Reclaiming Sharswood at North Philly Peace Park
It started with a vacant lot, situated in the heart of Sharswood, in North Philadelphia. The lot was an eyesore, ignored for decades until local resident advocates reclaimed it, building an informal community space and launching agriculture projects to offset food scarcity, providing free produce to their neighbors.
Maya Thomas, a former student in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, first learned about the project in a Historic Preservation studio focused on the Sharswood neighborhood, already under massive redevelopment by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
The Peace Park had been forced to relocate, erasing years of effort. Thomas, then president of Diverse Design, a student group promoting diversity at Penn, offered to help.
Diverse Design students organized events, solicited input from community members, and created a masterplan for the new North Philly Peace Park. They were awarded funding from PennPraxis, the consulting and community engagement part of the School, and completed the first phase of the work with support from Lowe’s and Habitat for Humanity.
Thomas is now the park’s project manager, shepherding its vision toward the next phase: building an eco-friendly pavilion, which will serve as a schoolhouse and community hub, with programs focused on environmental issues, and sustainable food production.