Grounds for Change: Activating Vacant Land

Insert Use


Tags: agriculture, backyard, collaboration, commons, community, culture, customize, gardens, grow, incremental, industry, landscape, lots, lotsoflots, parks, phasing, Philadelphia, planning, play, process, response, runoff, safety, smallscale, soil, stormwater, streets, typology, urban

An incremental approach to reclaiming vacant lots.

Insert Use proposes a phasing approach--making changes gradually, or in planned stages--to rehabilitating urban vacant lots. The designers have compiled an identification system for different kinds of vacancies and surrounding conditions, from which have emerged a number of easily implementable solutions. Four basic types of projects respond to four kinds of vacancy. The project types include Cultural Satellites, the Agri-Mall, Common Yards, and the Quilt. Projects increase in complexity as lot sizes grow. The designers characterize these new landscapes as follows: Cultural Satellites integrate single-lot vacancies to the city block. They provide limited space and would be distributed both widely and densely across Philadelphia, creating education, workspace, and public exhibition opportunities at an intimate scale. The Agri-Mall is a park or urban farm established on city blocks where vacant lots outnumber buildings. Introducing planting to these sites cleans the soil and reduces stormwater runoff, in addition to the community benefits of park space and community gardens. Common Yards are a way of extending private backyards to include vacant lots on both sides of a street. A block full of backyards is far safer and more welcoming than a block full of vacant lots. The most complex solution, The Quilt, is a solution for parts of the city so full of vacant lots that they no longer feel like neighborhoods, or former industrial areas that lack community involvement. Because of its size and complexity, and the often unusual building and infrastructural situations in extensive vacancies, The Quilt requires careful planning, phasing, and a great deal of attention to the existing conditions of the site. A new landscape growing from these areas must respond to the specific challenges that each site presents, and will, in turn, develop a diverse set of characteristics of its own. Insert Use envisions safe neighborhoods planned and built by members of the community. Owning the process--from brainstorming new ideas to collaborating with professional designers to collectively building new structures--is empowering and educational, laying the groundwork for a future of healthy neighborhoods across Philadelphia. Insert use provides a starting point for communities with the resources to act immediately, though perhaps dealing with a limited budget or timeframe.