Named after the Italian city where Virgil lived in ancient times, Mantua in West Philadelphia, was place where homes of considerable size were constructed in the 19th century. Trolley lines were extended into West Philly in 1858—and afterwards Mantua grew rapidly while West Philadelphia developed into a streetcar suburb. Mantua was even, at one point, the first stop on the Main Line.
Today, Mantua is is a changing neighborhood. While some blocks have been well maintained over the years, other have fallen into blight and vacancy. But the neighborhood's proximity to Penn and especially Drexel has resulted in revived interest from developers, with new student housing dotting many Mantua blocks. But there's still plenty of vacancy, particularly in the northern parts of the neighborhood.
At 37th & Brown, improvement has appeared at one vacant lot, where sits an urban garden with 50 raised beds- one of five PHS Green Resource Centers. Basically this garden, the Mantua Urban Peace Garden, is a place for neighbors and other urban farmers to grow fresh produce while adding to the neighborhood's physical beauty. Leased on 2.5 acres of land from the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the formerly vacant lot now grows a spread of greens—kale, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, herbs and more.
The project represents a relationship between neighbors, different city players and officials. The lease is held by the Neighborhood Gardens Trust, and was made possible in part by a We Are Mantua Choice Neighborhood HUD planning grant, one Drexel helped to procure, while its engineering students focus on innovative design projects for the site like a hoop house than can be converted into a farm stand. The Mantua Community Improvement Committee also helped make the garden a reality along with several offices in City Hall.
Mantua has seen various developments the past few years, mostly related to Drexel's growth. In the southern part of Mantua, looking along 34th & Spring Garden one will see examples of that continued building. At 34th between Spring Garden and Hamilton 28 units are replacing a demolished church. On 36th Street there's more building going on. As neighborhoods around Drexel continue to update housing stock, it remains to be seen how far those improvements will spread. For now, at least the Urban Peace Garden has improved one of the many vacant lots in the neighborhood.