Kids playing at the Urban County Fair. Original Peace Park location 2014.
The Philly Peace Park was founded on February 26th, 2012 as the North Philly Peace Park on several vacant parcels of land directly across the street from the Blumberg Housing Projects in the Peacetown neighborhood that historically was an African American hub of arts, theater and activism. Printmaker Dox Thrash and painter Henry Owassa Tanner settled in the community to live and work. Entertainers Pearl Bailey, Duke Ellington, and the Nichols Brothers played the no longer extant Pearl Theater and socialized among themselves at the private Pyramid Club, founded by Thrash and others in the 1930’s. During the 1950’s and 1960s African American social justice movements defined the neighborhood, activists such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Cecil B Moore, Sheik Muhammad and Leon Sullivan organized, marched, lived, delivered speeches and led rallies in the fight for Black freedom.
Despite this, the Peacetown neighborhood today is one of the most distressed communities in the city, with a poverty rate of 52.5% (double the city average). With a 94.6 % African American population and widespread vacancy, 80% of the community is unemployed, and over 45% of residents are youth under the age of 18.
The founding members of the Peace Park were a socially engaged group of Blumberg and Peacetown (Sharswood) African-American neighborhood residents, activists, designers, organizers, and educators, who formed an ecological campus that sought to collectively solve many of the neighborhood’s critical issues. The group utilized their collective resources, knowledge, and skills and designed a campus that included a fence-free organic farm, an Earthship, and created after school and community programs like the Urban County Fair. In 2015, the North Philly Peace Park was displaced by PHA development plans and fought these actions aggressively from 2015- 2017, resulting in a move to its current location along the block of 2200 Jefferson St. gaining long term land security. From 2016 to the present, the Peace Park has been engaged in community-powered redevelopment process with a wide range of partners and stakeholders with the goal of expanding into a block wide neighborhood park and ecology campus. In 2022 the Peace Park will complete a major step in this process by completing an Afro-futurist inspired, community-designed STEM facility to further complement its programs and prove a proof of concept/model of an equitable design practice within a neighborhood experiencing major pressures from gentrification. In 2020 during the national uprising against police violence, Peace Park organizers, food justice activists and neighborhood residents established the new campus of the West Philly Peace Park, expanding the successful neighborhood managed ecology model to West Philadelphia.
From its humble revolutionary beginnings the park has grown into a popular charitable eco-campus and passive park that provides free programs to the greater Philadelphia community. It is led by a dynamic New Afrikan-centered grassroots organization with a dedicated volunteer staff and a membership base strongly rooted in surrounding neighborhoods. The programs are supported by strategic partnerships that strengthen the five main program areas of Urban Farming, Education, Health & Wellness, Design, and Community Livelihood.
These community park programs areas provides the following:
Organic + Sustainable Urban Farming
STEAM based educational programs
Community programs & partnerships, which include fairs, festivals and health and wellness activities.
Green Wall Street Cooperative: a local entrepreneur incubator, green workforce development program, makerspace & marketplace.
Peace Park Design: a burgeoning community design + equitable development corporation- which aims to repeat the parks success in other neighborhoods facing high lot vacancy rates, gentrification, poverty, food insecurity, displacement, and violence.
Peace Park Wellness programs which attempts to address systemic Health disparities among the people