Park in a Truck Program Beautifies Urban Landscapes One Lot at a Time

Kim Douglas, RLA, ASLA, and Drew Harris, DPH, MPH, are on a mission to take abandoned litter-filled lots throughout the city and turn them into sanctuaries of green spaces that beautify neighborhoods and create a sense of community.

Douglas is associate professor of landscape architecture and the Anton Germishuizen-Stantec Term Chair at Thomas Jefferson University; Harris is assistant professor in Jefferson’s College of Population Health. Together they came up with the idea called Park in a Truck.

The program entails assembling all of the materials needed to build a park, such as gravel, soil, mulch, and plants—all locally sourced when possible—loading them onto a truck, and delivering them to lots throughout Philadelphia. Each community then participates in designing and building a park to suit the needs of the neighborhood.

The first official Park in a Truck park broke ground in early October of 2019 at the corner of 38th and Melon streets in Mantua and was completed that November. Douglas and her team partnered with the Mantua Civic Association to design and execute the completion of this park.

“The community has taken ownership, and we are in the process of training four park ambassadors,” she says, noting that the ambassadors are local youths who will do light maintenance and watch over the park.

Current projects include a parks in West Kensington that is halfway completed, and another in the Eastwick section that will begin construction in April.

“There are 40,000 open, available lots in Philadelphia, which to us is 40,000 opportunities to build parks,” Douglas says.

The project recently gained national recognition as a finalist in the Social Good category of Fast Company’s 2020 Innovation by Design Awards. The judges remarked the project is “reimagining how social, ecological, and economic networks in cities are designed built.” They went on to call the program “the best of the best.”

Although COVID-19 has made it more difficult for community members to participate in both the design process as well as the building of the park, Douglas says she is looking forward to 2021 with optimism. This year, the team plans to continue to work with communities to build parks on all of the available land in Philadelphia—and beyond. She also plans to finish a do-it-yourself toolkit by the summer in order to provide detailed instructions for communities on how to design, build, and maintain their own parks.

“Ideally we’d like Park in a Truck to be national and international,” Douglas says. “We see what we’re doing in Philadelphia as applicable to many different cities across the United States—and the world.”