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 by cooperatively incubating and investing in local businesses, artists, growers, and organizers whose work will have a meaningful and lasting impact on the overall health, safety, and equity of 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, venue for artistic and cultural expression, and co-working/co-creation space for small local businesses, artists, organizers, 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, while working towards collective liberation.
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 75 Philadelphia youth.
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 work was 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, and 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 YouthBuild 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 deep reflection and transition. We experienced a great deal of trauma in our immediate community, and began to recognize the limitations of our organization’s capacity to build true equity. We began to realize that as a non-profit, there are constraints to the ways in which we can respond to the changing needs of our community, there are no pathways towards ownership of any kind, and our existence remains largely dependent on outside funding.
Therefore, in 2020 we began our transition from a traditional non-profit structure towards a more collaborative model that incubates and supports the emergence of radical new ideas and social enterprises in our neighborhood. We now offer memberships (which include access to co-working/co-creation space at LDG; shared use of all Urban Creator tools and assets; intimate mentorship; collaborative marketing opportunities; insurance coverage; and in some cases fiscal sponsorship and micro-investments) for local businesses, organizations, artists, and organizers whose values align with ours and whose work will have a meaningful and lasting impact on our neighborhood. In this way, we can invest in the early growth of these startups as they each build their own equity, while improving the overall health, safety, equity, and resilience of our community.
Because of these strategic changes, we were also able to adapt to the rapidly shifting needs of our community during the COVID-19 Crisis by curating a Mobile Market and Virtual Programming Platform that offer new ways to continue learning, sharing, connecting, and accessing food, resources, and information.
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 our combination of educational programming, artistic/cultural events, and the transformation of vacant land into urban gardens and green spaces. Now, as we enter our second decade, we will continue to work towards these values through the development of our Creator Cooperative which will support the emergence of local businesses, organizations, artists, and organizers whose values align with ours and 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 of urban creation, while contributing to the overall health, safety, equity, and resilience of our community.