Mayoral Forum

(Philadelphia, PA)- The venerable Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) has become an influential force for urban forestry in Philadelphia. Founded in 1827, America’s first horticultural society leveraged the power of its members and other environmental advocates to make greening issues a prominent item on the public agenda during the city’s 2007 mayoral race.


Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
Category: Community Building/ Advocacy
OVERVIEW
Although PHS does not make political endorsements, all five candidates in a hotly contested Democratic primary presented greening platforms at a forum held in conjunction with PHS’s annual Philadelphia Flower Show.
This heightened attention to greening issues led to new support for urban forestry, including a comprehensive open-space plan that calls for increasing the city’s tree canopy from 15% to 30% over the next 20 years. This would result in planting approximately 1,000,000 new trees.
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society says that this increased visibility comes after decades of collaborative work with grassroots organizations as well as with all levels of government and other non-profits.
“We don’t travel alone,” says Ms. Roy, Senior Director of PHS’s Philadelphia Green program. “We believe very much in partnerships and bridge building… and we want to make sure that our projects have good civic support.”
BACKGROUND
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s mission is “to improve the quality of life and create a sense of community through horticulture.” PHS provides events, activities and publications for novice gardeners, experienced horticulturists and flower lovers of all ages.
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society also produces and manages a variety of shows, competitions and programs, including:
* The Philadelphia Flower Show, the largest indoor flower show in the world
* Neighborhood and public landscape greening projects through Philadelphia Green
* Services including garden tours and publications
* Kids Grow Expo ,a horticultural exhibition by and for school-age children in the greater Philadelphia region
* City Gardens Contest
INFLUENCING PUBLIC POLICY
Community building and grassroots support
In 1974, at a time of widespread city blight, PHS established Philadelphia Green to initiate community vegetable gardens and restore urban parks and treasured public landscapes. Since then, entire neighborhoods have been transformed through Philadelphia Green’s vacant land reclamation program, and new generations have been trained to be environmental stewards. There have been significant signs of rebirth throughout the city, and the PHS program has become a national model for revitalization.
Working in partnership with neighborhood residents, community organizations and city agencies, Philadelphia Green uses greening as a community building tool.
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society does not view its greening projects as stand-alone ventures, but rather as one piece of overall urban revitalization plans. “We want people to see greening projects as a ‘must have’ when they are creating community and economic development strategies,” says Ms. Roy.
An important piece of this strategy has been to expand the capacity of grassroots organizations by connecting with and supporting existing community groups as well as by training and developing new associations.
For example, in 1993 PHS established Tree Tenders to train city residents affiliated with community groups to plant and care for trees. There are now more than 2,000 Tree Tenders working as urban forest stewards in more than 100 Philadelphia neighborhoods.
“Citizen advocacy and support is a critical component of our program,” says Ms. Roy. “We build support one advocate at a time.”
20,000 Trees Celebration. Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
In addition, PHS offers many opportunities for community activists and organizations to learn more about greening issues and to work together. These activities include tree planting events, neighborhood park programs and community gardens.
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society also sponsors forums, networking events and trainings in numerous formats and locations throughout the community. PHS encourages community groups to form coalitions and work jointly on projects.
Being part of the planning phase as well as the implementation part of a project helps to develop strong relationships and trust among groups. As a result, PHS engages in “informed dreaming” with groups as well as participating in the execution of projects.
Partnerships
Partnerships at all levels have also been crucial to PHS’s success in raising the visibility of greening issues.
Michael Leff, TreeVitalize Program Manager at Philadelphia Green, stressed the importance of working with partners at all levels of government – local, state, regional and federal – as well as with other environmental nonprofits and local community groups.
“We see the value of how groups can boost the capacity of one another,” says Mr. Leff. “Rather than all competing separately for the same slice of the pie, whether that’s financial resources or just public attention, joining forces enables each of us to be far more effective together than we ever would be alone.”
The TreeVitalize program itself is a broad-based public/private partnership to increase the urban tree canopy. Launched by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in 2004, the program is spearheaded by PHS in southeastern PA, where the partnership’s success has now led to replication in other metropolitan areas throughout the state.
2007 Mayoral Race
Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, in accordance with its desire to raise the visibility of greening issues in public policy, took a proactive role to ensure that these issues were addressed in the 2007 Philadelphia mayoral campaign.
First, PHS formed an advisory committee of business, civic and community leaders to spearhead the effort to create a dialog on greening issues during the campaign.
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, with the assistance and support of committee members, crafted policy documents on greening issues and met with each of the mayoral candidates to educate them on the issues.
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society then partnered with other environmental organizations to sponsor a candidates’ forum in conjunction with PHS’s annual Flower Show. Candidates were asked to present their greening platforms at the event and the public was encouraged to ask questions.
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society promoted the event heavily to its extensive network of grassroots groups and partnerships. In addition, PHS hired a public relations and marketing firm that had experience in this area. The forum received excellent press coverage before, after and during the event.
All five candidates running in the Democratic primary spoke at the forum which had an attendance of more than 1,600.
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society believes that the large attendance and significant press coverage focused the candidates’ attention on the importance of greening issues to voters.
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, in partnership with environmental organizations, held a second forum in October, following the primary races, prior to the November election. Again, PHS briefed both candidates about greening issues and asked them to present their platforms.
The winning candidate, Mayor Michael Nutter, has included greening issues as part of the agenda of his new administration, including a proposal for $1,000,000 in new annual funding for tree planting throughout the city.
LESSONS LEARNED
1. Influencing and informing the political process is a long-term project. Ms. Roy says, “Horticulture is the slowest of the performing arts, someone once said. The fruits of your labor may take some time.”
2. Build a base of practical knowledge and on-the-ground experience that you can reference. Be part of both the planning and the implementation of projects. Practical experience gives credibility and lends clout.
3. Explore and nurture partnerships at all levels. Work with local, state and regional agencies as well as other non-profit environmental and revitalization organizations.
4. Make sure there is strong civic support for your concerns. Community and civic engagement is crucial to the success of your efforts – both in the short and long-term. Develop and work with grassroots organizations.
5. Greening projects tend to be more successful when they are part of a larger community revitalization strategy. Likewise, advocacy around greening/urban forestry issues is more successful when it is linked with other community concerns such as crime reduction, environmental health and economic development. Help public officials as well as the general public understand how urban forestry is an important part of an overall strategy.
6. It is important to recognize the organizational capacity of the groups you are working with and the sustainability of projects. Sometimes areas with the greatest need have the least capability to implement and sustain projects. Through trainings and organizing you can help increase the capabilities of community organizations. This can be a slow process.
Contact Information:
Maitreyi Roy, Senior Director, Philadelphia Green
Michael Leff, TreeVitalize Program Manager, Philadelphia Green
The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
100 N. 20th Street – 5th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Phone: 215-988-8800
Fax: 215-988-8810