W Rockland Wins Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s City Gardens Contest!

Recently we received a letter in the mail from The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. It didn’t look like it was about membership (we are members!). We tore it open to find that W Rockland Street had won two prizes in PHS’s annualCity Gardens Contest, which gives Philadelphians recognition for their “dedicated and imaginative gardening skills.” Go W Rockland Street!

We’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of greening the neighborhood, with the recent murder on W Rockland Street in mind. Read on for a look at the PHS honors and our thoughts on crime and urban gardening in Philadelphia.

Beans!

2nd Place: COMMUNITY GARDEN COMBINATION

The Rockland Street Community Garden was awarded Second Prize in the Community Garden Combination category for first-year community gardens with both vegetables and flowers. This is a big achievement for the block and all the residents and volunteers that helped to transform the long-neglected vacant lot into an urban garden and gathering space. Located at 15 W Rockland at the top of the block, the garden is home to 13 raised garden beds (lucky number!), a melon and climbing vine patch, a compost bin, a floral garden, and jungle gym for kids. We broke ground and built this space on April 16, 2012 during the 4th annual Philly Spring Cleanup (learn more about the project), and its been growing and evolving ever since. One thing to note! We don’t own this land, but we transformed the eyesore anyway.

Here’s what the judges said:

“The garden has a colorfully inviting entrance and neatly laid out raised beds inside with a space set aside for socializing. It is clearly meeting its mission of creating community through horticulture. Impressive that this community has come together to build a garden on an abandoned lot. A credit to the garden creators!”

A look at W Rockland Street projects and events

sidewalk planters

3rd Place: GREENEST BLOCK IN TOWN

The entire block also was also recognized for their greening efforts, rwinning Third Prize in the Greenest Block in Town category. Thanks to initiatives like Grow This Block!, approximately 30 of the block’s 46 row homes now have front yard gardens.

This summer, more than 10 residents added large sidewalk planters to the mix, adding even more greenery to the streetscape. Two residents, one with a concrete front yard, even built their own raised beds at their houses to add additional greenery to their homes!

W Rockland Street residents should be incredibly proud of all their hard work. Two groups of judges walked the block in the hot summer heat and took notice.

Garden Party in the Lot Formerly Known As Vacant

Eating tomatoes by the handful in the community garden

THE IMPACT OF GREENING W ROCKLAND STREET 

While we’re thrilled to have been honored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the win comes at difficult time for W Rockland Street.

In late August, a longtime block resident was shot to death on the block while sitting on his front porch. The murder remains unsolved, and Captain Verdell Johnson of the 39th Police District has confirmed there are no leads in the case.

This act of violence marks a surge in violent crime in Germantown. Gunshots, police sirens, and helicopters are now regularly mixed in with other sounds from the neighborhood. This summer, Aine and I learned a new (and unwanted) skill – how to properly gauge the distance of gunfire. Our block. One block over. Two blocks. Three blocks…

With the shooting in mind, we have been thinking long and hard about the impact of the greening efforts on the block with regards to quality of life improvements, crime deterrence, community building, neighborhood revitalization, and the overall attitude of block residents and visitors.

We have been working for four years to improve W Rockland Street alongside an amazing group of block residents. Now we ask – what has the widespread residential gardening accomplished? Does it really make a difference that the block’s many vacant lots are maintained? What does the existence of a community garden really mean?

Six days after the shooting incident, Michaela Krauser published an article titled The Urban Garden as Crime Fighter on Next City, an online publication connecting cities and informing the people working to improve them.

“Community gardens have been long-regarded as symbols of neighborhood revitalization, but could a well-tended patch of grass actually help fight crime? A recently published study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine suggests the answer may be yes.”

We read the article. We got a copy of the study. We want to believe it. We hear about other inspiring gardens in rough and tumble neighborhoods, like this one in North Philadelphia which should be commended (read their story!). We have a lot of support and people are helping to tell the (whole) story of W Rockland St and offer outside perspective, including a few journalists like Dan Geringer in the Philadelphia Daily News, Inga Saffron in The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Brian Hickey on WHYY’s Newsworks.

It’s true, urban gardens and greening of W Rockland Street has beautified the block and connected neighbors. The greenery has improved our personal experiences living on the block. The work has made the neighborhood less depressing. But this summer, no amount of coleus, marigolds, or exotic elephant ears could stop bullets. This is a Philadelphia story.

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