Growing in the City

This is part of series of posts by recipients of the 2020 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Vincenzo Ferriola, Weitzman School of Design ’21

When I initially interviewed with Penn for the graduate program in City and Regional Planning, I was asked where I saw myself working in the future. I immediately answered with the public sector. Both of my parents worked for the Environmental Protection Agency and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and I naturally wanted to follow a similar pathway. Approximately one year after my interview, I connected with Ash Richards, Philadelphia’s Director of Urban Agriculture, and landed an internship with them. Ash was a guest speaker in Professor Domenic Vitiello’s Metropolitan Food Systems Planning course. Through this network, I was able to further understand and appreciate their practice, which then grew into an internship for the summer.

My goal this summer was to support the city’s plan for urban agriculture, Growing from the Root. I independently researched the environmental, mental, and social benefits of gardening and farming to then provide recommendations to be included within the plan. I also investigated the feasibility of planting fruit bearing trees in the public right of way, such as sidewalks and traffic medians. Ultimately, while there are major benefits to planting fruit bearing trees, such as reductions in stormwater runoff, increased tree canopy, and improved food security, this internship has shown me that bold ideas usually have some skepticism and it is imperative to listen and include all perspectives in the decision making process. While city agencies have planted fruit trees on sidewalks previously, like the peach tree I only recently became aware of on my neighboring street, falling fruit and decaying matter is a nuisance, for drivers and pedestrians. This raises questions: who will be responsible for maintenance, such as watering, pruning, and potentially a pesticide? What happens if a branch or even the entire tree falls on a car or a person? These sorts of questions (and more, especially around equity) are important to consider when proposing ideas, especially when it impacts neighborhoods.

Also though this internship, I came to understand the importance of writing policies and recommendations that are truly directed towards populations that have historically been marginalized. Urban agriculture is not a new practice. Urban agriculture is not a white practice. Philadelphians have been growing food for decades. With development pressures, gardens are not seen as a permanent land use, and many growing spaces have been built over. While impacting all growers, this struggle is the most inequitable towards black and brown communities as they have had limited access to resources and land attainment. Therefore, Growing from the Root is an effort to center black and brown voices to deliver change that will uplift and support black and brown growers for generations.

Reflecting upon this opportunity, I have four main takeaways that I will integrate into my practice: intentionality, patience, empathy, and advocacy. Of course there are more, but to be a planner who’s driven by justice, especially as a white person who understands the problematic histories of planning, we must (at the minimum) embody these traits.

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