“As a guide to a coherent, intricate and transformative approach to landscape architecture and urban design, Anne Whiston Spirn is a visionary of the first order whose innovative work on the ground has transformed and enhanced the quality of life in low-income urban neighborhoods in deep and lasting ways.” Charlotte Kahn, The Boston Foundation
Never would I have predicted, in 1987, that, all these years later, I would still be engaged with West Philadelphia’s Mill Creek watershed and community. I did not intend to have a long-term relationship with this place. It started as a four-year action research project, with the expectation that I would turn over the findings and recommendations to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, and that the “official” planners would take these on board in their 1994 Plan for West Philadelphia. But, they didn’t. Outraged and perplexed, I determined to persist, which led, over the years, to deeper and deeper relationships with people and place. What started out as an action research project, driven by my own goals, grew into a program of mutual teaching and learning with children and adults in Mill Creek. As I learned, my capacity for working with the community increased as did my capacity as a researcher, planner, and designer.
There are tremendous advantages to staying engaged in a single place over a long period of time. You build relationships and trust with people, not just people who live in the place, but also folks who are working for public agencies or working in the community as teachers or in other roles. When you're in a place, over time, making a series of proposals, staying engaged, watching what happens, evaluating, was it a success, was it a failure, adapting to that, you learn a tremendous amount.
The West Philadelphia Landscape Project has many facets. These are described in essays, reports, maps, photographs, videos, and a website. Click on the WPLP tab in Essays and in this Portfolio section to see them all.
“[Spirn] became a local hero, educator, leader of change, communicator, and a connector of peoples from all walks of life, taking her vision and making it a reality in the lives of residents, students, the design community and government, among others.…it was through her groundbreaking work that the City of Philadelphia can now boast being the Greenest City in America…leading the effort to green America's cities through programs like our Green City, Clean Waters initiative.” Howard Neukrug, former Commissioner, Philadelphia Water Department
“The West Philadelphia Landscape Project was twenty years ahead of its time: it anticipated today’s concerns with urban water management, sustainability, and the relationship between physical and social infrastructure.” Jane Wolff, University of Toronto
“This project demonstrates the links between environmental issues, education and heritage, and is a model for Ottawa as it seeks to comprehensively implement a ‘green city’ strategy.” City of Ottawa, Canada Growth Management Plan