Liberty Lands Park

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Playground at Liberty Lands Park. Image provided by City of Philadelphia Department of Records

913-961 North 3rd Street

Liberty Lands Park is the product of a grassroots neighborhood effort to transform an industrial brownfield into a vital community green space. Once the site of the Burk Brothers Tannery, the Environmental Protection Agency conducted waste-removal projects here in 1987 and soil sampling in 1990 to ensure the lot's environmental safety. By 1995, a developer planned to convert the old leather tannery into loft apartments, but the deal fell through. The developer's loss was the neighborhood's gain when the company donated the land to the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association (NLNA) in 1996. Since Northern Liberties was the only neighborhood in the city without a public green space, the neighbors envisioned a multi-use park for the site. The NLNA received a grant from the Philadelphia Urban Resources Partnership to get started and—after several years and a lot of sweat equity—the neighbors created Liberty Lands Park.

The park features a community garden, a composting area, an herb garden, picnic tables and benches, a children's playground, a butterfly garden, and more than 180 trees. Longtime resident, artist, and park cofounder Dennis Haugh created the "Cinema Verde" mural, a work in progress that depicts the evolution of the park from wilderness, to factory, to industrial wasteland and, finally, to community park. Bees are used as a metaphor for their sense of community and industry to tell a story of the transformation of a post-industrial site to a green park. A second mural, "Cohocksink," was completed in 2006 and memorializes the (now filled-in) creek that was such a defining feature of the geography, industry, and history of Northern Liberties. The transformation of Liberty Lands rallied the neighborhood, forging a cohesive sense of community and providing a public meeting and recreation space. The park that was born out of a failed condo development has in fact played a major role in redefining the neighborhood and attracting new residents and developments in the past 10 years. The NLNA owns and operates Liberty Lands Park and sponsors a full schedule of community events. A tribute to its community character and aesthetic appeal, Liberty Lands Park has been named one of America's "Great Public Spaces" by Projects for Public Spaces, a nonprofit group that works with communities to build sustainable public spaces all over the United States and the world.

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