Philadelphia is hampered by serious socio-economic challenges, many of which sit at the crossroads of inequality, de-industrialization and health and criminal justice policy: drug-related harms, incarceration, unemployment, poverty, and trauma.

Philadelphia Overdose Prevention Initiative (POPI) is working at the intersection of restorative justice, public health, horticulture and art/design to ameliorate the negative impact of these challenges by addressing their root causes. We are currently funded with Open Society Foundations Criminal Justice Fund Equity and Inclusion money., and fiscally sponsored by Culture Works Philadelphia.

We are working on two projects: one is a participatory design exercise to create shared space, in communities where there is conflict over drug use—space that would not be exclusive of people who use drugs or the formerly incarcerated (or both). The primary point of this exercise is peacebuilding that can reduce the conflict that leads to police being called–and hence arrests. The other project is a pollinator garden, to “pollinate” the community in both the literal and scientific sense–by creating pollinator habitats on formerly vacant lots—and also in a poetic sense, by seeding love, understanding and forgiveness. Both projects aim to end the otherization of drug users—and build reconciliation within communities.

We currently have a prototype of such a garden (Paul Yabor Memorial Garden, 240 W Indiana St, on the block of N American St between Cambria and Indiana) in the Kensington section of North Philadelphia. This year we plan to expand the programming, ideally developing a trauma informed and art and narrative-focused social entrepreneurship model that takes into account the challenges many formerly incarcerated or at risk for incarceration individuals have maintaining traditional employment. The participatory design process will be used to develop this pollinator garden program.