The Urban Creators is a platform for radical and collaborative imagination. Since 2010 we have used food, art, and education as tools to nurture resilience and self-determination in our neighborhood. Now, we are supporting the emergence of a new generation of Urban Creators, organizers, artists, growers, and local businesses who are working to build equity and collective liberation in our communities.
Life Do Grow (LDG) is a Neighborhood Creative Commons, situated in the heart of North Central Philadelphia on the ancestral lands of the indigenous Lenni-Lenape. LDG is a dynamic and ever-evolving ecosystem of creative ideas, currently comprised of an urban farm, public park, outdoor classroom, community marketplace, venue for artistic and cultural expression, and co-working/co-creation space for local businesses, artists, organizers, growers, healers, and creators. It is an entirely off-grid sustainability campus, where all energy is generated from solar panels and all water is collected from rain catchment systems. It is a canvas for ingenuity; a safe-space to explore boundaries, discover passions, and experiment with new ideas; a hub for community to organize, build equity, and foster economic opportunity; and an organic garden where we can all connect more deeply with the earth and one another.
The Urban Creators was founded in 2010 by a diverse group of young students, artists, activists, organizers, entrepreneurs, and creators in North Philadelphia. Inspired by our differences and a shared passion for ‘creation’, we came together with a vision to transform a two-acre plot of vacant land into a farm. We spent our first year organizing door-to-door to strengthen relationships with our closest neighbors and local allies. We spent our second year clearing away debris and planting our first seeds of change. Our third year saw the transformation of this land into Life Do Grow: our urban farm, sanctuary, and our home.
In 2013, we began investing in sustainable infrastructure (including outdoor classrooms, rain collection systems, greenhouses, and mobile art walls) to increase the overall capacity of Life Do Grow farm. We also developed our first youth programs that have since engaged over 7,000 students and volunteers, and provided jobs, political education, workforce training, and mentorship for 81 Philadelphia youth and young adults.
In 2014, art & celebration became central elements of our work as we organized our first annual HOODSTOCK Festival, in collaboration with Youth Speaks, Life Is Living, and the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival. This laid a foundation for Life Do Grow to evolve into a dynamic platform to for radical self-expression, artistic creativity, and political organizing.
In 2015 we received a grant from the US Department of Justice to pilot our REGENERATION program which, in collaboration with the Mural Arts Guild, provided six months of employment, as well as workforce and entrepreneurial training for 15 formerly incarcerated young adults from our immediate neighborhood. All of the programs leaders, participants, and projects were rooted in a hyper-localized context, which in the end showed incredible potential as recidivism rates amongst our participants dropped by 20%, and we all had an opportunity to redefine our relationship to, and roles within our common community.
In 2016, with the Democratic National Convention coming to Philadelphia, we organized “Youth Action Assembly” which engaged 23 local organizations and over 600 Philadelphia youth in a series of artistically-inspired inter-generational conversations (focused on the themes of: Education 4 Liberation, Black Lives Matter, Food Justice, and Mass Freedom), designed to amplify youth voice and local action during the DNC.
In 2017 we participated in a city-wide artistic collaborative called PHL Assembled, through which we had the honor of exhibiting art and different elements of Life Do Grow in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Also, in response to the devastation of Hurricane Maria, we organized a brigade to Puerto Rico to support local organizers in their efforts to rebuild organic farms throughout the island.
In 2018 we installed our Geodesic (Free)Dome. We also introduced our ‘Creator Core’ program as a way of providing more intimate mentorship and training to our most dedicated young people, supporting their emergence as young leaders within the organization and community, while helping them to identify and actualize personal passions and life goals.
In 2019 we installed a solar energy system with Youth Build Charter School to power Life Do Grow, and were honored by the Bread & Roses Community Fund with their Annual ‘Tribute to Change’ Award. 2019 was also, however, a year of significant transition. We experienced a great deal of trauma in our community, and began to recognize the limitations of our organization’s capacity to build true community equity in its existing form. We realized that as a non-profit, there are constraints to the ways in which we can adapt and respond to the changing needs of our community, we are largely dependent on outside funding, and there are no pathways towards ownership or equity for our leaders, youth, or community members. These challenges and realizations led us into a period of deep reflection, as we began a gradual transition towards a more collaborative model that invests more deeply in programming focused on building sovereignty and self-reliance, and building a platform to support the emergence of radical ideas and social enterprises in our community.
In 2020-21, we responded to the rapidly shifting needs of our community throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic by organizing a Mobile Market to make produce, meals, PPE, and other critical resources accessible throughout our neighborhood. Through these efforts, and several key partnerships, we hosted a total of 198 markets at 8 key locations throughout North Philadelphia, where we distributed approximately 67,000lbs of produce, 104,135 fresh meals, 35,300 diapers, 122,872, menstrual products, 1,178 books, and hundreds of PPE Items to our community.
We also installed a new greenhouse and water filtration system at Life Do Grow farm, and grew varieties of indigenous crops to help regenerate these precious ancestral seeds. We also piloted Neighborhood Beautification and Youth Neighborhood Organizer Training programs, as well as a series of Community Food Education workshops that engaged dozens of community members in free classes focused on Urban Agriculture & Earth Science, African Diaspora Cooking, and Herbal Medicine Making, all with the intention of supporting the personal and collective sovereignty of our community members.
The Urban Creators are deeply committed to our core values of: Honoring Culture & Legacy, Imagining New Futures, Racial & Economic Justice, Balance & Emergence, Interconnection & Relationships, The Earth, Freedom of Expression, Holistic Wellness, and Collaborative Leadership. During our first 10 years, we practiced these values through a combination of community organizing, educational programming, artistic events, and the transformation of vacant land into urban gardens and green spaces. Now, as we enter our second decade, we will continue working towards these values through a more cooperative approach that supports the emergence of local businesses, organizations, artists, growers, healers, and organizers whose work will have a meaningful and lasting impact on our neighborhood. In this way, we can invest in a new generation of ‘Creators’ as they manifest their own dreams while contributing to the overall health, equity, and resilience of our communities. Most importantly, we will continue to center our community in cultivating visions for the future of our land and neighborhood, while supporting city-wide and global movements towards food and land sovereignty, earth justice, and collective liberation.