos from the day on Flickr!

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