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Seeds of change planted by Northern Liberties neighbors continue to bloom 30 years later

How neighbors in Northern Liberties helped the community blossom
How neighbors in Northern Liberties helped the community blossom 03:44

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Thirty years ago, a group of residents in Philadelphia's Northern Liberties neighborhood had a vision. Decades later, their goal of creating a better community is paying off.

That dream started with a few people but blossomed to include many more.

People like Janet Finegar and her husband, who moved to Northern Liberties more than 30 years ago.

Finegar said at the time, it wasn't the picture-perfect place to settle down.

"It was Philadelphia in the '90s," Finegar said. "There were crack houses on the block."

Janey Finegar
Janey Finegar CBS Philadelphia

"We need to invest in making the community a place we want to live," Finegar recalled saying to her husband.

They started small and worked with their neighbors, "doing cleanups and participating in the neighbor association, and just little things trying to make the neighborhood better," Finegar said. 

Eventually, the neighbors banded together and formed the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, whose primary focus was beautifying the area and making community green spaces. 

Then in 1994, the association got its first major opportunity when it acquired the old Burk Brothers Tannery.

Old Burk Brothers Tannery in Northern Liberties
Old Burk Brothers Tannery in Northern Liberties CBS Philadelphia

"At the time in Northern Liberties, it was one of 300 vacant parcels," Finegar said. "It was clear nobody was going to move fast to take it away from us. The city demolished it, sent us a note saying you owe us $500,000 and also $250,000 for all these back taxes. Do not send cash."

Thanks to neighbor donations and a $50,000 grant to plant trees, Liberty Lands soon blossomed.

Mitch Deighan and his late husband Mike Anderson, who were featured in a documentary about Northern Liberties, are some of Finegar's original neighbors.

They purchased several lots in the '90s, including a piece of land on the 800 block of Orkney Street. They too had a vision for a retreat from the hustle and bustle of urban life and an appreciation for nature. 

Northern Liberties park
Northern Liberties park CBS Philadelphia

It's the story of how a community can change the landscape and show how a little love can go a long way. That love created three parks in Northern Liberties, giving the young and hold a piece of nature.

Finegar and the neighborhood association are done creating green spaces in Northern Liberties but are now helping other neighborhoods develop their parks.

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