At home in the city
Donovan Roberts Witmer '97
|Tashya Leaman ’97 (opposite page), a freelance landscape architect, devotes her energy to working alongside Harrisburg residents in transforming neglected city spaces into garden oases. Through the sponsorship of the Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful program, Leaman and 30 volunteers renovated this once-forgotten Derry Street lot.
Alumni outline the challenges and joys of city living and describe their commitment to community development
Messiah College alumni are choosing to put down roots in urban settings—such as Harrisburg and Philadelphia—where as neighbors, co-workers, and citizens, they work with local residents to build on community strengths and address social concerns.
From her home-office in Harrisburg city’s Allison Hill neighborhood, landscape designer Tashya Leaman ’97, a history alumna, freelances for a Manhattan-based architectural design studio, drawing designs for gardens that grace the country estates outside of New York City. Leaman, who holds a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Cornell University, says her freelance work not only pays the bills, but also hones her design
skills for the project she’s truly passionate about, which is to help city residents reclaim the vacant lots of Harrisburg.
Working alongside three college interns through
a Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful program, Leaman and 19 neighborhood children, ages 8 to 13, tackled a neglected lot on Derry Street, two blocks from Leaman’s home. “When we first suggested building a park there, the kids thought it sounded crazy. This lot in particular was viewed more as a place in which to dispose trash than to play in,” recalls Leaman. But with some encouragement, the children began to dream about the possibilities.
The children wanted shade, flowers, and benches in their park. They also wanted a space to play sports and a place for music, dance, and drama. Leaman drew a design from their ideas and, then, along with about 30 adult volunteers, the group built a brick terrace, wooden trellis, gravel pathway, and benches—and planted a perennial bed, trees, and shrubs. Working with a non-profit organization, Leaman solicited area businesses, which donated the materials for the construction and landscaping.
“Little by little,” says Leaman, “people in the neighborhood are joining in the effort to maintain the area, which makes it evident that they feel a sense of ownership in this common space.”
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