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Logan Triangle

Imagine a vacant lot in Philadelphia. There’s probably some grasses, some weeds, some trash. Maybe there’s a tree. Maybe there’s illegal dumping. If the neighbors are lucky, it’s mowed and taken care of- if they’re unlucky, it’s a mess.

How big is the lot you’ve imagined?

Imagine if it’s bigger. Imagine it is a whole block. Now two. Now four.

Now imagine it is 36 acres.

That, 36 acres- one million five hundred sixty-eight thousand and one hundred sixty square feet- is the size of the largest vacant lot in Philadelphia. It takes up 8 blocks in the Logan neighborhood of North Philadelphia, and is called the Logan Triangle.

The land has been vacant since the 80s. In 1986 a series of gas explosions destroyed houses and tragically cost human lives. Residents organized and demanded a solution, and the city responded by using eminent domain to purchase and demolish more than 1000 homes over 14 years.

An entire neighborhood, gone.

That brings us to where we are today. Whole blocks of rolling lawn between jersey barriers. Persistent illegal dumping. Constant attempts to develop the land complicated by the soil’s poor quality and instability.

How did this place get this way?

At the end of the 19th century, Philadelphia was rapidly expanding northward. To make the land buildable they needed to take the rolling hills and deep valleys of the area and flatten them. What is now Logan Triangle was then the Wingohocking Creek winding through a valley almost 40 feet deep. Like many waterways during the 1800s in Philadelphia, the creek was put in a pipe, then buried. Ideally, stable materials would have been used for fill, but when the Triangle was being buried costs were cut by using coal ash. Coal ash-the residue left behind from burning coal- is cheap, but it’s not stable.

Decades passed, and then problems began. In 1959, five houses were set on fire and destroyed by a series of three explosions. The cause was a gas pipe cracked as the fill subsided. Philadelphia Gas Works repaired the crack and life went on, and the situation was ignored until the explosions of the 80s led to the abandoned land of today.

Will it be rebuilt? To build any significant structure support beams must be drilled more than fifty feet down, past the coal ash, to safely anchor a foundation, or some other drastic process to replace or get around the problems with soil will need to take place. While the Goldenberg Group has plans to develop the site, ground has yet to be broken, and the future of Logan Triangle is still uncertain.

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