Neighborhood Gardens Trust kicked off the new year with the preservation of the Peace Garden, their 53rd protected green space. The Peace Garden was created in 2001 under the auspices of New Jerusalem Now (NJN), a nonprofit focused on addiction recovery, founded by the Medical Mission Sisters. The Garden provides a peaceful green oasis in a disinvested North Philadelphia neighborhood that has many tracts of vacant land.

New Jerusalem Now affiliates in the Peace Garden.

While NJN primarily supports their residents in recovering from alcohol and substance addiction, they are committed to changing the conditions of poverty, homelessness, hopelessness, and disempowerment that feed the social disease of addiction. In addition to rehabilitating vacant and abandoned buildings into their recovery homes, they have worked to establish community gardens to support nourishment and healing.

The Peace Garden is both a grassroots creative placemaking effort, as well as a neighborhood greening project. It’s open to the public and welcoming for neighbors and visitors to sit and enjoy. The Garden has perennial flower beds and features a colorful mosaic mural and sculptures, which were created and installed by NJN residents and local children guided by gifted mural artist, Lynn Denton.

There are increasing real estate development pressures around the Garden from Temple University’s campus, a few blocks to the east. In 2022, a developer purchased the corner lot within the Garden and applied for a zoning variance to build a three-unit apartment building on the property. This building would have destroyed the garden’s plantings and sculptures and obstructed the view of the mural.

NJN reached out to Neighborhood Gardens Trust for help. There was no time to spare, and NGT went into action to find a strategy to protect the Garden. With pro-bono legal support, NGT negotiated with the developer, who agreed to sell the property for the appraised value of $45,000. Thanks to NGT’s Gaining Ground Campaign, funds were ready to move quickly and make this purchase possible. The 2000 N. 20th Street parcel is now officially owned and preserved by NGT.

“We are all so pleased that Neighborhood Gardens Trust now owns and is committed to preserving The Peace Garden at New Jerusalem Now with us. It will continue to be a pleasure for us to care for the garden, and we will value your ongoing consultation and support,” said Vic Compher and Sr. Sylvia of New Jerusalem Now.

Now and well into the future, residents in recovery in NJN housing can continue to enjoy the Peace Garden and to maintain and steward it as a community service and workforce development opportunity.

The preservation of the Peace Garden is aligned with city-level climate resiliency initiatives, including the Philly Tree Plan, and the Green City Clean Waters Plan. According to the Philly Tree Plan, the Peace Garden’s neighborhood experienced an 8% drop in tree canopy coverage between 2008-18. Preserving the mature trees in the Peace Garden in an area with scarce tree cover is important to maintaining the carbon-absorbing and cooling benefits of the urban tree canopy. Under the Green City Clean Waters Plan, community gardens and green spaces with mature plants and trees more effectively manage stormwater and reduce pressures on the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) system and pollution of our waterways, which allows the Peace Garden to positively contribute to these goals.

Thoughtfully named, the Peace Garden serves as a place of healing and respite for residents in recovery who live in nearby homes as well as for the larger community. The preservation of this space is a permanent reminder there’s a need for more of these investments. NGT is dedicated to protecting community gardens like this one to help neighborhoods thrive across Philadelphia.

This post adapted from a release by Neighborhood Gardens Trust.