“Lotgate” and the Emotional Implications of Pea Gravel

The garden next door to the OCF Coffee House’s Point Breeze location received some national attention this week from the always fun design website Houzz and contributor Becky Harris. While the article doesn’t give the address of the garden, it does say, “the owner of a new coffee shop in Philadelphia’s Point Breeze area hired artist and designer Becky Bourdeau to create an open urban garden space and inviting seating areas in an abandoned garbage-strewn plot out back.”

In the Houzz piece, Boudreau explains how she made choices that seem incidental to the untutored eye but turn out to have a big impact. For instance, Boudreau chose pea gravel as the material for the garden floor, which is environmentally friendly and inexpensive. But it also has other merits:

“In this region the stone contains a lot of yellows and ochers, which lends a lovely warm, tonal quality to the garden and bridges the cool neutral of the concrete benches and the warm wood of the fencing.”

Pea gravel is practical as well. “It’s easy for dog walkers to clean up after their pets, allows quick access to the irrigation lines underneath for troubleshooting and maintenance, and is permeable,” she says. “Perhaps best of all, pea gravel is loose and crunchy under your feet, making it near impossible to walk through quickly. By forcing visitors to slow down physically, I’m hopeful that they do so mentally and emotionally as well.”

The piece doesn’t mention the garden’s “Lotgate” history, when the land–owned, but not cared for, by the city–was taken over by business owner/developer Ori Feibush for just this purpose. That action launched was a perfect storm of debate around community gardens, city-owned vacant lots and properties, and the prerogatives of newly arrived developers.

This article in Houzz shuts the door on the lot’s scandalous history. Feibush won–but then, so did the neighborhood. Now it’s just a pretty garden featured on a website rather than the symbol of (take your pick) a city’s inability to be held accountable or the hubris of a developer. Thank goodness.

Garbage to Garden: A Vacant Philly Lot Gets Some Green-Thumb Love