At the start of this year, I told myself and my readers that I would give voice to Philadelphians and in doing so, affect change. I thought I would be changing others. In truth, it is others who have changed me.
For the past two weeks, I’ve shared your ideas on moving Philadelphia forward, and in those ideas I’ve seen the aspirations of ordinary people who view our city not for what it is, but for what it can be.
Those aspirations — those hopes — are like pictures painted on the canvas of tomorrow. They are bright and vibrant. They are lush and beautiful. They are the future.
It is a future painted by many artists. People just like you and I. They are not city planning professionals. They are not architects or builders. They are friends and neighbors, yoga instructors and fitness professionals. They are people we pass on the street every day.
But when these people see problems they don’t waste their time complaining. Instead, they think of common-sense solutions.
Ideas and solutions
Take Rita Varley of Northeast Philadelphia, who sees pollution and traffic congestion, and has a solution that can address those issues while creating business opportunities.
“I want to see the electric bicycle industry become a major business in Philly,” she wrote in the comments section of last week’s blog. “We could get around the city most of the time on electric bikes instead of cars.
“The air would be cleaner, we would be healthier, and the city would be more beautiful. What we need are really safe bike lanes. For that, one thing I would change is to paint all the bike lanes green as has been done in a small section in Center City. In some cities in Europe, there is a grass strip between the bike and the car lanes—really safe. I get terrified by reckless drivers every time I go out.”
Varley also suggested more community gardens in the city, specifically in the far Northeast. But she went beyond simply suggesting it. She talked about the challenges and how she’s working to overcome them in her own neighborhood.
“I am starting a permaculture orchard garden in Parkwood,” Varley wrote. “We now have half an acre to lease from Fairmount Park. There are expensive challenges for small gardens starting up, including insurance, need for access to water, and fencing.
“Gardens would have a better chance to sprout if the city would go a bit farther and cover insuring itself the way it is done in New York City. Gardens have great potential for gathering the community, helping to feed people healthy, local food, lowering crime rates and adding simple joy to people’s lives. … I would like to see some serious farming enterprises rise up in the Parkwood industrial park area.”
Varley is not alone
That kind of innovation is all around us. It comes from unexpected places and appears in awe-inspiring forms.
South Philadelphia High School, which has faced and overcome struggles with violence in the past, has decided to turn those struggles into growth.
The school has partnered with the Lower Moyamensing Civic Association and the engineering firm Roofmeadow in hopes of building the new rooftop farm and rain gardens.
By planting a rooftop garden and pursuing a crowdfunding strategy (online fundraising through small donations) to pay for it, Principal Otis Hackney, the students, the neighbors and the business community have gone beyond planting the seeds of new life. They are challenging the rest of us to till the soil.
What we can do now
When I look back on the first round of ideas and the second round of ideas that I wrote about, I’m convinced we should all take up the challenge. Now that we’ve planted the seeds in our city’s consciousness, it’s up to the rest of us to till the soil, to water the seeds, and to grow our ideas into realities.
I’m just naïve enough to believe we can do that.
After all, this is Philadelphia, and if this city could change me, I’m certain that it can change itself.