Las Parcelas and Colobo Community Gardens

Tomasita Romero and Iris Brown. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania

North 2nd St. btw Susquehanna and Dauphin; entrance on Palethorp between Susquehanna and Dauphin

Las Parcelas is a vibrant community garden that is part of the ongoing revitalization of the Norris Square neighborhood and park. In the mid 1980s, a group of local women, tired of drug dealers and blight, began transforming a derelict vacant lot into an urban oasis called Las Parcelas (literally "parcels"). What was once a haven for drug dealers now boasts vegetable and flower garden plots, an outdoor kitchen serving traditional Puerto Rican food, a mural and a colorfully painted 1940s-style casita. Led by Iris Brown, that original group of women activists now call themselves Grupo Motivos, and they continue to create beautiful urban gardens in and around Norris Square that represent aspects of Puerto Rican culture and identity, provide communal gathering spaces, and create service and recreational opportunities for local youth.

Colobo, across Palethorp Street, is an African-themed garden that recognizes and celebrates the African roots of Puerto Ricans. Iris and Grupo Motivos worked with local gardeners, teenagers and visiting Ghanaian gardeners to design the space, which features three painted mud houses and indigenous African plantings.

For Iris, who came from a small town in rural Puerto Rico, the African garden is a way to investigate what her African/Puerto Rican heritage means in the urban United States. Colobo explores the shared African-Caribbean heritage in a city where racial tension defines so much of the urban experience, and in a neighborhood where the Latino and African American communities have not always found common ground.

External Links