This is a beautiful, inspirational place; mosaic sculptures in parks, vegetable gardens for children, murals of angels watching over the community.
The Village takes up a small block of previously burnt-out, abandoned buildings. Each alley between buildings is lit up by brightly colored murals, shining mirror-lined angel mosaics protecting children running through the parks. There are numerous parks surrounding the area. Great big animals of all types and colors face a public housing building, shining bits of light through a dull colored, trash strewn area. I have never experienced a place so well integrated into the community, and accepted with so much pride by neighborhood members.
Work crews from the community are formed to help on each project. Community members wanting to help out can find a job with The Village, and be brought into the creative process of the projects, feeling an ownership of art in their community. Walking around the area, each park jumps out with vibrant blues, pinks, and yellows of the murals and shining, colorful mosaics.
Neighborhood kids do trash collections at least once a day as part of an environmental class program. They go through their bags and use the trash to learn about environmental impacts, assessing the number of plastics, recyclables, etc. The parks stand out as an oasis of cleanliness and green in an otherwise plastic bag and cigarette butt littered area.
Seating in parks has been built by hand with great consideration for the children and adults who will occupy them; mosaic couches and armchairs are overrun by laughing children. The angels are constantly watching over them, keeping then away from the drugs and violence that their neighborhood has been known for, for so long. One huge wall is covered with the scene of a phoenix, rising toward the sky. Under it, is a stage where the neighborhood children rehearse plays.
With the many parks created by The Village, the entire community seems to take part in the use of the spaces. A garden has been created for use by the Head Start children. Another park has been constructed around a playground across from the looming public housing building. A larger portion was dedicated by the Philadelphia Eagle's Football team. Here murals celebrating nature and life surround a newly fallen tree, covered in cement, and ready to be covered by mosaic tile, with visions of butterflies, encapsulating vines, and other signs of life, overtaking the dead wood.
As we walked down the street, trying to find one of the parks, a man walking beside us directed us to the Ile Ife Park, and told us the history of it and the wonderful artist, Lily Yeh who started the park. He spoke with pride that this was a part of his community. We sat on the benches made of smashed tile and mirror, making wonderful curves and places to sit. Across from us, women sat and smiled, waved. Children ran over and asked us to hide them during a game of hide-and-seek with the tall reaching sculpture of life in the center of the park. I've never felt more welcomed in an unfamiliar place.
Big Man was given a chance 14 years ago to turn his life around, get out of the North Philadelphia drug scene, and take control of the creative aspect of the mosaic sculptures. Since then he has flourished in the responsibility, making a new career for himself as an artist, something he probably never would have considered years ago. To me, the people of The Village and the surrounding community carry a feeling around them. I felt this feeling of creativity, community and love. The Village has integrated itself into the community, expanding each year, and including, never excluding, anyone interested in their vision or wanting to be a part of such publicly created beauty.
*Please note that these Hall of Shame nominations were written in a moment in time (most over a decade ago) and likely have since changed or even been transformed. If the above entry is now great, or still not so great, go ahead and comment below on how it has evolved or nominate it as a great place.
With locally-inspired activities that fly in the face of traditional park programs, from bread-baking to puppet shows, Toronto residents created a community place out of a park neglected by locals and city officials alike.