Philly Peace Park in limbo, PHA delays demolition in Sharswood
It has been six weeks since the Philly Peace Park, a grassroots community and garden space in the Sharswood neighborhood, had the “park” stripped from their name.
The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) erected a fence around the Peace Park, reclaiming the long-neglected parcels of land. The move came as part of a $500 million redevelopment project that affects the Blumberg housing project and the surrounding area.
PHA’s work was supposed to begin this summer. But now, demolition plans on the two Blumberg towers have been pushed back to September.
Meanwhile, negotiations about a land exchange remain in limbo.
While not legally required to do so, PHA has offered legal ownership of two parcels of land near 22nd and Jefferson Streets in return for taking the Peace Park that community members had been cultivating for the past four years.
But Amia Jackson, the Peace Park’s garden director, says they have still not received a contract, and it’s unclear if the plots they’ve been given are suitable for greening. PHA confirmed that the two groups are still in negotiations.
After PHA fenced off the original park at 2400 Bolton St., Jackson and other garden volunteers moved the freshly planted seeds to the new garden space just a few blocks away. But older residents told them there used to be an auto garage where the new garden proposed to be. Jackson stalled planting and sent soil to be tested for lead content at Penn State University.
“We’re kind of in this weird place where we’re trying to mobilize people for if we get the green light, but at the same time, we don’t want to invest too much time and end up not being able to garden there at all,” Jackson said.
Soil remediation isn’t cheap. If the lead levels are unsafe, Jackson says they will “cross that bridge when they get to it.” But PHA has made it clear that will not financially reimburse the Peace Park for any of its costs incurred over the years.
“Unfortunately the Peace Park conducted operations without PHA’s permission,” PHA Communications Manager Glynnis Richard told AL DÍA. “Therefore under the federal Uniform Relocation Act they are not permitted to receive relocation benefits.”
PHA did not say whether it would offer a more suitable plot of land for gardening should the soil be unfit to grow.
Meanwhile, the original Peace Park remains partially fenced off. What perennial crops Jackson couldn’t move have come and gone. Weeds took over the onions and the asparagus. All of the collard greens and kale have gone to seed.
Luckily, the Brewerytown Garden at 27th and Master has donated three plots to the Peace Park so that they can continue their food distribution network throughout the summer. They are growing “what the people really wanted,” Jackson says: tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, okra, and collard greens.
More information will be available next week about the plan to transition Blumberg housing project residents to a new location.
“There’s not a lot of communication,” Jackson said. “Different organizers are hearing different things from different people. That’s how it was at the Peace Park, too.”