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The art of paper is alive with an exciting new studio space in West Philly

In February 2016, West Philly's Soapbox Community Print Shop and Zine Library will triple its space. The organization launched the STEP UP FOR THE SOAPBOX crowdfunding campaign on November 16, hoping to raise $15,000 toward the customization of its new home in Kingsessing. (Flying Kite will be landing in the neighborhood in 2016 as part of our On the Ground program.)

The Soapbox got its start in 2010 thanks to founders Charlene Kwon and Mary Tasillo, and held its first event in early 2011. With strong backgrounds in bookmaking and letter-press printmaking, the two wanted to launch an organization that would keep those crafts alive and accessible in the community, beyond a university setting. They purchased a rowhome on 51st Street just south of Baltimore Avenue for their venture. Residential tenants live on the second floor and the Soapbox occupies the first floor and basement.

In addition to accessing the organization’s extensive zine library and archives, Soapbox member artists can practice skills such as silkscreen, bookbinding and papermaking.

To extend those services, Kwon and Tasillo are moving to a Furness and Evans church currently undergoing extensive renovations at 4700 Kingsessing Avenue, just two blocks west of Clark Park.

Surprised the space was scheduled for a makeover, Tasillo first toured it last June.

"I had been walking past that church for years, watching trees grow out of it," she recalls.

They signed the lease in late October. Other tenants will include a community preschool and a daycare upstairs, with the Soapbox occupying 4,500 square feet on the lower level.

The rehab will feature new bathrooms, plumbing and electric work, but Soapbox will be getting "a fairly raw space" with plenty of special touches still needed -- including new drywall and doors to create four individual artist and writer studio spaces, and an enclosed sound-protected room for noisy machines such as the paper-pulp beater and the pressure-washer used for screenprinting.

The finished headquarters will offer tools for a range of historic and contemporary printing techniques, from papermaking to offset lithography. It will also house Philly’s biggest independent zine library, with over 2,000 handmade zines and chapbooks. These will be available for the public to enjoy during open studio hours.

"There are a lot of young people interested in this," enthuses Tasillo. "I think that there’s a real need and urge to connect with something that’s handmade and not digital, and that engages the senses in a more compelling way." Digital and handmade arts are both important, she adds, but "the handmade can reach places that the digital cannot."

On December 5, a Soapbox event will kick off the Step Up for The Soapbox fundraising campaign. A short zine reading will begin promptly at 7:30 p.m., followed by a dance party at 8:00. Tickets available here; $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Mary Tasillo, the Soapbox 

Welcoming Winterfest back to the waterfront

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and that means one of Philly's best new winter traditions is on the way. The Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest is entering its third season as a full-fledged waterfront wonderland -- it opens to the public on November 27 and runs through February 28, 2016. 

Favorite elements of the festive haven, created by Groundswell Design Group, are returning, including the Lodge Restaurant and Bar, live trees full of lights, fire pits and of course the skating rink, now in its 22nd year. New this time around are five "winter warming cottages," rustic three-sided lodges furnished with electric fireplaces, infrared heating, chandeliers made of antlers, and homey armchairs and loveseats. A boardwalk, repurposed from summertime's Spruce Street Harbor Park, will connect the cottages to the Lodge.

According to Delaware River Waterfront Corporation Vice President of Operations Joe Forkin, last season was "super-successful," drawing about 80,000 skaters and more than twice as many people to the other amenities. That said, they are incorporating visitor feedback into the latest incarnation.

One suggestion was more lighting, so, as Forkin puts it, they’ll be "lighting the heck out of the site" with about 100,000 individual LED bulbs, including over 40,000 PECO-sponsored twinkles on the 45-foot holiday tree coming in from Westchester (slated for a free public lighting ceremony on December 4).

Winterfest will also boast even more food and beverage options. Garces Group will be back with rotating burger specials (including a house-made veggie burger), fries topped with short ribs and queso fresco, Frohman’s grilled sausages and hot dogs, Bavarian pretzels, and grilled cheese and tomato soup.

Distrito Taco Stand will operate in the Lodge on weekends, serving traditional Mexican street tacos. A variety of craft brews and specialty winter cocktails will be for sale, too. And for the sweeter side of things, Franklin Fountain is teaming up with Shane Confectionery’s Chocolate Café to create the Franklin Fountain Confectionery Cabin. You can order an ice cream waffle sandwich (choose your waffle: Belgian, chocolate or gingerbread spice), custom ice cream flavors such as cinnamon and eggnog, s’mores kits, hot chocolate, apple cider and more.

Forkin likes the "little bit of wilderness" in an urban setting: "You can come down and experience this lodge-like, forest-like feel in the city, where people probably don’t have a lot of opportunities in this setting to sit near a fire pit, or roast a marshmallow.”

A wide variety of programming will include family-friendly 12 Days of Christmas Movie Nights from December 14 through December 25; titles include Elf, Miracle on 34th Street and Charlie Brown Christmas. For the slightly older set, Fridays and Saturdays will feature DJs for dancing and skating.

Entrance to Winterfest is free, and food and drinks are available for purchase; skating admission is $3 (free for all Independence Blue Cross cardholders and employees) and skate rentals are $10. The fest will be open seven days a week, including holidays, with extended hours December 19 through January 3.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Joe Forkin, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Before Market Street Bridge is rebuilt, it gets a makeover for pedestrians

Thanks to a partnership between the Schuylkill River Development Corporation (SRDC), University City District (UCD), Center City District (CCD) and Groundswell Design, the Market Street Bridge over the Schuylkill River -- connecting Center City with the eastern edge of University City -- has gotten a quick but important revamp.

The makeover for the century-old bridge took just ten weeks. According to UCD Director of Planning and Design Nate Hommel, UCD got the go-ahead in mid-July thanks to funding from the William Penn Foundation and the Joanna McNeil Trust. Initially, the goal was completing improvements in time for next summer’s Democratic National Convention, but then the idea came up: "How about the Pope?"

Things began to move quickly.

SRDC helped to gain the cooperation of PennDOT, owner of the bridge. Groundswell, the team behind recent improvements to The Porch at 30th Street Station, worked speedily to design improvements including new greenery in 120 custom-made planters, bleacher seating for great Schuylkill views, and four large gateway pergolas at the bridge's eastern and western edges.

For the fabrication of the new temporary elements, Groundswell and UCD turned to a local Kensington shop called Frank’s Kitchen, which began making the planters on its assembly line in early August.

"It was pretty impressive to see the fabrication process," recalls Hommel. "It’s good to see the local maker economy in Philly able to handle something like this."

Once the planters and other elements were finished, they took about four days to install. The improved pedestrian experience on the bridge (which over 6,000 people cross each day on foot) was ready a week before Pope Francis arrived.

Groundswell faced some challenges due to the age and structure of the bridge. PennDOT stipulated that the "dead load" of the bridge’s pedestrian redesign could not exceed 100 pounds per square foot. (The weight bridges bear is split into live loads, meaning the traffic that moves across it, and dead loads, meaning objects or infrastructure that sit on it permanently.)

"Groundswell was really great in figuring out ways to do that," says Hommel. The planters were specially designed with soft wood to reduce their weight, as well as false bottoms. And while they’re about three feet high, they contain only about a foot of soil.

The idea of "reversible elements," in the parlance of civil infrastructure, is important. Agencies that own major assets like bridges -- particularly aging ones -- are much less leery of improvement projects whose pieces can be easily removed, without any permanent alteration or compromise of the structure. The Market Street Bridge itself is due for an overhaul within the next few years, so the redone walkways will be in place at least through the end of next summer. After that, UCD hopes that better awareness of pedestrian needs will be an integral part of the new span's overall planning.

CCD is performing maintenance such as cleaning and graffiti removal, while UCD manages the horticulture side through a staff from its West Philadelphia Skills Initiative.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nate Hommel, University City District

An extra year of fundraising has Chinatown's Eastern Tower poised for construction

About a year ago, we looked in on Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation’s (PCDC) planned Eastern Tower, a 20-story mixed-use residential/retail/community services building at the northwest corner of 10th and Vine Streets. (Yup, that's in the heart of our next On the Ground neighborhood.) This was just after the organization had nabbed a $3.7 million Pennsylvania Economic Initiative grant, which PCDC Capacity and Projects Manager Sarah Yeung says helped to kick off some excellent financial and community momentum for the development.

"We had initially thought that we wanted to break ground in the beginning of [2015], but we actually spent the bulk of this year strengthening our position financially," explains Yeung. The last several months have brought significant contributions from PECO and Comcast, as major public and private funders took notice of the project’s traction.

After funding from the William Penn Foundation allowed the nonprofit PCDC to set up a regional center for project investors, the foundation gave an additional grant of $700,000 towards outfitting the community center portion of the building, which brought foundation gifts to a total of $900,000 in just the last quarter. The Philadelphia Suns -- who will be the primary users of the Eastern Tower community center -- raised $15,000 at their latest banquet. The CDC also received a $500,000 grant from the Commerce Department late last year.

All in all, the projected budget for the new center now stands at $77 million.

Eastern Tower has been a long time coming. The vision for the massive new Vine Street hub got started in 2004. Fundraising started in earnest in 2011. The complex (from the architects at Studio Agoos Lovera) aims to house the city’s most diverse range of community offerings under one roof: residential units, a daycare center, a community center, a pharmacy, a restaurant, a doctor’s office and more.

"From an outsider’s perspective, it looks like we threw the kitchen sink in, but this is a very strategic project for us," says Yeung of targeting much-needed services in the area. "It’s about equitable development in Chinatown North/Callowhill," a neighborhood with plenty of private development bumping up against ongoing issues of poverty, blight and lack of services for the local immigrant community.

Yeung says final closing on all the project’s financing will be accomplished by next month, and the contract for construction manager Hunter Roberts is ready to go. Funding is at 100 percent and construction should commence early next year.

"We’re as ready as can be," she enthuses. "We can’t be more ready. It’s a really exciting time for us. It’s been a long process and a huge team effort...on a city level, it’s going to be quite a significant project."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah Leung, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation

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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.

3.0 University Place will rise one block away from 40th Street Portal

University Place Associates (UPA), the developer behind University Place 2.0 at 30 N. 41st Street, has an even more ambitious green office building in the works. The plans for University Place 3.0 -- slated to rise at the corner of 41st and Market, just a block from the 40th Street SEPTA transit hub -- were announced in mid-October.

UPA founder Scott Mazo touts the building’s bonafides: According to UPA, it’s the world’s first commercial office building to get a platinum precertification by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program before it’s even broken ground.

On October 15, a launch ceremony for 3.0 held at 2.0 University Place featured words from Mazo, U.S. Green Building Council President Roger Platt, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and Pennsylvania State Senator Vince Hughes.

The five-story building, which UPA ultimately hopes will draw one to three anchor office tenants, and retail and restaurant tenants for the ground floor, will feature the latest in green technology, from fresh-air circulation and filtration systems to energy-saving glass to cutting-edge heating and cooling systems, not to mention a WIFI-enabled green roof open to all workers.

"I realize that 3.0 is not going to be for everybody," says Mazo. "But what we really want is a company that’s trying to say not just to the world but to its future tenants and employees…'We’re living it, we want to make a statement, [an] impact to the environment, and we’re making a statement with our actions.'"

3.0 will ultimately offer almost 190,000 square feet of space, and incorporate stormwater management with a modular green roof system and rooftop garden, and common area power derived from solar and wind energy. Once completed, the building will form part of what UPA hopes will be an entire "platinum corridor" of eco-friendly Market Street buildings; its exterior will feature electrochromic SageGlass.

Embedded with tiny low-voltage electrical wires, SageGlass can respond to the rays of the sun and shift its tint to block glare while preserving or deflecting the sun's heat, depending on the season. This results in significant energy savings and plenty of natural light for the people working inside, without the help of blinds or shades.

It also means that from the outside, the building will change its shade and hue throughout the day.

"I thought that was such a cool feature that will make this building stand out," enthuses Mazo, "an iconic symbol of the transformation that we’re trying to make on Market Street."

And the timeline for construction?

Hard to pinpoint right now, says Mazo. It depends on when they can secure an anchor office tenant. That could be one tenant for all four floors, or one tenant to occupy about 100,000 square feet (three floors), with one or two more tenants using the remaining space. If plans for a full-building user don’t immediately materialize, one tenant renting 100,000 square feet would be enough to move forward with the groundbreaking. Mazo estimates that construction on 3.0 could take a year to 18 months, and it’s possible they could have shovels in the dirt by April 2016.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Scott Mazo, University Place Associates


A tour of Callowhill's Reading Viaduct Park as the first phase of construction approaches

Painter Sarah McEneaney -- who has lived in a house on Hamilton street since 1979 -- is a co-founder and current board president of the Callowhill Neighborhood Association (CNA). As Flying Kite heads to Callowhill for our next On the Ground stint, McEneaney offered an insightful introduction to the area.

"This neighborhood that we’re in does not have any green space," she says, noting not only the lack of a formal park, but the fact that most residences don’t even have a yard or garden. That’s one reason the ramp to the old Reading Viaduct, rising between Broad and 11th Streets, already looms large in the neighborhood. Fundraising is still underway for Phase 1 of the new rail park, one of the targets of the Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative (which we’ve seen at work in Parkside’s Centennial Commons).  

The gentle slope of the former two-track quarter-mile stretch rises from ground level about a half-block north of Callowhill Street near Broad and Noble. It was built in the 1890s for locomotives to chug up to the tracks that originally curved north to the Reading Viaduct, and coincidentally, its grade matches that for federally mandated ADA accessibility.

These days, despite a series of chain barriers and gates, it’s clear a lot of people are using the old railway ramp.

"That section is already the de facto neighborhood park," says McEneaney of the area slated for Civic Commons Phase 1 plans (budgeted at $9 million); she took Flying Kite on a walk through the site.

Grasses and wildflowers are thick on either side of the old elevated trail, along with Paulownia trees, which McEneaney explains are common beside old railways in the eastern United States -- the trees’ seeds were used as packing material by Chinese exporters in the early 1800s. When packages burst or leaked along the tracks, the trees sprouted. There’s a weedy path of sharp gray stones down the middle of the planned park.

According to McEneaney, neighborhood volunteers and CNA members already give their time to maintaining the area and picking up trash. The existing trail is littered with plenty of debris, including a welter of smashed beer cans. People stroll here and walk their dogs.

The history of modern efforts around reclaiming this space -- and the owners, groups and funders involved -- gets complicated. The Viaduct Project got started almost 15 years ago, and a similar group, Friends of the Rail Park, got started in 2009, focusing on the old railway where it runs west of Broad Street and up the northeast side of Fairmount Park. In 2013, the two groups merged into one entity: Friends of the Rail Park.

The Phase 1 ramp area is now owned by SEPTA, which will be turning it over to Center City District to manage construction. After buildout, the site will be officially owned by the City of Philadelphia, which will maintain the 25,000-square-foot linear park space with the help of Friends of the Rail Park. Design is underway with Studio Bryan Hanes.

Fundraising efforts, spearheaded by Center City District and aided by $1 million from the Knight and William Penn Foundation Civic Commons dollars, have raised about $5 million. With $4 million to go, McEneaney says stakeholders are waiting to hear how much of that may come from a state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant, and how much will come from grassroots fundraising and additional civic dollars. She hopes to see a groundbreaking in 2016.

Keep up with Flying Kite on the ground for more about plans for the space.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah McEneaney, Friends of the Rail Park and the Callowhill Neighborhood Association

An ambitious Block Build helps eight homeowners in a single day

A day-long project to repair and weatherproof eight homes on one block of North Philly’s Eastern North neighborhood might seem simple, but the benefits reach deep and wide.

Rebuilding Together Philadelphia (RTP), the organizer of October 16's Block Build, is one of 150 local independent affiliates of a national program. According to Executive Director Stefanie Seldin, RTP staffers and volunteers -- who have helped to rehabilitate 1,369 homes since the group's 1988 creation by Wharton grad students -- are based out of an office in Frankford but work all over the city.

RTP usually does a few Block Builds per year, often in West Philly.

"We rely on community-based groups to say, ‘This is the block that really could use some TLC,'" says Seldin. "They go and recruit the homeowners for us, too."

The latest build relied on a partnership with Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, a local community development corporation.

About 100 volunteers pitched in for the October 16 event, including a mix of professional trade and corporate volunteers, and students from nearby schools with vocational programs such as A. Philip Randolph Career & Technical High School and Thomas Alva Edison High School and John C. Fariera Skills Center. Workers also included students from Project WOW, an organization that offers construction training to young adults without high school diplomas.

The homeowners were mostly elderly, low-income, longtime residents feeling the squeeze of property values that have doubled since 2010. Repairs included drywall and plaster repair, the installation of new vinyl flooring and front door locksets, cleaning, HVAC maintenance, caulking, painting and window replacement to better insulate homes and reduce energy costs.

Seldin appreciates the chance to lower utility bills for Block Build homeowners, many of whom "have so much counting on their very limited income. Our homeowners are often forced to choose between repairing their homes, medical treatment or food."

According to RTP, older adults make up almost 18 percent of the city’s population -- the largest percentage of older adults in America’s 10 largest cities -- and one in five of these elderly Philadelphians live in poverty. Combine that with the fact that 90 percent of Philly’s homes were built before 1980, and the need for work like this is clear.

In addition to the cosmetic and structural upgrades, RTP works with a dedicated occupational therapist who evaluates the' homes and recommends improvements for health and safety: things like grab bars, proper lighting, level flooring and extensions for light-bulb switches (so homeowners don’t have to climb stools).

But it’s not just about the safety and comfort of individuals. As housing values have risen in the last few years, the percentage of homeowners in Philly has dropped from over 59 percent in 2000 to 51 percent.

RTP's work, especially in the 19122 zip code of North Philly where developers are circling on the outskirts of Temple University, "is helping to stop that decline in homeownership," adds Seldin. "[We help] longterm lower-income homeowners stay in a neighborhood where more and more of those homeowners are forced out."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Stefanie Seldin, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia   


ArtPlace America honors the Fairmount Park Conservancy with $3 million grant

On October 22, leaders and community members gathered at the Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park for a Community Development Investments public forum. The focus was a $3 million grant from ArtPlace America to the Fairmount Park Conservancy, announced in August by President Obama.

The Conservancy is one of just six organizations nationwide to receive this grant, which will disburse $1 million per year for three years for new creative placemaking initiatives in Philly’s parks, incorporating artistic and cultural works into infrastructure and programming (focus sites and projects TBD).

Leading the forum, Conservancy Executive Director Kathryn Ott Lovell said the conversation was at the "nexus of arts, culture, and parks."

"This opportunity comes at a critical juncture" for the Conservancy, she continued. Projects sponsored by the grant will help to make individuals’ experience of Philly’s parks more meaningful.

Mayor Michael Nutter, also on hand to speak, expressed pride that the Conservancy was recognized by the White House. He pointed out that it’s the only city park conservancy in the country that manages not just a single centralized park site, but many across the city. Parks aren’t only about playgrounds, grass and trees, he added, "[They’re] really about equity, really about bringing people together."

Other speakers included Michael DiBerardinis, deputy mayor and commissioner of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.

"We’re doing it right. We’re getting it right," he said of the message the ArtPlace grant sends to Philly’s park system. Upgrading our public spaces with art projects "is not just for a handful of people…but for every single citizen of every neighborhood."

Laura Sparks, executive director of the William Penn Foundation, said the organization was "thrilled, but not surprised" by the Conservancy’s selection. She touted Philadelphia's "incredible public spaces" as the number-one asset that has been raising the city's global profile, from the recent New York Times nod as a top destination to September’s papal visit.

The session concluded with a panel moderated by Knight Foundation Vice President of Community and National Initiatives Carol Coletta, and statements from three national leaders in creative placemaking.

ArtPlace Executive Director Jamie Bennett explained the concept of placemaking as "community development that is local, specific to a place, and is comprehensive," engaging local citizens in its planning. And if you want to understand the "creative" prefix to that, it means bringing artists in on the ground floor of planning for public spaces' infrastructure, design and programming.

Village of Arts and Humanities co-founder and former executive director Lily Yeh (now of Barefoot Artists, which she founded in 2002) gave a short presentation on the history of her work at the North Philly site, which has been a model of repurposed and revitalized spaces for almost 20 years, as well as her work designing a Rugerero memorial to victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

"Through creative actions, we reclaim our lives," she insisted.

Scott Kratz, director of the 11th Street Bridge Park project in D.C. -- which imagines a new public space spanning the Anacostia river; slated to open a mile and a half from Capitol Hill in 2019 -- also spoke about the importance of spaces like those managed by the Conservancy.

"Increasingly, cities are being defined by civic spaces," he said.

Lyz Crane, deputy director of ArtPlace America, explained that the organization is a national consortium of eight federal agencies, six banks and fifteen foundations, including the William Penn and Knight Foundations. "Strategic project development" for the Conservancy grant will get underway this coming winter and spring, she said, and projects may begin to manifest by summer 2016.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Mayor Michael Nutter and Fairmount Park Conservancy panel speakers 

The new Pier 68 waterfront park boasts fishing, seating and more

On October 1, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) and Mayor Michael Nutter formally opened DRWC's third permanent pier park. Pier 68 -- located at the end of Pier 70 Boulevard -- offers an exciting new place for Philly’s fishing enthusiasts to cast a line into the Delaware (just be sure to get your PA fishing license). Designed by Studio Bryan Hanes, the firm behind the Civic Commons plans in Parkside, the half-acre Pennsport pier joins the Race Street Pier (2011) and Washington Avenue Pier (2014). 

Construction on the new park began last winter; the recreational fishing component was very important to the neighborhood.
"There is a very big demand for fishing along the river," explains DRWC President Thomas Corcoran. Until recently, people who wanted to drop their hooks "had to walk out on dilapidated piers which were not at all that safe, some of which were privately owned."

Pier 68 remedies that, with a third of the structure dedicated exclusively to fishing.
The pier also includes a feature similar to a popular one on the Washington Avenue pier: an "Aquatic Cut" -- a four-and-half-foot deep cut into the pier surface that lets visitors see into the tidal world. A "microcosm of the Delaware River’s pre-industrial ecology," according to DRWC, the cut will let students and visitors view a wide assortment of native aquatic plants be covered and then revealed by the tide every day.
Other features include an entrance deck that spotlights repurposed maritime bollards.
What’s a bollard?
"It’s what the ships tie up to," says Corcoran of the salvaged wood’s origins on piers of the past.
The new space also boasts a tree canopy that shields the pier from the parking lot and traffic to the west, and picnic tables on the pier’s southern edge.
Pier 68 is another milestone in the regional Circuit trail project, with the Washington Avenue Pier and Pier 68 serving as bookends to the southern part of the developing Delaware River Trail. Ultimately, it’ll be a part of the Spring Garden Greenway and the greater East Coast Greenway.
Two years ago, DRWC built a demonstration section of what the finished Delaware River trail would look like at Spring Garden and Columbus -- a 28-foot-wide bi-directional bike path separated from a pedestrian path, with landscaping on both the road and river sides featuring cutting-edge stormwater management.
The pier project was the result of a major public/private collaboration between DRWC, several design teams, Bittenbender ConstructionHydro Marine Construction, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the William Penn Foundation, and a Wells Fargo Environmental Solutions for Communities Grant, administered through the National Fish and Wildlife Service.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Thomas Corcoran, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation


DesignPhiladelphia spotlights North Chinatown's Pearl Street Passage

Since last spring, the Philadelphia Center for Architecture has been working with its partners in Chinatown North and Callowhill on a special four-day public event spotlighting the possibilities of neglected alleyways. Part of the DesignPhiladelphia festival (October 8-16), Pearl Street Passage -- a pop-up exhibition located along the 1100 block of Pearl Street -- is one chapter of a bigger story. The Pearl Street Project, with partners including the Center for Architecture, Asian Arts Initiative and Friends of the Rail Park, has long-term plans to develop and revitalize this piece of the city.

On Saturday, October 10, Pearl Street Project will host its third annual block party. According to Rebecca Johnson, president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Philadelphia (which has its headquarters at the Center for Architecture), the party was what originally gave DesignPhiladelphia organizers the idea of spotlighting Pearl Street. The often overlooked alley runs behind Asian Arts Initiative’s building and extends for four blocks through Chinatown North and Callowhill. The buildings and organizations around it include luxury lofts, social service agencies, churches, schools, a homeless shelter and more. (The neighborhood will also be the second home for this year's On the Ground program.)

"It’s all about creative placemaking," explains Johnson. "How can they use it? We partnered because we wanted to use the slightly broader spotlight of DesignPhiladelphia to focus on what’s happening there as well as connect it with Friends of the Rail Park."

The all-ages block party will feature tours of Rail Park: a guided walk from the Center for Architecture through North Chinatown spotlighting Pearl Street Project’s long-term plans, and a chance to visit the ten installations that are coming to life inside Pearl Street Passage, going through the tunnel created by the intersection of the Reading Viaduct (itself the site of major impending upgrades through Reimagining the Civic Commons).

The ten teams have been working on plans for their diverse exhibits since last spring. The works include "Savage Salvage," which turns mixing bowls rescued from the TastyKake Factory into a gateway of planters, along with many other interactive and interdisciplinary displays.

The exhibition is open to the public from 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. October 8 - 10, and 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Sunday, October 11. The first three evenings will feature live music and dance performances, and on Sunday a drumline will close out the exhibition.

Though it’s only four days, there’s a bigger vision in place. Pearl Street Passage, funded through an ArtPlace America grant to Asian Arts Initiative, was the perfect opportunity to "talk about how we demonstrate the power of design to people, and one of the ways we do that is with these public festivals that are outside and not just in studios," explains Johnson. It’s a chance to expose people who might not look twice at a neglected little city passage -- which Pearl Street Passage designers cleared of trash, overgrown vegetation and dirt piles -- and get them to "think about how to use an alley, and it not be a gross place to be, but a beautiful, cool place to be."

Johnson hopes DesignPhiladelphia can keep participating in this kind of project in years to come.

"We want to have something public like this every year," she enthuses. "It’s engaged us in a way that we haven’t been before."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Rebecca Johnson, AIA Philadelphia and the Center for Architecture


On the Ground: What about the kids? New play spaces in Centennial Commons

Last week, we got the latest news on the Parkside Edge component of the Centennial Commons upgrades in Parkside, a space geared toward quiet recreation for grown-up locals. But space for the kids is coming, too, slated for groundbreaking shortly after Parkside Edge gets underway in spring 2016.

A name for the new play spaces hasn’t yet been finalized, but Fairmount Park Conservancy staffers and designers from partnering firm Studio Bryan Hanes have been calling it the "Tweens" or "Youth" Area for now. It will offer fun and exercise for toddlers up to early-to-mid teens.

According to Conservancy Project Manager Chris Dougherty, the versatile area will be constructed in the region between the Please Touch Museum, Smith Memorial Arch and the Avenue of the Republic.

"There’s going to be a whole series of interesting topographical features," he explains. The ground will be built up into a series of rises and falls -- "modulation of the landscape" that encourages activity and play. Wet and dry meadows will offer natural features with an educational ecology component.

Conservancy Senior Director of Civic Initiatives Jennifer Mahar says there are plans for a hot-weather sprayground as well as "unique climbing structures." Instead of "primary-color plastic-coated stuff you see everywhere, we really wanted to have unique play that you have to use your body and your mind [for]," she explains. Parks like this shouldn’t be limited to Center City. "They should be out in the community as well.”

And this won't be only a three-season space: The engineering is still in the works, but designers hope to include a skating "ribbon" as opposed to a traditional rink. On a winding path that could be a walkway in fair weather, the icy track would wend through existing trees and create an exciting outdoor experience.

As Mahar notes, Kelly Pool is already a summertime fixture for locals. A planned concession building in that area is long overdue, and will help extend seasonal use of the space beyond the weeks that the pool is open.

"There is no public restroom in 800 acres of park, so we know we have to do that," she says. The new structure will offer those basic amenities such as bathrooms and drinking fountains. And while there aren’t plans for a full-blown café, she hopes there will be a vendor selling pre-packaged snacks and drinks. Along with the new bathrooms, this will be a huge boon for anyone planning a long afternoon in the park.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Jennifer Mahar and Chris Dougherty, the Fairmount Park Conservancy 

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.

Biking just got a lot better in Camden thanks to a new greenway

With the installation of Indego bike share stations across the city and a growing network of bike lanes and trails, Philadelphia’s cycling culture is firmly established, but just across the river in Camden, a brand-new 4.3-mile greenway is big news for the city’s burgeoning two-wheeled community.

On September 24 at the Salvation Army’s Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd and Freeholder Jeff Nash officially cut the ribbon on Camden’s own portion of the planned 750-mile Circuit of southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey (about 300 miles of the trails have already been completed). The new greenway was funded by the William Penn Foundation.

John Boyle, research director for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, says that though there are plenty of cyclists in Camden, "they don’t have an organized movement on the local level like Philadelphia does. It really hasn’t caught on to the degree it has in Center City Philadelphia, but I also think it’s a lack of infrastructure. This is a great start to reverse that."

Boyle and Camden collaborators -- such as Coopers Ferry Partnership -- hope that new space for bikes on north Camden roadways will increase the accessibility of sites like the Kroc Center, as well as local green spaces that have been the target of recent upgrades, including Pyne Poynt Park and Von Nieda Park.

The main spine of the new bike lanes is a buffered zone parallel to the waterfront on Jersey Joe Walcott Avenue, which then curves into the newly revitalized Erie Street, and heads across the historic State Street Bridge over the Cooper River.

Here, bikers and pedestrians have a choice: There’s a new bridge for cars from the New Jersey Department of Transportation (which boasts bike lanes), and next to it, the old bridge, which is now reserved exclusively for walkers and cyclists. The greenway's lanes then travel along Harrison Avenue past the Kroc Center.

Now that there’s a new artery from below the Ben Franklin Bridge up to the Kroc Center, will Camden keep adding bike lanes? Boyle hopes so.

"I think it really has to, because you need a complete network to provide true access to people," he says. "There’s still a lot of neighborhoods that don’t have bike lanes in Camden, and they’re going to have to fill those gaps."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: John Boyle, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

It's Happening: Breaking ground at the Divine Lorraine

What does it take to redevelop a massive, beautiful and long-vacant Philadelphia landmark? Sixteen years of financial and political wrangling, a welter of speeches from some of the city’s top politicians and developers, and no less than six very shiny ceremonial shovels.

On September 16, a large crowd gathered at Broad and Fairmount to celebrate an event many Philadelphians thought would never actually materialize: the redevelopment of the 10-story Divine Lorraine Hotel.

Designed by noted Victorian-era architect Willis Hale -- many of whose Philly buildings were later reviled for their ornate "Philadelphia grotesque" style and demolished -- the Divine Lorraine was completed in 1894 at a time when city buildings without elevators rarely reached more than three or four stories high. It’s an architectural landmark as well as an economic and cultural one, serving first as apartments and then as a hotel for Philly’s richest denizens in the manufacturing boom of the early 1900s. Later in 1948, it was purchased by controversial religious leader and social reformer Reverent Major Jealous Divine and became the city’s first racially integrated hotel.

The site was closed and abandoned in 1999, gutted of its furnishings and left looming over North Broad with more graffiti than windowpanes. Developer Eric Blumenfeld of EB Realty Management Corporation purchased the site in 2012. A few years later, thanks to another $44 million in financing through partnerships with real estate lender Billy Procida, the PRA, the State of Pennsylvania and PIDC, construction is finally commencing on a new mixed-use incarnation.

The 21st century Divine Lorraine will feature 109 apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. As Mayor Michael Nutter noted in his remarks at the groundbreaking, developer Robert Levine is also building two new apartment towers and a supermarket on the plot behind the old hotel.

Both Mayor Nutter and Deputy Mayor of Economic Development Alan Greenberger -- who also spoke -- called the projects a major "tipping point" in the revitalization of North Broad Street as a whole.

Greenberger described the groundbreaking as a historic day in the city’s life, dubbing the project was "one of Philadelphia’s most transformative developments."

"We’re all in this together…I’m the luckiest guy in the world, because this building has a mystique and a spirit unlike any other project I’ve seen," enthused Blumenfeld. "This building is an organism. It’s alive. It has a heartbeat."

Nedia Ralston, director of Governor Wolf’s Southeast Regional Office, expressed the Governor’s office's enthusiasm for the new Divine Lorraine, which will maintain its historic exterior.

"We can renew a part of history and renew economic opportunities for a community who needs it," she added.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Mayor Michael Nutter; Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger; Eric Blumenfeld, EB Realty Management Corporation; Nedia Ralston, the Governor’s Southeast Regional Office. 


On the Ground: Parkside Edge caters to those who want quiet and good company just steps from home

The Centennial Commons project is so large that even its first part is broken into Phase 1A and 1B. And while there are a lot of exciting things on tap for local youth in Phase 1B, 1A will focus on a new recreational space geared towards adults who want a peaceful place to watch the world go by.

Final plans for the area dubbed "Parkside Edge" are still undergoing some work, but residents can expect to see rectangular "outdoor rooms" fashioned from benches, low walls and maybe even some wooden flooring that will add to the inviting feel. 

The Fairmount Park Conservancy estimates that they'll break ground on the space this coming spring. Conservancy Senior Director of Civic Initiatives Jennifer Mahar says that this piece of the project has required some extra groundwork, leading to a partnership with the Philadelphia Water Department for new Green Stormwater Infrastructure.

Managing stormwater at Parkside Edge “requires a lot more engineering that we didn’t anticipate, but is the right thing to do,” explains Mahar, even if it set the timeline back a little.

"I think we were conscious that this was going to be a zone that we wanted to be a natural extension of the neighborhood," adds Conservancy Project Manager Chris Dougherty. Some might term it a "passive space," but that’s just to distinguish it from areas like a playground or a baseball field that invite noisy play.

"One thing we’re trying to do in a lot of our parks, or should be thinking of more, is this idea of age-friendliness," he continues. The whole point of Parkside Edge is a relaxing space "that isn’t very far from the neighborhood and isn’t very deep into the park, but also gives you a sense of seclusion."

Fostering friendly interactions with neighbors is another piece, which is why the plans for "rooms" in the Parkside Edge design will reflect the look of the residential porches across the street. Special swings will add to the welcoming feel.

"You can imagine taking your shoes off; having that sort of interior experience," says Dougherty. Designers are also playing with the idea of special outdoor floor-lamps to light the spaces.

The area will also benefit from a natural kind of security: Thanks to the raised porches across the street -- where neighbors already congregate -- there will be a clear line of sight into the park. Dougherty calls it a form of "informal surveillance that I think makes great spaces."

Once Parkside Edge is complete, it will provide room for activities like quiet reflection, reading, chatting with neighbors, or portable leisure activities such as sewing, knitting, crocheting or other types of arts.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Chris Dougherty, Fairmount Park Conservancy 

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.

Three local sites announced for Play Space design competition

This summer, Flying Kite took a look at the kick-off of the Community Design Collaborative's Infill Philadelphia Play Space program, a special exhibition of innovative play space concepts (running through September 25). Now the organization has launched the second major piece of its 18-month Play Space Initiative (funded by the William Penn Foundation): a design competition focusing on three city sites that were announced on September 9.

Registration for the design teams will open on September 30, and their work on the three spaces will further the Infill mission to "find solutions to key community development challenges in Philadelphia and other cities." The results of an extensive community engagement process will be shared with registered designers once the competition opens.
Participating teams will be able to pick which site they want to focus on for the competition, which will run through March of next year. The trio of projects selected by the Collaborative are the Blanch A. Nixon Cobbs Creek Library branch at 5800 Cobbs Creek Parkway in West Philly; the Waterloo Recreation Center at 2501 Waterloo Avenue in North Philadelphia; and Mantua’s Haverford Center Comprehensive Day School at 4600 Haverford Avenue.

According to Alexa Bosse, program manager for the Play Space Design Initiative, choosing the sites happened with the help of geospacial software and analysis firm Azavea. In identifying spaces to target for the competition, they looked at factors such as high concentrations of kids and low-to-moderate income families, vacancy rates and geographical diversity.

The resulting map highlighted 100 likely sites, which the Collaborative narrowed down to fifteen, then six, each of which Play Space organizers visited: two schools, two libraries and two parks.

"We wanted them all to be different from one another," says Bosse of the final cut.

The school site -- which is nearly two acres -- is notable because it’s a large grassy area without any existing play infrastructure. By contrast, the Waterloo site is completely paved, though it does have some equipment. And the library is interesting because it’s a triangular patch of ground with three bordering streets.

"All designers love a challenge, and that’ll be great," enthuses Bosse. "It’ll cause invention.”

She hopes the competition’s winning design and the groundwork laid through the Collaborative’s program will ultimately help line up the funding to make the new plans a reality.

"Another real benefit to this is that the sites are different enough that they can act as prototypes for more sites across the city," she adds. "And they’ll raise awareness that this is something we should be investing in for our children."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alexa Bosse, Community Design Collaborative
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