Landscape Architecture & Horticulture

Back to Blog June 7, 2022

Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture Kate Benisek, MALD, MLA, ASLA, Contributes to Historic Cemetery Restoration

Author: Emily Herbein

Kate Benisek, MALD, MLA, ASLA, Assistant Professor of Instruction in Landscape Architecture, has been a board member of the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery for eight years, and has been an advisor to its ongoing restoration project, recently profiled by The Philadelphia Inquirer

The project’s goals include improving and enhancing the 167-year-old cemetery’s natural biodiversity, restoring access to gravesites, clearing out debris and overgrowth, and encouraging people to engage with the existing landscape through community outreach events and educational youth programming. The Friends’ board members and volunteers take on tasks such as mowing lawns and maintaining shrubs, planting projects, and strategizing about the removal of invasive species, all of which are grounded in ecology and ecosystem-based processes, a point of interest in Benisek’s own academic and research work. 

The cemetery is also a certified arboretum, and Benisek feels the most connected to the project’s “green stewardship, volunteerism, and cultural maintenance practices” while considering the site’s history. As she works, Benisek raises the questions, “Who is the cemetery for? Is it for the families of the people buried there; is it a public amenity; is it both?”  Since its closure in 2011 following the abandonment of the cemetery’s owners, the volunteer teams hope to answer those questions as the project continues to develop and the site is publicly accessible again. 

Benisek teaches “Green vs. Grey” at Tyler, a General Education Science and Technology Area course focused on sustaining urban ecosystems. Civic ecology and participating in land stewardship play key roles in Benisek’s involvement with restoration. As a Landscape Architect, she has also served as a contact point for research and landscape design projects until the roles of the cemetery’s owner and director have been filled. 

Her initial involvement with Mount Moriah began while attending graduate school at Cornell University, where she undertook a research project based in preservation that allowed her to explore a location of her choice through a cultural landscape lens. Her work then expanded to investigating the living systems of the cemetery and spontaneous urban plant growth. She describes Mount Moriah as “a haven for wildlife in a dense, urbanized environment.” Understanding maintenance and care practices, observing their outcomes, and learning about the biodiversity of other cemetery ecosystems in Philadelphia have served as foundational tools for students both in and out of the classroom. 

Benisek works with Landscape Architecture and Horticulture and General Education students who show interest in preservation by pointing them toward various local organizations, such as Friends of the Wissahickon. Tyler’s LAHort program typically sees 25-50 students per semester engaged in similar types of restoration practices, and these themes of civic ecology and green stewardship are frequently reinforced in the program’s General Education courses.  

You can read more about the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery here

Photo courtesy of Tyger Williams for the Philadelphia Inquirer