The project began as a modern-day interpretation of the legendary Bartram’s Boxes, which were sent by Philadelphian John Bartram (1699-1777), American’s first botanist, to clients far and wide. The simple wooden boxes were filled with seeds, dried plants, and other natural specimens, designed to incite a sense of discovery in its recipients. The boxes brought new varieties of flowers and trees to Europe, which were reflected in its gardens then and today. Bartram’s estate is now Bartram’s Garden, located in Southwest Philadelphia.
Bartram’s Garden and Mt. Airy USA are both partners engaged in Reimagining the Civic Commons, which aims to link civic assets across the city to share ideas and enhance resources. Bartram’s Garden is the terminus of Bartram’s Mile, the mile-long bike and pedestrian trail that will connect Southwest Philadelphia with Center City, and ultimately the Schuylkill River Trail. The Lovett Library and Park project brings together the Free Library of Philadelphia and Mt. Airy USA, the local community nonprofit in the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood, to solidify the library and its adjacent park as a community hub and gathering space, and provide fertile testing ground for the concept of a library without walls. The other projects in the Civic Commons include the Viaduct Rail Park in Center City, Centennial Commons in West Philadelphia, and Discovery Center in North Philadelphia. The sites represent diverse communities across the city, many of whom know little about each other, and rarely visit.
The Neighborhood Exchange Box project sought to change that, by collecting stories and treasures about each neighborhood, and sharing them with another site. Bartram’s Garden and Lovett Library and Park were the first sites to exchange.