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The South Philadelphia Library opens on Broad Street

According to a study by Pew Charitable Trusts, 34 percent of Philly’s library visitors are looking up health information. The new South Philadelphia Library -- now open in the South Philadelphia Community Health and Literacy Center at Broad and Morris Streets -- features a Community Health Resource Center. It is perfectly placed to help patients coming from neighboring Health Center 2 or Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Pediatric Primary Care Center who need further information from a reliable source.

The Health Resource Center will have a staff trained by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Public Health Initiatives; they will direct patrons to accessible, accurate information about their health. If patrons come downstairs after a doctor visit for themselves or their children, help is right at their fingertips.

Sandy Horrocks, Vice President of External Affairs for the Free Library of Philadelphia, touts the value of customized assistance: When people try to research a diagnosis online, they’re likely to end up on corporate websites, which can have value, "but we want to make sure people aren’t getting only information from a pharmaceutical company," she says.

The new facility -- part of a revamp of five Free Library locations across the city (aka the Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative) -- is the city’s first new library in over 10 years. It happened thanks to a partnership with CHOP, Health Center 2, and the DiSilvestro Recreation Center. Horrocks is pleased that it’s open just in time to host summer reading programs for local school kids.

CHOP leaders sparked the collaboration when they were looking to relocate a pediatric center -- the Broad Street location was appealing. The rec center in the back needed renovations and so did the existing library.

Through a conversation with CHOP’s then-CEO Steven Altschuler, Free Library President Siobhan Reardon and City officials, stakeholders came to the decision to "bulldoze the entire block, put up this brand-new wonderful facility -- including a beautiful park -- and all work together," recalls Horrocks. "It’s been a terrific experience."

The 12,000-square-foot library space, which expects to welcome 150,000 visitors a year, includes the Community Health Resource Center, a "living room" area to encourage gatherings and host library programming, a space for teens, a "Pre-K Zone," a computer lab, and study rooms. Local community nonprofits who need meeting space are welcome. The only surviving mural by author and illustrator Maurice Sendak is on display in the Children’s Library after a five-year stint at the Rosenbach Museum.

The project was made possible thanks to dollars from the Sheller Family Foundation, the Patchwork Foundation, the Cannuscio Rader Family Foundation, Nina and Larry Chertoff, and the William Penn Foundation

"It’s meant to have the feeling of a living room," says Horrocks of the library. "We want people to interact with each other and not be so isolated."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sandy Horrocks, the Free Library of Philadelphia 

New life for vacant lots in Southwest Philadelphia

Reclaiming a vacant lot for the health and enjoyment of a community -- as well as native wildlife -- doesn’t happen overnight, but a partnership between Audubon Pennsylvania and the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge promises to make it happen by the end of this year.
 
As Flying Kite lands in Kingsessing for our summer On the Ground residency, these two organizations are continuing a partnership with landscape architecture students at Philadelphia University focused on underutilized land throughout Southwest Philadelphia
 
Audubon and John Heinz have been collaborating for a long time; the partnership was formalized over the last 18 months.
 
"We’ve been working very closely, starting with the southwest portion of the city because of its proximity to John Heinz Wildlife Refuge," say Audubon Community Stewardship Program Manager Ryhan Grech. "[The Cobb’s Creek watershed] is also one of Audubon’s priorities. Both of us are looking to dive in with community engagement and work on the pocket park notion."

That means extensive community engagement (aided by leadership from groups like Southwest CDC, Empowered CDC and Philadelphia More Beautiful) on which lots to target for improvements and what sort of designs meet local needs.
 
A "secondary motive" for the work, adds Grech, is increasing the amount of quality habitat for the Philly area’s native birds and pollinators.
 
For their spring semester, 11 landscape architecture students from Philadelphia University participated in community meetings and surveys targeting about 30 vacant lots in southwest Philly. They learned that residents want more safe spaces for kids to play and learn, more educational areas, and more opportunities to grow food or participate in community gardens. Stormwater management was also key.
 
In March, the students presented preliminary ideas at an open community meeting, and then applied that feedback to seven designs presented at a second meeting in late April. Following that, an online survey has continued to narrow down the locations and customize the plans. By the end of the summer, they hope to have decided on a single site and distilled one tailored design reflecting community needs.
 
Which space they’ll have a right to revamp is part of the picture, too: With help from the city’s new Land Bank and support from City Councilmembers Kenyatta Johnson and Jannie Blackwell, project partners hope a local CDC will take on a lease for the chosen lot, allowing the transformation to move forward.
 
This is not just another semester-long student survey project with no action, Grech insists -- with their proximity to Philly’s major educational institutions, Southwest Philly residents have had enough surveys.
 
"In the fall, Heinz and Audubon are bringing the resources to the table to implement," she says. "We’ll start working with contractors at that point."
 
"Our intention is not to stop with one site," she adds. "We intend to keep going."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ryhan Grech, Audubon Pennsylvania

 
Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Chester Charter School for the Arts breaks ground on new $25 million campus

The nonprofit Chester Charter School for the Arts (CCSA) has been renting space in Aston, PA, since its inception in 2012. But in June, the school broke ground on a brand-new $25 million, 11-acre campus; it should be open by fall 2017.

"There isn’t much in the way of this kind of development happening in Chester," says Keren White, executive director of the Chester Fund for Education and the Arts, CCSA’s precursor and now its development and marketing arm. "A new school hasn’t been built in Chester for several decades."

When CCSA opened, it offered kindergarten through sixth grade, and the school has expanded by one grade each year. Currently, this non-selective public school serving the Chester Upland School District has almost 500 K-9 students. For the 2017-18 school year, they will welcome 11th graders, and then 12th graders in fall 2018. At that point, the school will maintain an enrollment of about 650 students, with a maximum of 25 students per class.

"Arts Integration" is key at the school, combining rigorous core academics with dance, music, theater and visual arts classes. The model works, according to CCSA: In 2014, the school achieved the third-highest year to year improvement among 800 Philly-area public schools; it currently boasts a 96 percent attendance rate.

CCSA isn’t Chester's only charter school: there’s also the K-8 Chester Community Charter School, which currently serves around half the kids in the district (about 3,500 students). CCSA will ultimately have the capacity to serve about 10 percent of the district’s kids.

"If we can really educate 10 percent of the kids to a high standard, then potentially we’ll have a huge impact on this population," says White.

The new CCSA campus at 1200 Highland Avenue -- a three-story, 90,000-square-foot building -- will feature a gymnasium, a multi-purpose cafeteria/auditorium, music space, art studios and a kiln, science and media labs, and dance studios. Outside, there will be athletic fields, a new playground, and ample parking alongside new landscaping and trees. In a later phase of construction, which could be as early as 2018, the campus will add a 350-seat performing arts center with its own costume and set design workshops.

White says the Fund is raising $7 million of the total $25 construction budget ($3.825 million is already in place) and will finance the rest.

"We just really believe in Chester," says White. "The people in Chester are great people…and they haven’t had the opportunities that other people have had. We’ve really invested for the long term."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Keren White, The Chester Fund for Education and the Arts 

The K&T Trail is officially underway on the Delaware

The latest segment of The Circuit Trails network to break ground is the first stretch of the trail to directly connect two parks, says Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC) Executive Director Tom Branigan.

Phase One of the new K&T trail (so named because it will follow the path of the former Kensington and Tacony railroad) will be a 1.15-mile stretch connecting the Frankford Boat Launch to Lardner’s Point Park, serving visitors as well as residents of Wissinoming to the south and Tacony to the north.

Phase One of the K&T -- a 12-foot-wide asphalt trail -- has a $2.9 million budget. Directing partners Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and DRCC broke ground on June 9 and anticipate completion in 2017. The trail is part of a much bigger regional picture: It’s one more piece of the 750-mile Circuit and the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway.

Under design since 2008, the trail will move through a riverside right-of-way owned by the City of Philadelphia. The whole length of it will have riverfront views, although the strips of land touching the river are still in the hands of adjacent property owners. And since it’s a heavily industrial area, there will be fencing installed alongside the trail.

"We’re working with the property owners to make sure everything moves smoothly," says Branigan.

Partners hope efforts to acquire the riverfront land will boost the project in the long term.

"We’ll engage various property owners and see about acquiring that small strip of land between the trail and river," he adds.
"And then [we'll] make appropriate improvements."

The trail will also span a small inlet of the river, requiring a bridge.

Currently, landscaping and other amenities include benches, interpretive signage on the wildlife and history of the area, 80 trees, 1,000 shrubs, and thousands more beautifying grasses and perennial plants.

Phase Two of K&T will launch next year, taking the trail up as far as Princeton Avenue; another piece, currently in design and slated for construction in 2018, will go as far north as Rhawn Street.

"We’ll have a good stretch of trail by the end of 2018 or early 2019 that will go from the Frankford Boat Launch all the way up to Pleasantville Park on Linden Avenue," concludes Branigan.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tom Branigan, Delaware River City Corporation 

Stunning Free Library renovation enlivened by $50,000 art contest: Apply Now!

As part of a $36 million renovation at the Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Philly’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy’s (OACCE) Percent for Art Program has announced a $50,000 competition for a site-specific artwork.

Because the Free Library’s main branch is "such a flagship building" with a central Parkway location, "we’re hopeful we’ll get a lot of interest," says Margot Berg, OACCE’s public art director. She expects up to 100 applications from artists nationwide who want to put their mark on this historic space.

The Parkway library first opened in 1927 and now serves more than one million visitors each year. The planned renovations -- part of the Library’s Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative -- will be designed by Safdie Architects. The remodel will focus on the north-facing rear section of the library in what is now the stacks.

According to OACCE, 35 percent of the Library is currently open to the public, with the rest reserved for staffing and storage. The plan is to open up tens of thousands of square feet across two floors, reversing the ratio of public to administrative areas.

The renovations will create four new public amenities: The Common, The Business Resource and Innovation Center (BRIC), The Marie H. and Joseph M. Field Teen Center, and a new Grand Central Staircase.

For the art installation, the Library, Percent for Art and the architects settled on a location spanning the first and second floors of the renovated space: a two-story open shelving system.

"This was the best opportunity, and something that had high visibility in the library," explains Berg. Space on the floor and the walls is at a premium, and suspended artworks can be expensive and difficult to maintain. This made an art piece targeting the shelving itself the best option.

At this point, it’s impossible to know what prospective artists might propose, but Berg says they could incorporate a series of small objects or sculptures that nest visibly within the shelves and invite viewers to discover them, or it could be some type of visual treatment to the surface of the shelving itself.

Currently, the call is in stage one: the Request for Qualifications officially closes on June 29 at 5 p.m. The competition will be tough: According to the RFQ, only about five applicants will be selected to submit full proposals, with the help of a $750 honorarium. These finalists will be notified in mid-July, with full proposals due later that month. By early October, the artist will be chosen and notified. Fabrication and installation of the artwork is slated for completion in 2017.

"This project has been a long time coming," says Berg of the renovations. "It’s all about rebuilding, continuing to have libraries be a hub for meeting and learning, and for doing business going into the next century. We’re happy to be a part of that."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Margot Berg, the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy

Development News: PHS pop-up garden is a preview of partners' hopes for upcoming Viaduct Rail Park

This year, a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society pop-up is offering a preview of the upcoming Viaduct Rail Park. Last December, we reported on PHS' plans for an installation somewhere along the planned promenade in the Callowhill neighborhood (our recent On the Ground home) and now a new summer beer garden is open at 10th and Hamilton Streets on the north side of Viaduct.

"What’s exciting about this is it gives you a snapshot of what this will be ultimately," said Mayor Jim Kenney at an opening night party on June 10.

Walter Hood of Hood Design is behind the new space. A former gravel parking lot in the shadow of the Viaduct, the site "merges the post-industrial overhead structure with the green urban space," explains PHS Associate Director of Landscape Design Leigh Ann Campbell.

The beer garden features large, colorful boxes reminiscent of shipping containers and a performance area with metal framework repurposed from Hood's recent exhibit at the PHS Flower Show. The plants in the garden itself are those that "naturally emerged on the Viaduct after it was decommissioned," explains Campbell; these include Paulownia trees, sumacs, ferns and milkweed.

On Saturday, June 18 at 5 p.m., the pop-up will host a special opening event for a site-specific sound installation from artist Abby Sohn, which will "make use of the iron structure to create a sonic experience that explores the cultural heritage and the rail site’s creative potential," according to PHS.

The food comes from chefs Jason Chichonski (of ELA and Gaslight) and Sylva Senat (of Dos Tacos and Maison). Six taps, canned beer, wine, cocktails, sangria and more will round out the beverage offerings.

There will also be a variety of programming throughout the summer, including special themed dinners, acoustic music performances, garden workshops for containers and window-boxes, and even lessons on mixing drinks made with home-grown herbs. The Philadelphia Public History Truck will also make appearances thanks to support from the Mural Arts Program. (Here’s the full line-up of happenings.)

A variety of funders, partners and supporters made the site possible, including property owner Arts & Crafts Holdings, the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, the Friends of the Rail Park, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Viaduct owner Reading International, Victory Brewing Company, the Callowhill Neighborhood Association and the Land Health Institute. All proceeds from the garden will support PHS’s City Harvest.

Campbell said the pop-up isn’t just a good place to get dinner and drinks and enjoy a new slice of green in the city. The service berry bushes planted all around the park’s perimeter draw all kinds of birds to feast right along with the human city-dwellers.

"If you’ve never heard a catbird sing," she adds, come over and listen.

The Viaduct Rail Park will be open through September 30.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Leigh Ann Campbell, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society 

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).


On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

June 5 building collapse memorial on track to begin construction this month

June 5 marked the third anniversary of the day that demolition of a vacant building at 2138 Market Street caused the collapse of the adjacent Salvation Army thrift store, killing six people. To help ensure that this tragedy is not forgotten or repeated, the City of Philadelphia and agencies including Parks & Recreation and Center City District (CCD) have teamed up with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to create a memorial park at the site of the collapse.

According to PHS director of landscape design David Carlson, plans for the park are now funded, approved and permitted, and they're ready for construction to commence in June, pending the completion of soil testing at the site.

In January 2014, a committee formed for the creation of a memorial park; it features representatives of CCD, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Brandywine Realty Trust, Center City Residents Association, the Philadelphia Housing Authority and many others. Since the committee is not a 501(c) 3, it made sense to partner with PHS to manage the project’s dollars and design.

In March 2014, the Salvation Army gave the land to the City of Philadelphia at no cost, with City Council approving the transfer of the 3,125-square-foot site into the City’s park system. One June 5, 2014, then-Mayor Michael Nutter dedicated the site. According to the June 5 Memorial website, the space "will provide a contemplative respite for visitors while preserving the memory of those lost -- and serve as a constant reminder that construction projects must be done safely."

In early 2015, a pro bono design team began a six-month collaboration on the final plan (with over $150,000 in design hours donated by Philly-area design professionals). The park itself was designed by architect Scott Aker, with a granite-and-glass sculptural element titled "Witness" from artist Barb Fox. The plan earned approval from the Art Commission on June 3 of last year. Fundraising for construction launched in earnest in September, with a total budget of $1.3 million now raised.

The park will feature new landscaping and stormwater management, the three-piece “Witness” sculpture that Carlson says will be made with locally-sourced stone, a 31-foot-long reflection plaza, and a 12-by-12 foot "Sacred Memorial Area." It will all be ADA-accessible.

A maintenance endowment for the park is also being established. Once construction is finished (Carlson estimates it will take about six months from the mid-June start date), Parks & Rec will maintain the site, with landscaping help from PHS.

Carlson calls the work "a testament to the City trying to make amends."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: David Carlson, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

PHS brings new Green Resource Center to South Philly

How do you top distributing 250,000 seedlings every year to gardeners and urban farmers throughout the city? The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) is working on it.

Recently, we checked out the installation of a new solar power array in Strawberry Mansion, our current On the Ground neighborhood. PHS has been building two new Green Resource Centers (GRC) over the past eighteen months (it already has four others throughout the city): one on the Strawberry Mansion site and another in South Philadelphia on a formerly vacant lot at 2500 Reed Street. (GRCs are a part of PHS's City Harvest program.)

The South Philly site is a partnership between the lot owner (the nearby Church of the Redeemer Baptist), PHS and the Nationalities Service Center (NSC), which works with refugees resettling in Philadelphia. NSC leases about two-and-a-half acres (of the three-and-a-half acre lot) from the church, and worked with PHS to develop a large community garden there.

"It’s an entire city block and it’s right by the old rail line, so it’s really a wonderful place to have a community garden," says Nancy Kohn, Director of Garden Programs at PHS. Before NSC and PHS arrived, the long-unused site was full of debris, rubble and stones. Volunteers from Villanova University and various corporate partners pitched in to clear the land and build hundreds of raised garden beds. Now the site has its own water line, a shed and 400 beds.

Half of those are "entrepreneurial beds," according to Kohn, for people who grow and sell vegetables to nearby businesses and restaurants. The rest are community garden beds open to the public.

The opportunity to garden is important to many NSC clients.

"A lot of refugees that are coming through this program have an agricultural background," explains Kohn. "The community garden has been a wonderful place to get them more connected to their background, as well as connected to their neighbors, who are South Philly natives."

Meanwhile, the impact of the GRCs extends citywide: Through the network, volunteers and PHS staff propagate a total of 250,000 seedlings each year, to be distributed to gardens and farms all over town (with the two new GRCs completed soon, that number will grow significantly). Participating volunteers give ten hours of work to the PHS site over the season and receive the seedlings in return. Earlier this month, PHS had a mass distribution of nine different varieties of veggies, including peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes and okra.

"The gardeners come to pick them up," says Kohn. "They take them back to their gardens, and they grow them for their communities."

Because of the landowner's evolving plan to eventually build a new church on the site, the community gardens will stay and continue to partner with PHS, but the permanent GRC will be built in another South Philly location (to be announced soon). The site will include a new greenhouse, demonstration and community garden beds for educational workshops, solar paneling for electric power, a wash station and a shade structure.

Kohn hopes the build-out on the new site will begin later this summer; the GRC should be up and running by next spring.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nancy Kohn, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

 

Philly's biggest green roof gets the green light at Temple

Late last month, Governor Tom Wolf confirmed a massive local green roof project that’s been five years in the making. Thanks to a partnership between Temple University and the Philadelphia Water Department, the stunning design be a reality when the school's new library opens for the fall semester in 2018.

"Temple has worked closely with the Water Department over the last five years to identify meaningful stormwater solutions that address North Philadelphia’s critical challenges with this issue," says Dozie Ibeh, associate vice president of Temple’s Project Delivery Group.

According to Temple, the new library will have one of the state’s largest green roofs (the only comparable one in the region is the PECO green roof at 23rd and Market Streets). 
 
The project will be made possible thanks to a $6,747,933 loan from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST). With a low interest rate of approximately one percent and a 20-year term, the university projects that the PENNVEST loan will save them $4 million. Those dollars will help Temple install the green roof, permeable paving, cisterns for rainwater and stormwater piping. The space will also include a 46,000-square-foot roof garden, planting beds, and a terrace and seating area outside the new library’s fourth-floor reading room.

The international design firm Snøhetta is behind the 225,000-square-foot new library, in partnership with the local office of Stantec. Philadelphia’s Roofmeadow consulted with Temple throughout the design process, and will help maintain the completed system, alongside Temple’s grounds superintendent, and faculty from the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture.
 
The space will also provide important research opportunities for students and faculty.
 
Temple hopes to receive LEED gold certification when the new library is completed in 2018 as part of a wider sustainability plan on campus; LEED gold status is already on the books for the new Science Education and Research Center, which opened in 2014.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Dozie Ibeh, Temple University 

AIA kicks off its annual conference with a day of service to rehab local rec center

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is holding its national conference in Philadelphia this week (May 19-21), and on May 18 -- one day before the conference officially opens -- over 100 volunteers will participate in the annual "Blitz Build," a massive one-day rehab of a selected host-city building.
 
This year, the project will target the Sharswood neighborhood's Athletic Recreation Center, an arts, community and sporting center that serves hundreds of children from low-income families. The building’s brick exterior is in pretty good shape, so the project will focus on five interior areas: the lobby, the arts and crafts center, the kitchen, a performance space and a theater storage space. Renovations will include extensive reorganization, new appliances, painting, new blinds and new flooring.
 
For the last five years, the Atlanta-based non-profit AEC Cares has made these Blitz Builds possible, supported by AIA, AIA Innovation Partner CMD iSqFt and other stakeholders.
 
AEC Cares Executive Director and CMD Senior Director of Business Development Laura Marlow says that "everyone from booth staff to executives" participates in the build, which she predicts will draw about 115 volunteers. This includes out-of-towners as well as local groups like PowerCorps PHL.
 
Marlow begins her search for the AEC Cares build site by reaching out the local mayor’s office, asking for a department that can point towards a high-use community building in need of a makeover. Some cities have offered the expertise of a Department of Community Engagement, for example, but in Philly, she found herself directed to Parks & Rec.
 
"Initially I thought it was a little odd," she recalls. Marlow expected to work with an agency specializing in something like homelessness. But it turned out to be just the right resource. "Philadelphia Parks and Recreation has been an absolutely phenomenal partner."

The department nominated several City sites in need of work, and facilitated the involvement of the Community Design Collaborative, which sent a volunteer architect to assess the sites.
 
Built in 1912, the Athletic Recreation Center stood out because "while it has really good bones, it really needs a facelift," Marlow explains.
 
This winter, a volunteer team of Collaborative architects began designing, and Parks & Rec helped by prepping the site, including a total gut of the existing kitchen, which will be rebuilt in one day by volunteers.
  
Including pro bono design time, volunteer labor and materials, Marlow estimates that this year’s build will have a value of up to $280,000.
 
"It’s an emotional endeavor for many of us," she says. "We’re really excited about what we can accomplish."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Laura Marlow, AEC Cares

UArts brings a Philadelphia EcoDistrict Oasis to Spring Garden

"We’ve been taking from nature for 200-plus years at a rate that’s not sustainable," says Christopher Zelov, Philadelphia eco-activist, filmmaker and author. The founder of the Philadelphia EcoDistrict (the local chapter of a nationwide urban sustainable living movement based in Portland, Oregon), Zelov has spent the last six months teaming with University of the Arts Associate Professor Tony Guido and a group of seven undergrads on The Philadelphia EcoDistrict Oasis.

According to Zelov, the ultimate goal is "building a regenerative culture." That means not just "technologies that give back more than they take" (green roofs, cisterns, aquaponic gardens and solar arrays), but also building a social culture that supports these technologies.

For the past semester, UArts industrial design students have been collaborating with the Spring Garden Community Development Corporation to fashion portable working prototypes of their EcoDistrict Oasis concepts as a case study for future development here in Philadelphia.

On May 5, after an extensive research and engagement process, students presented their prototypes at a community barbecue at The Spring Gardens Community Garden. Their concepts included a small-scale aquaponic garden for the kitchen wall, modular ramps that easily make buildings accessible to all, sustainable composting pails, super-insulation, modular green surfaces, and more.

Green surfaces aid stormwater management while also mitigating a cycle of urban heat that leads to more pollution. Aquaponics offer an accessible closed-loop water-saving system for growing veggies. Composting pails made for city kitchens reduce waste and nourish gardens. Super-insulation uses a variety of techniques to vastly reduce a building’s energy usage, effectively sealing everything from electrical outlets to windows, and using specially fabricated walls filled with cellulose -- rather than fiberglass -- to keep temperatures comfortable without extra heating or cooling.

"What we’re trying to do is bring it into the community" and make it a regular practice, explains Zelov. He’s one of the filmmakers behind Ecological Design: Inventing the Future and City21: Multiple Perspectives on Urban Futures, and their companion books. He’s working on another film, this one about the UArts EcoDistrict project titled EcoDistricts Emerging.

Guido, who’s been teaching in UArts’ Industrial Design department for 21 years, says the program takes pride in "doing great work and doing it with conscience." He hopes the prototypes will get future public showcases, perhaps during 2016's PARK(ing) Day.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Christopher Zelov, Philadelphia EcoDistrict; Tony Guido and Guiseppe Sciumbata, University of the Arts

Philly's second ADA-accessible playground planned for Kensington

East York Street's Horatio B. Hackett Elementary School just kicked off a major fundraising push that partners and supporters hope will make Kensington host to the city's second ADA-compliant playground.

Thanks to a collaboration between the School District, the Philadelphia Water Department, New Kensington CDC and the Community Design Collaborative, a stormwater-savvy revitalization plan has been underway at Hackett for about three years. With help from group Friends of Hackett, project partners hope to raise $1.4 million to transform the schoolyard.

Hackett's current yard is a giant square of concrete; the new plan includes ADA-compliant play equipment and a rainwater capture system with underground storage. Friends of Hackett board member Allison Dean says the playground plans are important because 27 percent of the school’s students use assistive devices or need an ADA-compliant play space. And only five percent of those students live in the surrounding neighborhood -- the rest are bussed in from other parts of the city, underscoring the need for more accessible play spaces everywhere.

The only other fully ADA-compliant playground is East Fairmount Park's Smith Memorial Playground, and for those without cars, it takes 45 minutes on two bus routes to get there from Kensington.

"We have a higher percentage of special education [students] and it’s important for them to have access to outdoor equipment," insists Principal Todd Kimmel.

On April 27, the school held a fundraising kick-off for friends and students, featuring representatives from Friends of Hackett, the School District’s Central East Assistant Superintendent Dr. Racquel Jones, and State Senator Christine Tartaglione. Stakeholders also unveiled a new gateway arch, funded by $25,000 from Penn Treaty Special Services District (Sugarhouse Casino’s charitable arm) and a $5,000 in-kind gift from Healy Long & Jevin Concrete.

Jana Curtis, co-chair of the Friends of Hackett capital campaign committee for the new schoolyard, says it was very fitting that the fundraising kick-off happened on April 27.

Curtis and her husband live across the street from the school, and her husband’s grandmother Florence Colduvell (who recently passed away) served as a crossing guard for 26 years at the corner of York and Sepviva Streets, next to the site of the new gateway. April 27 would have been her 90th birthday.

"At least once a month, someone knocks on my door and asks for her," says Curtis. She calls Hackett a "calm and bright" school that’s thriving and hopes the new schoolyard will serve the wider community as well as the students.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Todd Kimmel, Hackett Elementary School; Allison Dean and Jana Curtis, Friends of Hackett

On the Ground: Strawberry Mansion defines its boundaries

Strawberry Mansion, Flying Kite’s current On the Ground home, somehow manages to be both well-known and anonymous to most Philadelphians: On the one hand, "Strawberry Mansion" is one of the city's most distinctive and evocative monikers, but the neighborhood itself often lacks recognition. Now leaders of the Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Center (NAC) and Community Development Corporation are launching a project -- in partnership with Flying Kite -- to help put their neighborhood on the map.
 
"Our neighborhood boundaries are pretty well set," said Strawberry Mansion CDC Board President Tonnetta Graham at an April meeting with Flying Kite. The region is north of Brewerytown and just east of East Fairmount Park, bounded by Ridge Avenue and 33rd Street to the west and W. Lehigh Avenue to the north, with a long diagonal piece of Glenwood Avenue completing the triangle.
 
For a long time, NAC and CDC members have wanted to launch a gateway project that welcomes residents and visitors to the neighborhood. (The CDC is actually housed out of the NAC facility on Diamond Street.)
 
"We’ve been trying to tie it all together so we could market it to developers," explains Graham. The organizations have been pushing to create and mount banners that would beautify Strawberry Mansion’s bordering streets and create a sense of pride and identity for the neighborhood. Graham and other local leaders hope that sponsorship dollars from local businesses or developers could help make the initiative possible.
 
Graham and NAC leader Lenora Evans-Jackson noted that besides having such clear boundaries, Strawberry Mansion has many ideal places for a welcoming touch, notably the numerous bridges that cross into the neighborhood. There are also big changes coming to nearby East Fairmount Park, where the Knight Foundation’s Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative will create the Discovery Center, remaking the site of an abandoned reservoir.

"It’s an ideal time to have something in place," insists Graham, who likes the idea of teaming with Fairmount Park or other partners for Strawberry Mansion banners bordering the park, or some other type of 33rd Street gateway.

Potential designs for the banners could include a slogan informally adopted by the CDC after a contest a few years ago: "Preserving our past, investing in our future," along with a Strawberry Mansion logo and a logo from the sponsoring organization, business, or agency.

With design and other practical support from Flying Kite, the Strawberry Mansion CDC and NAC brainstormed different phases and sponsorship packages for the project, which they hope could lead to 20 to 40 flags along the neighborhood’s iconic corridors.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Strawberry Mansion NAC and CDC leaders


Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

On the Ground: Strawberry Mansion is home to PHS's first solar-powered Green Resource Center


Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s (PHS) Strawberry Mansion Green Resource Center became the first PHS Resource Center to operate on solar power thanks to a $40,000 gift from the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club. The Center is across the road from Strawberry Mansion High School in Flying Kite’s current On the Ground neighborhood.

Originally founded through Green Mountain Energy Company in 2002, the Sun Club is now a separate nonprofit.  

"We have been a partner of PHS for a number of years," says Jason Sears, an executive for the organization. "They introduced us to the opportunity out at Strawberry Mansion High School, and we’ve been working with them on that for about a year now."

The new 10-kilowatt solar array will include over 30 panels on top of a shade structure in the site’s community garden. (The greenhouse is still under construction.) The electricity from the panels will power all kinds of appliances for the site’s plant-growing and vegetable-washing stations.

The Sun Club takes a broad view of sustainability -- it doesn’t just mean renewable power or energy efficiency. It includes community-wide factors: access to food, transportation and job-training, all of which the nonprofit wants to support.
Sears appreciates projects like the Strawberry Mansion installation because it’s putting green energy in the hands of local residents. Solar panels are durable, and with little more than a rinse every year or two, they can last for up to 30 years.

"When people understand that renewable energy isn’t this mythical ephemeral idea, it’s very real and very powerful," he says.

PHS Director of Garden Projects Nancy Kohn says power from the new panels will affect up to forty different gardening sites city-wide. PHS currently has four Green Resource Centers besides the one under construction in Strawberry Mansion which propagate seedlings for participating gardeners across Philadelphia (a sixth center is planned for South Philly). About 50,000 seedlings from the newly solar-powered facility in Strawberry Mansion will grow throughout the city each year.

The site includes community garden plots as well as educational beds for Strawberry Mansion High School students -- they grow food there and incorporate the produce into cooking and nutrition classes.

Kohn estimates that construction on the Strawberry Mansion Green Resource Center, a member site of PHS’s City Harvest, will wrap up by August.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Jason Sears, Green Mountain Energy Sun Club; Nancy Kohn, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society


Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

New grant gives the Manayunk Bridge Trail its finishing touch


Thanks to $600,000 from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), the recently refreshed Manayunk Bridge Trail will get its finishing touch. 
 
A couple of weeks ago, Flying Kite took a look at the DVRPC Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) dollars that will go into the corner of Chelten and Greene Avenues in Germantown, a new gateway into Vernon Park. Philly Parks & Recreation is another TAP grant recipient for improvements to the Manayunk Bridge Trail, which opened to foot and bike traffic last October. They applied for the grant in January of this year, hoping for dollars that would allow the installation of lighting and other commuter-friendly amenities. 
 
"It's a transportation amenity and recreation as well," explains Parks & Rec Preservation and Capital Projects Manager Rob Armstrong. "Lighting is the number one priority. That way we can open the bridge for more hours than it's open right now."
 
Because of the need to preserve the structure's historic look -- and the many agencies involved in a trail amenity -- Armstrong can't predict exactly when the necessary permits will be in place for construction. But the dollars do have a timeline stipulating the the work must be completed by next year.

According to DVRPC Executive Director Barry Seymour, the eleven projects funded through TAP will "enable communities to build multi-use trails, safe routes to school and pedestrian pathways, and bike lanes and bikeway projects, providing transportation for a wide variety of users throughout our region."

"I'm really pleased that [the bridge] has been so popular since it opened last fall," adds Armstrong. He uses the trail himself, and appreciates the many people who cross it for the views, to connect to other trails, or on their commute. "It links the city the suburbs, and vice versa. I'm just glad we got the funding so we can do this project and get it lit, so that more people can use it."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Rob Armstrong, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
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