Doing do-it-Yourself community projects

York community garden

West College & South Penn Street, York, Pa.

The situation

The vacant lot at South Penn and West College in York served bred weeds and litter. It served as a symbol, unfair in some cases, for that neighborhood. There is crime there, but many good people, too.

About four years ago, Yoko and Robert Enomoto came to a decision. They would change that, create a garden that would grow neighborhood pride and change minds.

It would be an oasis of peace.

Yoko Enomoto at the garden she and her husband, Robert, spearheaded, at West College Avenue and South Penn Street. The garden came, in part, as an answer to violence in that neighborhood. Interestingly, on the corner, upper right, assailants fired on an armored vehicle carrying three police officers in race rioting in July 1969. A bullet killed offer Henry C. Schaad.

Today, the work of this family made this corner a place of joy.

Their loving labor is an example of do-it-yourself urbanism, a practice that seems to be growing in York County.

As government resources recede, individuals are stepping forward to solve problems, to get things done.

“It may seem like a simple notion, a garden that could transform a neighborhood and change perceptions and minds,” Mike Argento of the York Daily Record wrote about the Enomotos and the community garden, “In her religion, gardens are places of peace, places where human beings are reminded of their connection to the world and the universe. It may seem esoteric, but she and her husband believe it is real.”

You can read more about this oasis of peace that they created: This York, PA community garden brings peace to a troubled neighborhood (

The witness

Tbe Enomotos are not alone in seeing a community need and acting on it.

Here are examples of informal urbanism a.k.a. do-it-yourself urbanism:

  • Friends of City Cemetery – This unmarked potter’s field, a decades-old place in North York for individuals without means, family or who could not be identified had been laid to rest. The Friends, led by Witnessing York’s Jamie Noerpel, are raising funds in a Project Penny Heaven campaign to cover a monument and maintenance.
  • Friends of Lebanon Cemetery – The Friends of Lebanon Cemetery work started with a simple cleanup of a neglected historically Black cemetery and has now developed into a community-wide initiative.   
  • Allen/Schaad monument – Bob Mann placed flowers and then interpretative plaques on an unsung Farquhar Park memorial to Lillie Belle Allen and Henry C. Schaad, slain in 1969 race rioting.
  • York community gardens – For years, Annalisa Gojmerac has been planting community gardens on vacant lots around York.
  • York XL – You could say that a big part of York XL’s startup involved street and neighborhood cleanups. Since then, this initiative has gained non-profit status and has taken on a significant project – The Ivan & Zach Firefighters Memorial Gardens on York’s Broad Street.
  • The MovementThe Movement started out as a podcast and later went live on front porches with discussions about neighborhoods. This small start evolved into an active Facebook group, among many other community projects.
  • Heart of Hanover Trails – This volunteer initiative started with the idea that Hanover’s rich history should be explained to those walking around Hanover’s downtown. Main Street Hanover came in as a partner. It ended with about 30 wayside storyboards telling this history and a digital presence for those to take in the history at home.

If there are other DIY projects, please comment on this post and we’ll add to this piece.

Royal Square Gardens, spearheaded by Annalisa Gojmerac.

For more about DIY urbanism, check out this 99 percent invisible podcast: “The Help-Yourself City.”

Do-it-yourself urbanism is part of the conversation in the Strong Towns movement.

The questions

Community members who step up to address problems in their neighborhoods are doers. They see an issue, and do something about it. How can we motivate others in York County to be doers? What messages or structures need to be in place to facilitate a culture of do-it-yourself urbanism?

Jamie Noerpel explains York City Cemetery.

Related links and sources: Jamie Noerpel’s Project Penny Heaven: What started as a pretty view took on a much graver meaning – Wandering in York County ( Photos courtesy of York Daily Record/Sunday News.


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