Freshman Green

I never thought I would voluntarily shorten my summer vacation. Sure, I was excited to start my freshman year at Penn, but my plan was to enjoy a long, leisurely vacation in Maine. But at the beginning of the summer, while browsing my new school’s website, a pre-orientation program caught my eye: PennGreen. The five-day program promised to immerse new students in the many local green opportunities that both Philadelphia and Penn offer.
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Design Forward: Four new projects in the Community Design Collaborative’s queue

Each year the Collaborative provides more than 30 service grants to nonprofits. The grants provide organizations with the predevelopment design services necessary to getting their projects off the ground. Below are four of the latest projects from the Collaborative, all offering a unique vision for improving a community. 
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A Room with a View: Dickinson Square Park is getting more scenic with a long-awaited makeover

Thirty years ago, South Philadelphia’s Dickinson Square Park was a mess. “Cans were throughout the whole park. Dog poop was absolutely everywhere. It was a dump,” says Ron Cohen, former president of Friends of Dickinson Square. Cohen has had a third-floor view of the park since his family moved into their apartment in the 1980s. Over the years, his view has improved. The Friends of Dickinson Square keep up the general maintenance, and now the well-used community space is getting a facelift with help from the Collaborative.
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Green Edge: Community leader Maureen Tate explains how Cedar Park residents reclaimed their neighborhood

Since 2003, the all-volunteer Cedar Park Neighbors have worked with the Collaborative to devise a long-term vision for regaining control of blighted segments of their diverse community. Maureen Tate, longtime resident and former vice president of Cedar Park Neighbors, has been active in those efforts from the beginning, and sees them as both a success story and a work in progress.
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Recipes: Stem to Root

Americans throw away about 40 percent of the food they buy. Horrifying, isn’t it? But there are many ways to reduce your food waste. You can shop more carefully, plan for leftovers and use every inch of food you buy.  Previous generations were well acquainted with this last technique. Vegetable trimmings were saved for soup stock, onion skins became non-toxic dye, and unused animal fats were transformed into either soap or candles.
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Unpaved Paradise: Schuylkill River Park is being redesigned, starting with the entrance

The former site of ’70s-era warehouses and an impound lot for towed cars, the Schuylkill River Park is now one of Southwest Center City’s largest green spaces. While the park boasts multiple fields, courts, a community garden and recreation center, time and frequent use have qualified this space for a makeover.
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Community Effort Innovative: Neighborhood-based design leads park renovations

Wissahickon Neighbors Park has a history of redevelopment. Situated on the corner of Terrace and Hermit Streets in Manayunk, the park is built on the site of a church that burned down in 1971. Following the fire, the city bought the land and built the park in 1976. As one of the first small neighborhood playgrounds in the city, Wissahickon Neighbors Park was originally considered to be a highly innovative use of space. But since its construction and major renovations in 1994, the park has been largely untouched.      
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Farmer’s Delight: Nic Esposito, co-founder of Philly Rooted and developer of the Walnut Hill Community Farm, explains how the Collaborative helped make his farm a masterpiece

In my experience creating urban farms, the conflict I have most often faced is between the desire for high-end craftsmanship and the need to just get the project going. I’ll be the first to admit that the community organizer in me usually errs on the side of the latter. But with the Walnut Hill Community Farm, the Collaborative’s consulting helped Philly Rooted attain this elusive equilibrium.
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Maximum Utility: Highly efficient low-income housing comes to East Parkside Historic District

West Philadelphia’s Parkside Historic District is known for its architectural diversity. The streets feature Victorian homes, turn-of-the-century Flemish-style structures, and buildings inspired by intricate Dutch and German designs. But now there’s a new architecture in town. In September 2009, the 4200 block of W. Stiles Street made history with the opening of some of Philadelphia’s first green-designed, low-income housing.
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Little Green Giants: The Sheridan Street Houses are changing the face of affordable housing

The 1800 Block of Sheridan Street in North Philadelphia defies the expectations of what affordable housing looks like. The homes aren’t suburban style, semi-detached houses, or the 1950s high-rises they replaced.  Instead, you’ll find a block of sleekly designed, eco-friendly homes.
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Senior Class: Mt. Tabor Cyber Village provides a green haven for North Philadelphia’s over-55 crowd

The yellow-painted halls of Mt. Tabor Cyber Village looks more like a college dorm than a senior living center. Apartments are decorated with welcome mats and doorhangers, and residents have personalized the individual shelves outside their doors. There’s a computer lab, fitness center and community room on the first floor. And each of the four floors boast a shared laundry area and common room where residents can read, play cards, watch TV or just hang out. Being 55 or older never looked more fun.
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Community Design Collaborative: Letter from the director

Dear GRID Reader,

The Community Design Collaborative, like you, believes in building communities with strong futures. In 1991, a group of dedicated and self-described “anarchist architects” created the Collaborative to meet a critical need. In the 20 years since then, we have helped community organizations imagine their highest hopes for their neighborhoods.

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Book Review: Seeds of Discent

Seeds of Discent
by Nic Esposito
(Bobcat Coveside Books, 300 pp., $20, March 2011)

The descent of plant roots into Philadelphia’s trashed soils is the most essential dissent against America’s failing economy, especially when these roots grow food, says author Nic Esposito. A 28-year-old West Philly farmer, Esposito’s first novel, Seeds of Discent, appears inspired by, if not a reflection of, his personal experiences. The fictional story features West Philadelphia Millennials serving the planet by rebuilding cities greenward. They fill vacant lots, roofs and walls with food. They live simply, for this future. Philadelphia’s urban farmers exhibit daily heroism, by defying social pressures to succeed as consumers. Yet instead of becoming competitive, they courageously love one another for their shared vision.

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Book Review: Shucked

Shucked: Life on a New England Oyster Farm
by Erin Byers Murray
(St. Martin’s Press, 368 pp., $24.99, October 2011)

Boston-based journalist Erin Byers Murray quit her full-time job as a lifestyle reporter to go work on an oyster farm. Shucked is both a personal memoir of the physical, emotional, and mental challenges she faced to succeed at her new job, and a look at the day-to-day, year-round operations of Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, Ma.

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Book Review: Rambunctious Garden

Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World
by Emma Marris
Bloomsbury Publishing (2011), $25

"Rambunctious gardening is proactive and optimistic; it creates more and more nature as it goes, rather than just building walls around the nature we have left,” proclaims author Emma Marris in the first chapter of Rambunctious Garden.

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Recycling Challenge: Yard Waste


Yard waste, consisting of grass, leaves and other garden debris, comprises an estimated 18 percent of the annual municipal waste stream.


Sending yard waste to the landfill puts an unnecessary seasonal burden on the municipal garbage collection system.  Leaf waste can account for as much as 60 percent to 80 percent of the waste stream in the fall, and grass clippings can make up 50 percent.

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Better Living Through Farming: Two DuPont chemists-turned-farmers master the art of growing organic, and authentic Asian produce

Zuohong Ed Yin of Queens Farm in West Chester will gladly explain his scientific reasons for growing organic vegetables and fruit. The DuPont chemist and family farm owner has a Ph.D. in plant physiology, a master’s in chemistry and a longtime interest in Chinese medicine. Stop by his farm stand at Headhouse Square (2nd and South) on a Sunday, and he and his daughter Sarah will show you numerous Asian mushroom varieties, which Yin claims support the health of the kidney, liver, cardiovascular system and immune system. The 200 Asian vegetables he grows on his 38-acre organic farm—including Chinese lettuce, Fava beans, bok choy, Chinese eggplant and Japanese basil—are a reaction to the over-fertilized crops typically found in American supermarkets, packed with more carcinogenic nitrogen dioxide than nutrition.
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Get the LEDs Out: Is this blossoming technology the future of lighting?

Last may, 500 exhibitors and 24,000 visitors descended upon Philadelphia for Lightfair, the annual international trade show for the $30 billion lighting industry.  The hot topic? Which new energy-efficient lighting technology will keep our homes bright once 2007’s Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) takes effect in 2012. It’s a race to win the hearts and minds of consumers who are disillusioned by the shortcomings of compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, which were supposed to dethrone incandescent bulbs, but instead turned some consumers off with their light quality, lack of dimmability and mercury concerns.
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