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South Philadelphia Neighbors Celebrate Community Garden Risen From Vacant Lot

By Michelle Durham

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Some South Philadelphia neighbors gathered today to celebrate their second-place win in a "Best/Worst Lot" contest held by the "Campaign To Take Back Vacant Land."

Residents near 4th and Manton Streets did just that, taking a lot strewn with trash and turning into a beautiful garden.

And, they discovered, more grew from the experience than just vegetables.

berman_mark _durham
(Mark Berman. Credit: Michelle Durham)

Mark Berman (right), president of the Friends of Manton Street Park and Community Garden, says it has really brought neighbors together.

"Before this was here, I didn't know anyone on this block," he recalls.  "And I wouldn't ever have walked on this block, only because there was no need and it was a block of people I just didn't know.  Now I ride my bike and I hear, 'Hi, Mark; Hi, Mark; Hi, Mark!' "

The story is especially interesting because, right after neighbors cleaned up the lot, which took five months, they discovered it was sold to a developer.

But the builder worked with the community, even donating some of the materials to fence in the garden, and opted to build homes next to it.

"It was pretty awful and trash-strewn, and all that has changed," says Holly, whose front windows face the garden.  "A lot of that has to do with how tenacious Mark was in getting things done. We all worked together, and that was a really good feeling."

Meanwhile, there are hundreds of other vacant lots just like this one in the city.  A bill now before Philadelphia City Council would create a Philadelphia "land bank," which would give neighbors the power to take over lots like this one and create gardens or other community spaces.

The Friends of Manton Street Park and Community Garden are calling for a hearing on the legislation this October.

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