We began work on the hub at 632 Jackson Street in late May. Since day one, our work in the lot has drawn considerable community interest. The 600 block of Jackson Street has a highly vigilant group of residents committed to maintaining the cleanliness and beauty of what little public space they have. Trash is a divisive issue in South Philadelphia. Some blocks are cleaner than others, usually because of the efforts of block captains and other concerned residents. Vacant properties and overgrown lots in particular focus negative activities like garbage dumping, and no one, particularly in neighborhoods where there is no city-sponsored cleanup, likes to live on a trashy block. At 632 Jackson Street, weeds, old carpet, tires, and hundreds of bricks and large stones covered the lot, where there had been considerable dumping. This eyesore represented an obvious quality of life issue for those who live on the block. The task at hand was to turn this into an operable space for CohStra’s activities in the neighborhood, a friendly, welcoming neighborhood hub. Scott Quitel and Rachel Griffith of LandHealth Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental education, ecological design research, and repair of degraded land, saw treasure in trash. With the help of Shari Hersh and Margaret Kearney of Restored Spaces, and reentry workers from Mural Arts’ YVRP program, they sorted out what will later become small meandering walls and gardens.
After leveling the earth, we brought in a transformed shipping container from a previous Mural Arts project, journey2home. The container, designed by Ahn-Robinson Studios to represent a house-front, brings with it front and back porches, and holds seating and picnic tables for over 35 people. The container is both art and office, turning a lot into an outpost. The dirt ground of the lot we covered with smooth river stone.
Photos by Steve Weinik and Shari Hersh.
Major support for Playgrounds for Useful Knowledge has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.