Reclaiming Local History and Championing An Inclusive Future in Southwest Philly

As gentrification, development and displacement come to Southwest Philadelphia, direct investments in local leaders and youth will amplify neighborhood voices, histories and priorities.

With 110,000 residents along the Tidal Schuylkill River in what was once Lenapehoking, Southwest Philadelphia is a neighborhood of rich history, culture, and traditions, made up of families with roots stretching back generations alongside recent immigrants from West Africa, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia.

With one of the city’s highest poverty rates, it is also a neighborhood that has often been left out of telling its own history and charting its own future, as industrialization and external profit crowd out the voices of local residents.

At the heart of Southwest Philadelphia is Bartram’s Garden, a free 45-acre public park where more than 95,000 people visit each year to bike, boat, fish, farm, and create. As further development and displacement disrupt our neighborhood, the Garden is investing directly in Southwest leadership to ensure that neighbors have a voice in both how their stories are told and how this area grows.

What is the community need that this idea addresses?

Southwest Philadelphia’s 110,000 residents carry rich cultures, some with roots stretching back generations and others recent immigrants from West Africa, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. Nonetheless, our neighbors are not well represented in the city’s popular history, as even local Southwest landmarks are named for long-dead white men. Indeed, many local stories are not only untold but also unrecorded: those of the indigenous Lenape, of free Black families in colonial Kingsessing, of more recent neighbors.

The need for deeper local ownership of this neighborhood and its stories is long overdue, but it is also urgently mandated by external forces of change, development, and gentrification, which risk further eclipsing local voices in a neighborhood that is more than 80% Black and has one of the city’s highest rates of poverty. Just as we must honor the histories of Southwest, so too should our neighbors be able to champion their own future.

What is the solution that is currently in place?

Bartram’s Garden is investing in Southwest by strengthening paid opportunities for local leaders to influence local development. This work builds on three existing initiatives:

  • Youth Leadership: Bartram’s Garden employs 40 local students each year to work at the Sankofa Community Farm and Community Boathouse while also studying everything from nutrition to public advocacy, environmental activism to giving and receiving feedback.
  • Reclaiming Local History: Recent research identified local colonial residents of color whose stories have gone untold for centuries. These narratives will need to be interpreted not just by scholars but also by the descendants—by blood or by culture—of those people depicted, in order to ensure that these new aspects of our history are shared respectfully.
  • Amplifying Neighborhood Voices: With external investment driving gentrification and displacement, Bartram’s Garden provides stipends and logistical support for local leaders and activists to ensure that neighborhood voices and priorities are included in planning.

How will a Key to Community Grant help?

Bartram’s Garden is committed to deepening local investment and leadership in Southwest Philadelphia during this time of significant neighborhood upheaval, leveraging our organizational strength to amplify our neighbors’ voices, priorities, and histories. A Key to Community Grant will be used primarily to directly support our Southwest neighbors through stipends, micro-grants, and logistical needs like childcare and meeting spaces as they embark on major initiatives like:

  • Establishing The NEST, an outdoor-focused pre-K and childcare center for 200 kids by the STAR IV-certified Woodland Academy using Bartram’s Garden as their classroom;
  • Developing Philadelphia’s first free public boathouse;
  • Leading a symposium on the Black history of Kingsessing;
  • Hosting a regional youth summit for high school students learning from and honoring their African Diaspora heritage; and
  • Responding to the planned redevelopment of local public housing, which could displace up to 2,000 residents.

Idea Submitted by:

Bartram’s Garden

Bartram’s Garden is a 45-acre free public park located on the Tidal Schuylkill River in Southwest Philadelphia, an area once known as Lenapehoking, or the ancestral lands of the indigenous Lenape. We welcome more than 95,000 visitors each year for free activities inviting everyone to build relationships with nature and strengthen their community: growing fresh food, safe outdoor recreation like biking and boating, outdoor art and performance, cooking traditional recipes, and hands-on environmental education for kids and families.

During a time of significant upheaval and change for our Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood, Bartram’s Garden has also become a hub for local organization and advocacy, with paid leadership opportunities for local students and elders as well as culturally relevant planning, engagement, and storytelling initiatives for our nearest neighbors, including new immigrants and people experiencing poverty.