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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

On the Ground: Parkside's 'North Star' mural finally gets its due with official dedication


More than two years after its completion, a mural that community members spent fifteen years planning will finally be officially dedicated. The event is coming up on April 30, presented in partnership with Flying Kite’s On the Ground program, the East Parkside Residents Association and the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, which landed in Parkside last year.
 
Callalily Cousar, a longtime Parkside resident and founding board member of the East Parkside Residents Association, is proud of the mural. "North Star: The Journey to Freedom," by Delia King, was completed at 1100 N. 41st Street in fall 2014.

"It means unity and community," she says. "We’re hoping for it to be a legacy for our children." 
 
According to the Mural Arts, which helped create the piece, it "references African-American quilts, which would often hold directions for those escaping slavery on how to reach the free states and Canada." It’s not surprising that the North Star was a common visual theme in these quilts.
 
"It was part of our history," says Cousar of the design. "Every star was supposed to be the guiding star for freedom…It’s supposed to be a light."
 
"We’re proud of it on that wall," she continues, emphasizing that the mural’s installation was a collaborative neighborhood effort. "I personally worked on some of the stars…It was a community thing that brought a lot of joy."
 
A playground at the 41st and Poplar site was an early goal of the Residents Association and it took a dozen years to achieve after the group coalesced in 1993. Local kids didn’t have anywhere to play and used to run in the streets. Original board members Harvin Thurman, Ronald Coleman, Bertha Cranshall, Ben and Kathleen Gambrell, Naomi Smith, Dorothy Crawford, Dorothy Wilkins and Dorothy Ferguson -- many of whom had lived in the neighborhood for forty years or more -- were champions of the project. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell also supported the project, both physically and financially.
 
"We’re proud of it. It’s a small thing to some people," says Cousar, "but it’s an important accomplishment to the Parkside neighbors."
 
The history the mural honors is crucial, too.
 
"It’s something that we wanted our children to know," she says, adding that the dedication will feature speakers, food, family activities and African drumming.

The event will take place by the mural on Saturday, April 30, from noon - 2 p.m.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Callalily Cousar, East Parkside Residents Association
 
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.
 

A look at the winning Play Space designs for Waterloo, Cobbs Creek and Mill Creek


From an abandoned street to a giant stretch of grass with nothing on it, three city sites now have the tools for major makeovers. Last week, we looked in on the end of the Community Design Collaborative’s Play Space Competition, which ultimately focused nine teams on three spaces in need of a revamp for young users.

The winning design for the Waterloo Recreation Center (Philadelphia Parks & Recreation) is titled "Rebosante" and it’s from RoofmeadowStudio Ludo and Space for Childhood.
 
"Waterloo is a fascinating site that was a series of backyards: actually, a street, that had been abandoned and cobbled together as a playground," says Play Space Program Manager Alexa Bosse. "It has this very odd configuration, where it’s mostly inner blocks surrounded by houses," with low visibility from the street, leading to long-term problems with illegal activities there.

About a year-and-a-half ago, local organization Men in Motion in the Community (MIMIC) negotiated with Parks & Rec to base their all-volunteer group out of an onsite building, cleaned and painted the playground, and worked to deter the crime there.
 
MIMIC will take an important role in maintaining a redesigned site, an important detail for the Collaborative in choosing the spot.
 
The existing basketball courts and pool will stay, but an adjacent splashpark will augment the summer space. Four "wild nature areas" are in the works for the corners, incorporating hills, mounds and branches for play-time, as well as stormwater management.
 
The Free Library’s Blanche A. Nixon/Cobbs Creek Branch, another competition site, has a unique challenge: It’s a de facto childcare center, with many families using it at a safe after-school space.

"A library is not a typical space to go to for a play space, but they have a lot of interest in creating opportunities for kids to get their crazies out," explains Bosse -- as anyone who has just come from eight hours in school remembers.
 
The design, titled "Play Structure | Story Structure," came from Ground Reconsidered Landscape Architecture, Designed for Fun, Friends Select School, J R Keller LLC Creative Partnerships, Meliora Environmental Design LLC, and the Parent-Infant Center. It evolved out of on-site brainstorms from Friends Select second-graders.
 
The plan is inspired by the narrative structure of a book or story. The tri-cornered site will feature new play space in one corner, a fronting "grand plaza" in another, and a "quieter, more meditative area" for the community with plants, shade trees and stormwater management.
 
The design for the School District’s Haverford Bright Futures in Mill Creek -- dubbed "Bright Futures Chutes and Ladders" -- came from Atkin Olshin Schade Architects, Meliora Environmental Design, LLC, Viridian Landscape Studio, International Consultants, Inc. and the Parent-Infant Center.
 
"It’s an interesting site because it’s very large, and there’s a very large lawn," says Bosse. The Collaborative found a need for better community connection to the site since the school for three- and four-year-olds has a12:30 p.m. dismissal time. "The school is very open to being a place where other community members can come."
 
The winning design divides the lawn up in a Chutes and Ladders-style grid, with different play opportunities in each section, along with preserved lawn space, shade, room for adults to sit, and an amphitheater space for community gatherings in the back.
 
Each site, now with completed designs and budget plans in hand, is equipped to seek the funding to make them a reality.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alexa Bosse, Community Design Collaborative

The Community Design Collaborative awards $30,000 to Play Space design team winners


Over the last year, we’ve had our eye on the Community Design Collaborative’s international Play Space Design Competition, a major piece of the 18-month Play Space Initiative funded by the William Penn Foundation. Last September, the Collaborative announced the three sites that participating design teams would focus on, and in March, three winners emerged: one for each site. (Infill Philadelphia: Play Space is a partnership of the Collaborative and the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children.)
 
"We’re really excited about all of them," says Play Space Program Manager Alexa Bosse. Thanks to supportive partners, the Collaborative was able to award a $10,000 prize to each of the three winning teams.
 
In all, there were forty submissions from six countries and 17 states. From the fall 2015 announcement of the sites (Parks & Rec’s Waterloo Recreation Center, the School District’s Haverford Bright Futures campus, and the Free Library’s Blanche A. Nixon/Cobbs Creek branch) to the final presentations in March, each proposal underwent a rigorous evaluation process.
 
Each submission was comprised of a 20-page packet detailing a plan to revitalize or create an eco-friendly 21st-century play space. The Collaborative assembled an expert jury featuring education, health and design professionals who judged the ideas based on cost estimates, maintenance plans, stormwater management and education strategies. The panel narrowed the field to nine finalists: three for each site.
 
Once they were announced, the Collaborative re-engaged site staffers, students, users and neighbors to vet the finalists' designs and get feedback. For about two weeks, each site had a ballot box courtesy of the Collaborative where locals could submit their votes for the plan they liked best. This yielded about 250 votes in all.
 
Finally, on March 16 at the Academy of Natural Sciences, an awards jury judged presentations from each team. The winning scores incorporated the initial expert jury’s recommendations, community members' votes, and the awards jury's decision.
 
"It’s really hard to get funding until you have a design," says Bosse of why the plans produced by the competition are so valuable for the participating sites. As part of the competition’s criteria, budgets could not exceed $1.5 million, reflecting the amount site stakeholders felt they could realistically raise.
 
And the winning plans? They include stormwater management and educational green space, a new splashpark at Waterloo Recreation Center, a Chutes and Ladders-themed lawn for Haverford Bright Futures, and a one-of-kind new play structure for the Cobbs Creek Library that emerged with the help from Philly second-graders. Stay tuned next week for a closer look at what the winning designs hope to create.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alexa Bosse, Community Design Collaborative

Independence Beer Garden retakes the corner of 6th and Market


Remember those Connect Four battles as a kid? With the rattling vertical plastic board on the carpet or tabletop? Relive all the glory (or defeat) of four in a row over dinner and drinks in Philly’s biggest beer garden, officially open for the season on Thursday, April 21 at 6th and Market Streets.
 
Chef and restaurateur Michael Shulson's Independence Beer Garden (IBG) had a soft opening on April 16 and 17, drawing thousands of people. According to Director of Operations and General Manager Derek Gregory, the waist-high Connect Four boards -- brand-new this year -- were a big hit.
 
Larger-than-life games are appropriate for a beer garden of this size: "We’re 25,000 square feet," enthuses Gregory. "It is absolutely enormous."

That means seating and full table-service for up to 600 people at a time, plus standing room. The place can hold up to 2000 people in total, and it’s no sweat for the staff if a group of fifty walks in. Gregory insists that in peak summer season, no other Philly restaurant, bar or beer garden can come close in terms of size or people served.
 
The place also stands out because of its full-service bar (or rather, four of them), offering cocktails and liquor in addition to beer, and a menu of close to 30 food items available via table service, not standing in line at a food window.
 
Then there are the games: besides Connect Four, that includes checkers, large and small Jenga, bocce ball, shuffleboard, ping-pong and more (all brand new equipment for 2016).
 
This is IBG's third season: in 2014, its inaugural run went from mid-July to October. Last year saw an April opening and 2016 is following suit.

"We’re open til Halloween," adds Gregory.
 
He explains that attendance at IBG is a mix of visitors and residents: a lot of vacationing families grab lunch, but later in the day, Philly’s office dwellers and other professionals come out to play for a largely local evening crowd.
 
Beginning April 21 and running through the end of October, IBG’s 2016 hours are Sunday through Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m. - 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. - midnight.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Derek Gregory, Independence Beer Garden

Habitat for Humanity's Rock the Block comes to Pottstown


Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County, which has been holding successful Rock the Block events in Norristown -- in addition to its longtime work of building and rehabbing homes there -- is now setting its sights on Pottstown for a major neighborhood revitalization event.

In partnership with Pottstown CARES Community Cleanup Day on April 15, Habitat will bring an estimated 100 volunteers from 11 different community organizations together to perform a wide range of exterior rehab work for homes in need on six blocks (the 300 and 400 blocks of Beech, Walnut, and Chestnut Streets) in addition to a few other local projects.

The organization has already built nine homes in Pottstown.

"We saw that our homeowners really enjoyed living in the community, but there were challenges within the community that they were frustrated weren’t being addressed," says Marianne Lynch, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County. Problems like vacant or deteriorating buildings and trash drive down home values and quality of life. "We began to look into neighborhood revitalization as a solution not only for our homeowners, but to really help the neighbors find their voice and help them deal with the concerns in the communities where we’ve already built, and would like to continue building."

The event in Pottstown will put volunteers to work on jobs such as gutter cleaning, porch painting, trash pick-up, yard clean-up, putting up house numbers and installing smoke alarms.

The Empire Fire Company building at 76 N. Franklin Street will serve as the event’s home base; check-in for volunteers begins at 7:30 a.m. with welcoming words at 8:30 p.m. Work will start at 9 a.m.; lunch will be served from 11:30 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Ten different local community organizations will set up tables onsite with information on a wide variety of programs for residents. The day’s work will finish around 2 p.m.

According to Lynch, Habitat will continue working actively in Pottstown for at least another two years, with larger-scale repair efforts targeting roofing, HVAC systems, and other issues "that compromise safety, security, or access in the home." Residents will help to identify occupied homes that need the help.

Participants can register on-site day-of, but Habitat recommends e-mailing cara@habitatmontco.org in advance to expedite things.

"We certainly welcome the community to come out and join us that day for volunteering, or for lunch, or both," adds Lynch.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Marianne Lynch, Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County

Proposed low-income housing development on Wister Street sparks debate in Germantown


How does a community navigate development without the displacement and disruption of gentrification?

This was a major theme on April 6, as Germantowners convened at the Germantown Life Enrichment Center (just a few blocks north of Flying Kite’s former On the Ground digs near Chelten and Pulaski Avenues) to hear from Fishtown's Women’s Community Revitalization Project (WCRP).

A developer of rental properties primarily for low-income women and families, WCRP held the community meeting to discuss affordable housing in Germantown. Their Nicole Hines Townhouse Development -- featuring 35 new "affordable family townhomes" -- has been proposed for 417 Wister Street in East Germantown. WCRP lead organizer Christi Clark led the discussion along with WCRP community organizer Ariel Morales; a long roster of partnering groups also sponsored the gathering.

About fifty attendees broke into groups and then shared their conclusions on two key questions: “What do you love about Germantown that you want to see preserved?” and "What is the need for affordable housing in Germantown [and] parks and green space?"

Talk about Germantown’s attributes raised a wide range of praise, from its historic properties to its cultural diversity, transit hubs, and thriving artist population.

Clark offered some current statistics on the neighborhood to feed the discussion on housing: 45,000 people live in Germantown, comprising 17,500 households. The area has seen a 24 percent drop in median household income since 2000, with almost half of local households spending 30 percent or more of their budget on housing, which leads to widespread economic difficulty, as there aren’t dollars left to flow elsewhere. Germantown used to have a majority of homeowners versus renters, but now the number of renters is on the rise.

True to form, attendees -- most of them longtime residents of the neighborhood -- spoke frankly about their concerns and didn’t shy away from lobbing questions about the Wister Street project (Clark said the units would have a 15-year lifespan as rental properties, after which tenants would have the option to buy) and housing in Germantown in general.

Many participants pointed out that it’s not so easy to define "affordable" -- it means different things to different people, and can be subsidized in a variety of ways. WRCP’s target population is families who make 30 percent of the area median income. In Germantown, that means about $20,000 to $22,000 annually.

Gentrification was another major theme of the conversation.

"Sooner or later gentrification is coming," said Yvonne Haskins, a board member at Germantown United CDC. "We need to think about affordability now...You know [gentrification] after it’s happened. Germantown is very attractive."

Many attendees expressed their frustration with a seemingly endless circuit of community meetings that yield few tangible outcomes for the neighborhood, and a lack of transparency around investments that are made.

WCRP is in its second round of funding applications for the Wister Street development, and will know in June whether the necessary dollars are available. In the meantime, there will be two more meetings in Germantown on April 27 and May 25 from 6 - 8 p,m, locations TBD.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Christi Clark, Women’s Community Revitalization Project

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A $740,000 revamp is coming for Germantown's Chelten-Greene Plaza


In December 2014, work was underway to redesign a busy but troubled piece of Germantown's Chelten Avenue corridor (near Flying Kite’s former On the Ground home), but there weren’t yet funds in place to implement the changes. Now, thanks to major dollars from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), construction could begin next year.

DVRPC is awarding a total pool of $7.6 million to 11 "Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) projects" throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, including five Philadelphia initiatives. These include $370,000 for the Chelten-Greene Plaza Reconstruction to, in the words of DVRPC, "improve and connect a busy bus stop to Vernon Park."

“The TAP funding allows us to finalize construction documents and actually go forward with construction,” says Philadelphia City Planning Commission Northwest Philadelphia Planner Matt Wysong. There are also matching dollars from the Commerce Department in the mix, bringing the project's total budget to $740,000.

The northwest corner of Chelten Avenue and Greene Street usually hosts a crowd of SEPTA riders waiting for the many bus lines that pass through the intersection. It’s also adjacent to the southeast corner of Vernon Park, but a wrought-iron fence separates the sidewalk from the green space; a low brick wall in the middle of the un-landscaped space is also part of the original flawed design. A drop in the pavement grade between the wall and an adjacent building attracts trash and illegal activities.

Because of the building next door, that drop is an engineering problem the redesign can’t completely solve, but once the brick wall is gone, it will be possible to smooth that section of pavement so the drop is less obvious and to add landscaping features.

"We want to redesign it in a way that maximizes the space, utilizes it to its fullest, [and] allows for some sort of programming to happen there," explains Wysong. That could mean a food truck or some other type of vendor. "Right now, Vernon Park has a very unceremonious entrance along Greene Street." When the existing iron fence is removed, the plaza will be "a promenade to connect to Vernon Park."

There’s no official construction timeline yet. This month, city partners including the Streets Department and the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities will meet to iron out the details. Wysong estimates that work could begin in early 2017 and be finished within six months.

He touts the renovation as "very much a community-driven design. I’m pleasantly surprised at the enthusiasm I’m seeing now that funding was announced. The space [is] small, but it’s got a lot of meaning to a lot of people."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Matt Wysong, City Planning Commission
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