Hunting Park: A Community of Green Changemakers
Earlier this year, as part of a project by the Philadelphia Collaborative for Health Equity, 33 high school students in North Philadelphia took and shared photographs to document everyday life in their neighborhoods. While some of the young artists produced images of litter and dumping, as well as vacant lots and dilapidated houses, others highlighted the gardens, murals and stunning skylines that make them proud and hopeful for their community.
In the neighborhoods featured, the poverty rate hovers around a startling 40 percent, while the life expectancy of a child at birth is 20 years lower than it is for children born in Center City. Demographically, residents are mostly Latino and African American.
The project is a stark illustration of a complicated issue. Communities of color and areas with high poverty rates suffer the most from environmental abuses, from litter to industrial waste to air pollution. But still, there’s a misconception that people in those communities don’t have the knowledge or time to care about the environment.
That myth was disproved by this 2018 study, which showed that the majority of the public underestimate the environmental concerns of minority and low-income Americans.
It was disproved by those 33 North Philadelphia students who took the time to create and share art about their environment. And it’s disproved by many other residents of Hunting Park, one of the neighborhoods featured in the project.
In Hunting Park, vacancy and litter abound. Asthma rates, as a result of nearby industrial sites, are disproportionately high. And due to low tree coverage, temperatures in the summer soar to over 20 degrees hotter than in other parts of the city.
But Hunting Park is also home to the namesake park itself, a sprawling 87 acres of trees and green space. In the past decade, community leader Leroy Fisher (who was the SustainPHL’s 2016 Activist of the Year award recipient) worked with the Fairmount Park Conservancy and other passionate residents to revitalize and improve the park, transforming it into a thriving gathering space with athletic fields, a community garden, and even a weekly farmer’s market.
Hunting Park is also home to Esperanza, a faith-based nonprofit serving the neighborhood’s Hispanic community, which launched a sweeping strategic development plan in 2011 to, in part, drastically clean and green the neighborhood. Gabriella Gabriel Paez, Esperanza’s education and community development coordinator (and another Activist of the Year award winner), has spearheaded the organization’s tree planting initiative, giving away nearly a thousand free trees to neighbors, coordinating the planting of sidewalk trees and launching the first bilingual edition of Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s (PHS) Tree Tenders training.
Residents aren’t sitting idly by, indifferent to the problems plaguing their community. They’re rolling up their sleeves and holding power to account. They’re uniting their neighbors and implementing solutions. They’re creating a better future for Hunting Park.
And while some of those residents, like Fisher and Gabriel Paez, are fearless leaders of nonprofits and community groups, others are simply residents who dedicate their spare time and energy to making a difference. In an upcoming series, which we’ll publish over the next few months, we’ll highlight those neighbors — who they are, what motivates them, and the valuable work they’ve done.
They prove that the people most affected by environmental injustice are the ones fighting it. And they aren’t giving up any time soon.
This project is a part of our reporting for Broke in Philly. Green Philly is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow at @BrokeInPhilly