• Benjamin Schmitt: Shipbuilding

    Earthship-1

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    Red Square

    Posted on December 17, 2013 by Benjamin Schmitt

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    ……….I’m standing on an empty field in North Philadelphia. When trying to describe the surrounding neighborhood, words like “underdeveloped” and even “desolate” might come to mind. In front of me, against the backdrop of a towering red-brick housing project, stands a little boy, next to a pile of discarded tires, holding a pick axe, looking me straight in the eye without the hint of a smile. If it wasn’t for the broad daylight, this scene would have the potential to cause quite a few people considerable unease.

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    Earthship-3

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    But in school as well as in life, it’s always about context: The little boy is just shy – not that little actually, seeing how his age suddenly increases from 8 to 11 when we tell him we would’ve taken him for older -, and the field is called Peace Park, a community garden that was created as part of the Occupy Vacant Lots movement 3 years ago.

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    When a friend from Berlin told me I definitely had to check out all the amazing Earthships around here while I was in the States, I have to admit, I barely had a vague idea what she was talking about – some type of sustainable building or something…

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    Earthship-4

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    Little did I know that about a week later, I would meet Dusty, a guy from Minnesota, at the A-Space, an anarchist community center in my neighborhood in West Philadelphia, who would soon invite me to my first Earthship Build Work Party, a recurring weekly event at Peace Park. The term Earthship is actually a trademark by Michael Reynolds, an American architect, who has been building radically sustainable houses, utilizing unconventional materials like old tires, cans, and bottles, and whose efforts have been immortalized in the documentary Garbage Warrior.

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    Earthship-7

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    Within minutes after we arrived and Dusty introduced me to all the welcoming, dedicated and inspiring people working there – some of them almost every day -, I knew I wanted to be part of this, work with them on realizing their vision of a community garden supplying and educating the neighborhood on healthy, local, and sustainable food, including a gathering space for anyone to teach, share, and seek shelter in.

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    At 24th and Oxford Streets in West Philadelphia, what used to be basically an illegal landfill until 3 years ago is being turned into something beautiful, literally and metaphorically fruitful, that will hopefully have an impact on the lives of many within and beyond the neighborhood – and anyone is welcome to stop by and join. Pretty much every day, there are members of the community working there from 3 to 6pm and on the weekends there are work parties from 11am to 4pm. All are welcome.

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    Red Square

    About The Author: Benjamin Schmitt is a junior enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania. Class of 2015.