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Monday, October 5, 2015

The West Philadelphia Earthship Build

The first-ever urban Earthship being built in Philadelphia?!? Rohan and I had to stop by. 

On Sunday, we took Route 611 into the City of Brotherly Love. Rohan has never been to Philadelphia, so we took the necessary tourist stop by Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

We followed smartphone GPS directions to 675 N 41st St. We passed many row houses and pulled up next to… what to any rational person would think is a big pile of tires and garbage. Clearly, there is still much work to be done. 

We met Oliver, a middle aged man who lives a few blocks from the build site. Oliver told us how he feels about the work being done.

“Let’s be honest,” Oliver said, “This is just a big pile of trash!” He explained the site has been in this state of disarray for over six months.“Would you want this to come to your neighborhood?”

He supports community development, but disagrees this Earthship build will achieve it. “In a community like this, you need to teach people. You need to put tools in their hands.”

What is the purpose of this earthship project?

This article explains, "We want to bring holistic health information and activities to the community through workshops, holding free events on the land, and having workshops for people to learn how to build an Earthship themselves,” Ali-Campbell said, “So that other people who have the desire to build can grab up some of these 40,000 vacant lots and turn them into something beautiful and sustainable.”

According to this blog, “The greatest obstacles have been financial. Love Loving Love received the property on 41st and Warren as a donation, only to learn later that there was a $21,000 lien on the property, the result of unpaid taxes and demolition costs from the warehouse that once occupied the space. L&I engineers need to ensure that the land, some of it filled with rubble from the demolished warehouse, is stable enough to build on. The tests will cost more than $4,000.”

Their indegogo campaign raised $2,626 by January 2015. The earthship build was scheduled to take place in February but without the funding, it has not yet manifested. 

Here are the barriers that we could easily understand upon our visit:

  • Community perception
Does the slow in build progress influence neighbors and residents attitudes? How could this project change their material collection, tire storage, and building tactics to adapt to problems of funding? We wonder why so many tires are being stored onsite. How could the neighbors better understand and accept the vision?

  • City planning and building

Props to the city of Philadelphia for encouraging more programs to foster social justice and access holistic community education. 

According to Earthship Biotecture website, Ali-Campbell and the group building the Earthship in West Philadelphia spent five years educating the city council, the mayor, the governor and many organizations on the design principles and the way the house operates. City officials thought the structure looked like a Flintstones house and wanted it modified to look more like a city dwelling. The Earthship was modified so the walls will have corners instead of rounded walls, which city officials have been more responsive to.
  • Constructing the Earthship

The last barrier is the actual construction of the Earthship. Why has construction taken so long? We assume this is lack of financing. Is there too a lack of man power to get construction finished? And, finally, how much experience do the leaders of this project have in constructing Earthships?

We sent a message but were unable to discuss our questions with Ali-Cambell or LoveLovingLove, Inc

We love the concept of Earthships and this turned out to be, the moment we visited, not an ideal Earthship build site. Nonetheless, there are many good lessons for community development and environmental planning we can learn from our visit. 

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