Thereâ€™s a dirt lot at 41st and Warren streets in West Philly teeming with hundreds of old tires.
To the Lower Lancaster Avenue community, the tires areÂ an eyesore. A disheveled heap of trash. Another blemish blottingÂ the face of a neighborhood plagued by povertyÂ so deep,Â it was deemedÂ one of the nationâ€™s first Promise Zones,Â areas identified by the White House as needing extra federal investment.
To YeadonÂ nonprofit LoveLovingLove, those tires arenâ€™t a blemishÂ â€” theyâ€™re a rubber foundation. Theyâ€™re not a disheveled trash heap â€” theyâ€™ve been meticulously positioned within the donated property.
And while it may be an eyesore right now, it will soon be the site of the worldâ€™s first ever urban Earthship, a completely sustainable building that, once constructed, will serve as LoveLovingLoveâ€˜s new headquarters. There, the nonprofit will host free community workshops and offer theÂ neighborhood fresh, organic food from itsÂ community garden â€” thousands upon thousands ofÂ pounds of fresh produce per year, according to founder Rashida Ali-Campbell.
â€œThereâ€™s nowhere to buy fresh fruits and vegetables in a five-block radius,â€ she said. â€œOur intentions are to bring fresh fruits and vegetables out of that building, anywhere between eight [thousand]Â to 12,000 pounds that weâ€™llÂ give away to the community.â€
But right now, the only thing that lot is producing is more tires.
Ali-Campbell said the organization initially brought 200 tires to the lot, but during periods of inactivity, that number somehowÂ escalated to over 1,000. People took toÂ dumping tires and trash on the lot, and the Earthship was feeling the collective wrath of the frustrated community.
Since breaking ground almost exactly one year ago, those tiresÂ have become a wedge betweenÂ the neighborhood and the nonprofit,Â evenÂ going so far as toÂ createÂ problems with law enforcement.Â Ali-Campbell said local policeÂ areÂ constantly receivingÂ complaintsÂ from neighbors.
Still,Â until the Earthship raises the money it needs to get construction rolling, the lot and all its neighborhood woes will remain the same.
Ali-Campbell said sheâ€™sÂ been unable to secure any grants for the Earthship. Last year, sheÂ was able toÂ raise fundsÂ for geotechnical testing through Indigeogo. Now, sheâ€™s looking to secureÂ $25,000 for construction materials and solar panelsÂ throughÂ Kickstarter.
In the meantime, Ali-Campbell said the organization needs to build relationships within the community. The biggest challenge has been a lack of education in the commmunity on what exactly is happening in that lot at 41st and Warren. Thatâ€™sÂ a tough gig for a service nonprofit working in a rough neighborhood that hasnâ€™t accepted them yet.
But Ali-Campbell and her volunteersÂ are taking steps to try to create a level of trust.Â Hereâ€™s whatÂ theyâ€™re doing, and what other orgs in similar situations can do:
- Maintain a presence. Ali-Campbell and her volunteers regularly attendÂ community and neighborhood association meetings to bolster their image. After all, ever sinceÂ construction came to a halt, the lot has been largely unoccupied. â€œWeâ€™re keeping a presence in the community so they donâ€™t feel like we just left,â€ Ali-Campbell said.
- Present your mission.Â Ali-Campbell has personally reached out to community members. Sheâ€™s handed out pamphlets and business cards. Sheâ€™s held neighborhood viewings of the Earthship documentary NewÂ Solutions.Â Educating on mission will be a continuous process.
- Demonstrate value.Â LoveLovingLoveÂ providedÂ the communityÂ with a taste of the future by giving away pepper plants to neighbors. Simple, but it gaveÂ the neighborhoodÂ aÂ glimpse of the services to come once the Earthship isÂ complete.
- Create partnerships. For organizations entering a new community, preferable partnerships will beÂ with anchor organizations. In Ali-Campbellâ€™s case, itâ€™sÂ SouthWest Nu-Stop, a local drug and alcohol recovery center.
- Stand your ground.Â Ali-Campbell said thereâ€™s been no shortage of drug abuse on the property. Helping recovering addicts will be part of the Earthshipâ€™s mission, so itâ€™s an opportunity LoveLovingLove is capitalizing on. â€œWe can say in front of this building you cannot do this. We will not tolerate it here,â€ Ali-CampbellÂ said. â€œWe will continue to take that stance in that neighborhood. We want it to be a safe zone.
Itâ€™s been six years now since moves were first made to launch theÂ project, and getting the worldâ€™s first urban EarthshipÂ upÂ and running has been no small undertaking. Even so, Ali-Campbell is optimistic.
â€œWe believe the nature of our work will be a beacon of light in that area,â€ she said. â€œWeâ€™ll bring a lot of traffic in from the city and all over the world. People are watching. They want to see how an EarthshipÂ will fare in a city.â€
by Tony Abraham viaÂ Generosity.org. He was previously a reporter Technical.ly, where he reported on tech and entrepreneurship in Delaware and Philadelphia. Tony is an alumnus of Temple University, where he studied English and anthropology. Find him on Twitter at @TonyAbraham.