Grounds for Change: Activating Vacant Land

Compost City


Tags: agriculture, biosolids, compost, fertilizer, grow, helicopters, lotsoflots, material, organic, Philadelphia, recycle, repurpose, transport, upcycle, urban, waste, water

Re-using biosolids to rehabilitate Philadelphia's urban landscape

In 2004, the Biosolids Recycling Facility, located near the Philadelphia International Airport at the convergence of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, produced almost 10 million tons of bio-solids. Over 50% of this quantity—a nutrient rich organic material refined from household sewage and river sludge—was simply landfilled. Compost City capitalizes on this surplus by envisioning Philadelphia’s urban voids as farm plots, and proposes the strategic re-use of bio-solids as a growing medium. To achieve an economy of scale, the 30,000 vacant lots that dot Philadelphia’s landscape require two cost-effective maneuvers: logistical distribution and site-specific cultivation. Capitalizing on the proximity of the airport to the Biosolids Recycling Facility, the first stage of distribution involves transporting compost by air, using the expediency and maneuverability of helicopters to "dirt-bomb" vacant lots. This sounds highly unappealing -- how can I re-phrase? Should we not shy away from the potential grossness of it all? This isn't remote aircraft warfare or whatever. Accidents happen. In the second stage of cultivation, site-specific growing programs are developed and coordinated with neighborhood associations and local stakeholders. For example, small isolated lots may become garden plots, medium-size lots may become playgrounds or plazas, and large block size lots may be converted to productive forests. Compost City's long-term objective is to establish a viable economic prototype for re-using waste material: first to rehabilitate Philadelphia's urban landscape and, later, to sustain the practice of urban agriculture in Philadelphia. This strategy for capitalizing on biosolids' potential may also provide a model for other American cities at a similar crossroads.