Since 2011, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) has been activating vacant spaces in Philadelphia with pop-up garden installations. After several years of success with pop-ups around the city, PHS created their first seasonal beer garden in 2013 on an empty lot in the heart of Philadelphia’s performing arts district. This pop-up included temporary landscaping elements such as trees and plants, cafe-style seating, as well as alcoholic beverages and food for sale during evening hours. The site was tremendously popular, and PHS repeated the concept on a vacant lot at 1438 South Street during the 2014 season, attracting over 52,000 people.
PHS implemented the beer gardens in partnership with local bars and mobile food vendors. The local bar partners for each site supplied bartenders and operated the garden’s bar area as an extension of their brick-and-mortar business. The bars also worked with PHS to secure a catering permit, which allowed PHS to provide alcohol service outdoors on a temporary basis. Each beer garden also featured space for food trucks or other mobile vendors to set-up temporary sites at the garden. Visitors under 21 years of age are allowed to enter the pop-up garden, as long as they are accompanied by an adult.
Maintenance of the garden spaces is a collaborative effort. PHS volunteers and interns assist with a large portion of the effort, and PHS aims to have 1-2 volunteers visit each garden for landscape upkeep each day. The restaurant and bar staff assist with clean-up in their food or beverage service area.
PHS considered past pop-up garden initiatives a success, but the tremendous popularity of the 2013 and 2014 beer gardens illustrated how much food and beverages can help activate public space. PHS found that food and beverages provided a missing social ingredient, and encouraged people to linger for hours. While the food and beverage is an important attractor, purchase is not mandatory. The beer gardens are open to the public, including children. Patrons only pay if they choose to purchase food or drinks.
In 2014, Philadelphia’s local business associations stated that the many pop-up beer gardens inspired by PHS’s work helped generate a substantial economic boost to surrounding restaurants, bars, and shops. Residents and businesses have generally welcomed the positive attention these pop-up green spaces have brought to their neighborhoods.
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