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Rethinking the Rowhome: An architect lets in the light in Queen Village

In this city of rowhomes, thoughtful design can have a huge impact. One local designer transformed her Fabric Row space into a showcase for bringing light and flexibility to Philadelphia's signature structure.

Juliet Whelan, owner of award-winning architecture firm Jibe Design, lives with her husband live on the second and third floors above an office they rent out. The recently renovated home is stunning. Natural light floods the space and the minimalist furniture was designed by the homeowner herself. There are tons of unique features including a steel parapet hook chandelier over the custom dining table, a raw steel grating stair and a steel "curtain" guardrail from the 3rd floor to the roof.

This is actually the second renovation on the home, which sits on the 800 block of South 4th Street in Queen Village. The project cost $150,000 and included an addition to the rear of the building, a roof deck and a garden.

In fact, there are no traditional closets -- just a custom pantry in the kitchen for storing food and cleaning supplies, and a string curtain surrounding open shelves for clothes and shoes in the master suite. 

"We're pretty tidy people, so I opted for closets as furniture," explains Whelan. "I like to stand in my bedroom, where there's a lot of natural light, and pick out my clothes for the day."

Helping to capitalize on that natural light pouring in through large windows on the upper level and coming down from the light box on the roof are two sliding doors on the bedrooms. They can be left open to let the light play throughout the space or closed to provide privacy when the couple has guests.

The home's new furniture was designed by Whelan and built with the help of several friends and craftspeople. There's the bed that looks like a double-wide chaise lounge made from wood, which sits atop a black and white rug from Millésimé. She also designed the dining table; above it hangs the chandelier made from parapet hooks, which have a connection to the house's history.

"For the last seven years I've had these metal hooks I found in the basement," she says. "We thought maybe it was a Jewish deli and these were meat hooks. We hung them above my table and then found out they're parapet hooks, used to do work on the exterior of a building. Someone who lived here before us must have been a mason or something."

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: Juliet Whelan, Jibe Design

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society funds public spaces with $25,000 Placemaker Grants

When the El rumbles overhead in Frankford, people stop mid-conversation and wait for the noise to pass. Residents call this the "Frankford Pause." Now, that iconic local phrase will become the name of a new vacant property-turned-public park in the neighborhood, designed with help from the Community Design Collaborative.

Spearheaded by the Frankford Community Development Corporation and the City Planning Commission, the project will be funded through multiple sources, including the Neighborhood Placemaker Grant, awarded for the first time this year by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS). The Frankford CDC is one of three winners of these grants -- they provide $25,000 to projects aimed at improving the look and environmental sustainability of communities through public spaces. The other two winners are Nueva Esperanza, Inc. and Somerset Neighbors for Better Living

"We selected projects that are quite different from each other," explains PHS's Tammy Leigh DeMent. "But [each] scored well across multiple levels including impact to the neighborhood, commitment from the community, partner engagement and a maintenance plan."

Nueva Esperanza, Inc., which serves the needs of Hispanic communities in North Philadelphia, leads the charge in revitalizing the Veterans’ Memorial Plaza at Wyoming and Rising Sun Avenues. Plans for the project include the expansion of the central garden, replacement of crumbling hardscape and the addition of benches and planters. The goal is to attract residents to this important gateway in the Feltonville community.

Somerset Neighbors for Better Living, a committee of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, heads the Community Planter Initiative, a program that will provide free window boxes, street planters and plants for residents who attend neighborhood meetings. This program is about fostering community connections through greening, while beautifying residential and business corridors.

Each of these projects are scheduled to begin in June and be completed within one year.

PHS hopes that this grant program inspired community based organizations to think big for their neighborhoods. 

"Many of the groups that did not win the grant contacted us afterwards to let us know that the opportunity to apply gave them a chance to organize around an idea that had been in the back of their minds for a while," says DeMent. "Now that they’ve done so, they are going to continue to look for funding."

The Neighborhood Placemaker Grants are part of PHS's larger Civic Landscapes program, a four-decades-old effort that has transformed public areas and neighborhood open spaces into premier sites and destinations. 

"Communities matter," adds DeMent. "Not every beautification project can be City-driven, not every greening effort needs to be large-scale and expensive. Small but important green spaces can lift the spirit of a neighborhood, gather people together and give communities a place -- and a reason -- to meet."

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: ?Tammy Leigh DeMent, PHS

Commercial developer founds Jumpstart Germantown to empower new developers

In 25 years of business, commercial real estate developer Ken Weinstein of Philly Office Retail has mentored plenty of wannabe real estate developers. Recently, two such novices approached him after a community meeting and asked him to mentor them. He offered to sit down with them together and spend three hours teaching them the basics of development.

From this three hour session came the inspiration for Jumpstart Germantown, an initiative Weinstein is spearheading to drive investment in the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood where he's been investing and working his entire career. This new organization looks to "jumpstart" the neighborhood by mentoring inexperienced developers, connecting them with each other and more experienced developers, and providing loans to spur development. 

"There is great enthusiasm for doing more in Germantown," explains Weinstein. "We totally did not expect this much energy and enthusiasm this quickly. It's clear that what we're offering has struck a nerve."

One of those original novices who approached Weinstein is Nancy Deephouse. He has tapped her to lead the Developers' Network, bringing together inexperienced and experienced developers alike. On May 28, more than 100 people showed up to the first meeting of Jumpstart Germantown's Developers Network at the newly renovated Greatness is in You! Drama School and Performing Arts Center (4811 Germantown Avenue).

Weinstein has also received 79 applications from developers who want to be part of the nine-hour program he's created about development. Only eight at a time will go through the course; the next cycle starts in July. He says he'll make sure each of those 79 get through.  

Jumpstart Germantown will also provide loans of up to 95 percent of the cost of a residential development project. These short-term loans are funded by a $2 million line of credit, which means they could service up to 30 loans at a time. What makes this loan program different from others is that the organization does not have the same loan requirements as a bank. But the hope is that recipients will be able to sell the property or finance it through a bank at the end of 9-to-12 months so that Jumpstart Germantown can exit the loan.

So far they've received five applications and signed deals to provide two loans of approximately $75,000 each. These loans are going to developers who have two and four development projects behind them, respectively.

Weinstein, who got his start in residential real estate, says he could've gotten back into that business but he'd rather help others. 

"I always push mentees strongly to start in residential," says Weinstein. "I'd rather empower others to [revive Germantown's residential real estate]. This is a great, grassroots way to give people the knowledge and funding."

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: Ken Weinstein, Philly Office Retail

 

Neighborhood Bike Works makes a big move

For almost 20 years, staff and the youth served by the nonprofit Neighborhood Bike Works (NBW) have hauled bicycles up and down the steps into the organization's basement headquarters. 

While they've had a great time in the subterranean section of St. Mary's Church on the University of Pennsylvania's campus, the time has come to open their own center. Last month, NBW announced plans to do just that: The organization is gearing up to move to 3939 and 3943 Lancaster Avenue, one mile from their current location in West Philadelphia. 

"We're a little hidden in this basement," explains Executive Director Erin DeCou. "But we wanted to stay nearby because our neighborhood has been so good to us."

The new location is close to where three communities -- Mantua, Belmont and Powelton -- converge. Currently, NBW must carefully balance its schedule of programming for youth and adults to make use of its limited square footage space. The Lancaster Avenue site combines two side-by-side storefront properties, giving the organization plenty of room for offices and two learning spaces.

Since 1996, NBW has helped over 4,500 young Philadelphians discover a love of cycling. Through education, hands-on bike-building and group rides, the Philly youth (ages 8-18) served by NBW develop job and life skills that serve them for years to come. NBW also hosts adult repair classes and "Bike Church," a recurring event where the community can get help fixing their rides and purchase affordable donated bikes or bike parts.

Later this summer, NBW will start the move, but to get the new space fully ready, they first have to raise $150,000. The organization will start by tapping the community and corporate sponsors, and follow that up with fundraising events.

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: Erin DeCou, Neighborhood Bike Works

Groundswell and University City District give The Porch an upgrade

People used to rush through the sidewalk outside of 30th Street Station, determined to get to the train or to work in the neighborhood as quickly as possible. But then University City District (UCD) initiated a proof-of-concept test, hoping to prove that people would use the underutilized stretch of concrete as a public space -- if there was something to tempt them. 

In November 2011, The Porch at 30th Street Station was born. It featured planters, benches and café tables. The sunny, flexible spot became mighty popular as a lunch destination for nearby workers, but could it be more? 

On May 27, UCD and its design partner Groundswell opened what they call Porch 2.0 featuring an installation of nine tiered wooden platforms built around existing planters and benches to maximize the places where visitors can eat, hang out and enjoy themselves. The mission: Give people a place to really spend some time, preferably in off hours.

"We took it from a [place to] pause to a [place to] stay," explains David Fierabend, principal at Groundswell. The local firm is also responsible for stunning design projects such as Spruce Street Harbor Park, Morgan's Pier and Independence Beer Garden

The space is also upping its food game. The lunch trucks that had paid a flat fee to serve customers at The Porch are gone, replaced by a permanent food truck called Rotisserie at the Porch. Rotisserie will be managed by Michael Schulson, the restauranteur behind Sampan, Graffiti Bar, Independence Beer Garden and other eateries. There will also be a beverage trailer serving beer and liquor Wednesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Prema Gupta, director of planning and economic development at UCD, hopes Philadelphians will be pleasantly surprised: "Where this is really interesting is that a small fraction of the people using it will come deliberately, but I think a lot of people will come out of 30th Street Station and decide to stay and check out The Porch." 

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: David Fierabend, Groundswell

 

The Drake architects preview Philly's newest theater hub

After 18 years at the Adrienne, InterAct Theatre Company is moving to The Drake at 1512 Spruce Street, a former University of the Arts dance space. Metcalfe Architecture & Design (MA&D) has been working with InterAct (who will be leasing additional space to PlayPenn, Simpatico Theatre Project, Azuka Theatre and Inis Nua Theatre) to create the perfect new home, and they gave Flying Kite a preview of the layout.

The Center City-based company has a dual specialty, explains principal Alan Metcalfe: They’re an architecture and exhibit design firm that focuses on work for museums, schools, cultural institutions and other nonprofits.

Their dedication to spaces that foster social interaction is a great fit for the new vision at The Drake. There will be one box office, two black-box stages and two lobbies with separate entrancse. The InterAct lobby will double as a coffee and work lounge for Philly’s creative types during the day.

There are several unique components to the space. InterAct asked MA&D to scale back some of the design elements of their lobby, explains lead architect Chris Kircher, because one corner of that space will be reserved for "micro-performances," complete with rigging for lights and lighting controls. The theater company also insisted on unisex bathrooms for the lobby/lounge space.

The construction phase of the project, which the architects estimate will take about three months once all the necessary permits are acquired, will also have an unusual aspect -- employees of InterAct are pitching in on the actual construction: building their stage, the riders for the seating and some custom elements of the tech booth.

The seating for the InterAct stage will be fixed, while the slightly smaller second space will have removable seating, a sprung floor and a square shape, allowing for a very flexible performance area.

It’s been a special project all around, Metcalfe continues. The company and the architects were free from the need to wrestle with zoning codes to convert the use because the space is already zoned as a theater.

"Imagine how hard it is to find existing theater space in the middle of Center City," he says. "It was really a dream come true for InterAct." 

"In the lobbies themselves, there’ll be some exposed brick-work, exposed concrete beams and columns; all the piping and mechanical systems will be exposed," says Kircher of the space's "raw industrial-type feel...[There's] sort of an oxymoron in the idea that we’re exposing the truth about the architectural aspects of the space," but inside of a theater, which is all about creating artificial environments onstage.

"When we came into the space, everything was covered up, and we were gleefully pushing at ceiling panels, looking to see what was up there," recalls Metcalfe. "The world of theater and urban design has changed so much, from 'cover it all up and make it look like everything else' to 'let the character show.'"

InterAct is hoping to get into the Drake by September under a 15-year lease; the arts community should stay tuned for news of when performances will commence.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Alan Metcalfe and Chris Kircher, Metcalfe Architecture & Design

Could Spring Garden Street become the city's iconic greenway?

Almost everyone's heard of the Appalachian Trail, but how about the East Coast Greenway? It’s a developing trail system that stretches for 2,900 miles, winding its way from Maine to Florida. But the route through the City of Philadelphia remains lacking, and several years of planning have targeted Spring Garden Street as an optimal thoroughfare. It could be a transformational project, for travelers and residents alike.

On April 30 -- just before the biannual State of the Greenway Summit convened in Philly -- a team of federal auditors from the U.S. Department of Transportation visited the street to assess the plans.

The Greenway Summit was convened by the Durham, N.C.-based East Coast Greenway Alliance (ECGA). According to Executive Director Dennis Markatos-Soriano, ECGA chose Philly (where it has a regional office) in tribute to its recent progress in pioneering new trails and green spaces within the city.

"From Maine to Florida, they were so inspired by the progress in Philadelphia," he says. "They're going to go back to their communities and say, 'I want to do what Philadelphia [is doing].'"

The spotlight on Spring Garden as the ideal Philly piece of the Greenway -- running for 2.1 miles from Delaware Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue -- has been growing since 2009, when the Pennsylvania Environmental Council completed its Center City Greenway Feasibility Study. That was followed in 2011 by a conceptual master plan for a "cycletrack" on Spring Garden, serving both Greenway users and everyday Philly commuters, while also boosting stormwater management and other green efforts. The study, which incorporated input from the surrounding communities, concluded that a new bike and pedestrian-centered pathway could still leave enough space for drivers and parking.

"It’s a great area. It already has bike lanes," says Markatos-Soriano of Spring Garden Street, but "many users have already identified that safety can be advanced."

Multi-modal is the word -- especially on the Philly portion of the trail.

"We are about helping people who may be currently driving around to see that there’s a safe space for active transport," he adds. He wants future trail users to know "they don’t have to get in the car and pay all that money for insurance and fuel."

The existing Greenway gets 10 million visits per year, and Markatos-Soriano is hoping that with continued expansions, that will jump to 100 million, making it "the most popular linear park in America." Many people already walk or bike long stretches of the Greenway, but without the tents and gear that Appalachian Trail users carry -- Greenway travelers can indulge in restaurants, hotels, and cultural and architectural attractions along the way.

The April 30 audit didn’t yield any firm deadlines for construction or a finalized plan, but "the fact that we’re having this conversation and bringing all the minds together is going to bring us the perfect solution," insists Markatos-Soriano, calling the Spring Garden Greenway stretch "a huge improvement that I know is going to be implemented."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Dennis Markatos-Sorianos, East Coast Greenway Alliance

 

Beer, Zumba, art, science and more transform The Oval this summer

As discussion builds around a 2012-13 PennPraxis plan titled "More Park, Less Way: An Action Plan for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway," part of that initiative’s goal is already being realized: a freshly activated summer park space at the foot of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

"It envisioned some long-term permanent capital improvements, but also ways to activate spaces," explains Parks & Recreation First Deputy Commissioner Mark Focht of the 2013 shift that transformed the eight-acre space at 2451 Benjamin Franklin Parkway from Eakins Oval into "The Oval."

Long host to special events such as Fourth of July celebrations, the Oval is getting even more attention in terms of services and programming in summer 2015.

"We wanted to see how we could do a multi-week engagement that changed people’s perceptions of that space, and got folks engaged with it," says Focht.

Four weeks of programming in summer 2013 drew 35,000 visitors, and that number jumped to 80,000 last year. With Labor Day pushed to September 7 this year, that allows for an extra week of Oval fun -- the installation will run from July 15 through August 23. Based on the last two years, Focht projects even bigger attendance numbers for this summer.

Run through Parks & Rec and the Fairmount Park Conservancy, this year’s incarnation will boast over twenty programming partners, with free activities ranging from Zumba to bike safety sessions, storytelling, and art and science activities courtesy of nearby institutions such as the Art Museum and the Free Library.

The Trocadero will also bring back its beer garden, and up to four different food trucks will be on hand each day. Even the parking lot will get a makeover: In partnership with the Mural Arts Program, Baltimore-based artists Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn will paint the surface with designs that will carry over into all of the Oval’s visual branding for 2015.

And before the Oval’s 2015 programming launches, it will host something "unlike anything anyone’s seen on the Parkway," enthuses Focht. Saint-Gobain’s "Future Sensations," a collection of five fantastical pavilions will be free and open to the public from May 30 through June 6.

Four pavilions from the exhibition have already traveled to Shanghai and Sao Paolo, and one never-before-seen pavilion will be added for the Philly stop. The show is off to Paris next.

The Conservancy and Parks & Rec call it "a sensory journey in science, storytelling and art that celebrates the past three-and-a-half centuries and offers glimpses into future innovations that will transform the world."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Mark Focht, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

 

High Point Wholesale brings new life to a former post office in Mt. Airy

In April, High Point Wholesale, a new branch of Mt. Airy's beloved High Point Café, officially cut the ribbon on its repurposed early-20th-century space at 6700 Germantown Avenue. The building was once home to Mt. Airy's original post office.
 
While it’s born out of the café -- which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year -- High Point Wholesale isn't a retail or restaurant location. It will house office space, a bakery for High Point's signature treats (including a self-contained gluten-free kitchen), coffee roasting and a shipping operation -- something that wasn't possible in the tiny original space. 

"I created High Point Wholesale as a separate business from the café," explains founder by Meg Hagele, a Mt. Airy native. "We recognized we had to raise money. I couldn’t do it on a wing and a prayer."

An initial round of fundraising from investors netted $365,000, and after searching throughout the northwest neighborhoods for a space, renovations began in winter 2014.

But the road was harder than Hagele and her supporters predicted. The site's first contractor proved incapable of handling the job and securing the necessary permits -- High Point Wholesale seemed destined to fail.

They were "emotionally and financially devastated," recalls Hagele. "It was a dark and hard time to get through...There was a real crisis of conscience. Do we walk away?"

She decided to push forward.

"We were so excited and invested in being on Germantown Avenue and being a part of the revitalization of the Mt. Airy corridor," she explains. Hagele jumped into reworking the numbers, and a new round of fundraising amassed close to $200,000.

"All of our investment is 100 percent from customers of the café," Hagele says proudly.

Early this year, a Kickstarter campaign for smaller-scale and more far-flung supporters added almost $40,000 to that total; the funds will go towards final construction costs.

High Point Wholesale now occupies the building's main floor (3,300 square feet); building owner Mt. Airy USA is on the lower level (1,900 square feet).

The site's second contractor had a creative mind -- the space boasts the original basement beams repurposed as windowsills and a partial wall around the offices, lamps salvaged from a 1950s Cincinnati airport, and natural hewn Lancaster County white oak office desks. A National Endowment for Democracy grant administered through Mt. Airy USA helped outfit the space with a specialized electrical system that’s expensive to install, but will save money and energy on the business' commercial ovens down the line.

An April 11 party in the revamped space was expected to draw about 300 people -- the turnout topped 500.

It told Hagele a lot about how her businesses impact the local community.

"They were invested," she muses, "whether or not they were investors."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Meg Hagele, High Point Wholesale  

'Before I Die' closes at Drexel: University City's public space in transition

What do you want to do before you die? It’s an interesting question to pair with a complete makeover of one of Philly's educational landmarks. Over the past several months, Drexel University invited globetrotting artist Candy Chang to pose it as buildings at 38th and Powelton Streets were demolished.

Last summer, Drexel University City Development, LLC, in partnership with Wexford Science & Technology, LLC, bought the 14-acre site that housed the former University City High School, the Charles Drew Elementary School and the Walnut Center. According to a June 2014 statement from Drexel, the planned complex will total over 2.7 million square feet, with uses ranging from a new public school to residential, retail, recreational, laboratory and office space. The projected budget is almost $1 billion.

"It marks the end of one life and the beginning of another," says Chang of Drexel’s invitation to create one of her signature installations around the demolition site: Long chalkboard walls inscribed with line upon line following the words "Before I die I want to."

The designer and urban planner created her first "Before I Die" installation on a vacant building in New Orleans in 2011, and since then, with templates available to fans around the world, over 500 similar projects have sprouted up in 70 countries.

The University City site’s installation went up last fall, and it came down last week following the New Orleans-based Taiwanese-American artist’s April 30 lecture at Drexel: "Better Cities: Transforming Public Spaces Through Art & Design."

"The installation encourages people to pause and take a closer look at this space in transition," explains Chang.

In her process, she met with Powelton Village and Mantua community members to hear about the role the site played in their lives.

"One woman cried when she shared her memories of children who once went to that school," recalls the artist.

People have been sharing what they want to do before they die all over the walls of the installation. A few of Chang’s favorites include "drop all self-judgments" and "fix hearts I’ve broken."

"I also enjoyed some of the mashups of crude and contemplative responses. It reflects the gamut of humanity," she adds. Chang calls the installation a "personal anonymous prompt" which is "a gentle first step towards honesty and vulnerability in public," and increases trust and understanding in a community.

"These are essential elements for a more compassionate city, which can not only help us make better places but can help us become our best selves," she insists.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Candy Chang, “Before I Die”

Beautiful Bartram's Mile kicks off Philly's Civic Commons projects

The nice thing about a walk along the water isn’t just the pretty views, argues Schuylkill River Development Corporation (SRDC) spokesperson Danielle Gray of Bartram's Mile, recently announced as one of five projects in the city-wide Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.

"The beautiful thing about a riverfront greenway is it’s a lot of different things to a lot of different people," she explains.

And of all the Civic Commons projects, Bartram's Mile's groundbreaking is first on the docket.

The new Southwest Philadelphia stretch of the existing Schuylkill Banks riverfront trail and greenway will reach from Grays Ferry Avenue to 58th Street. It’ll be one more link in the Schuylkill River Trail, the East Coast Greenway and the Circuit trail network, leading right to Bartram's Garden.

Though this venerable Philly site is a National Historic Landmark, it doesn’t get nearly the traffic it could.

"Bartram's is such a beautiful, unique historic location, and [SRDC’s] interim goal has always been to connect Bartram’s Garden to the rest of Philadelphia," says Gray. "For a lot of people it’s just completely off their radar."

This project also addresses a hot topic in Fairmount Park studies and initiatives: providing access to the river for residents who have been barred from this beautiful natural resource by everything from highways to industrial development.

"For over a century, the river has been cut off from the adjacent neighborhoods," explains Gray. "We’re really happy to be opening up new stretches of riverfront that have been cut off for so long."

And that riverfront trail isn’t just about getting from point A to point B. There will be space for activities such as fishing, outdoor yoga or tai chi, reading, playing and biking -- plus kayaking and riverboat tours, and plans for movie screenings at Bartram’s Garden.

The rehabbed stretch of land will also be good for the environment, with attention paid to stormwater management, wildlife habitat preservation and restoration, and new trees and meadows.

And it will be good for business.

"After the Center City section opened, we definitely saw an increase in commercial and residential development," adds Gray.

Once the trail is complete and offering a convenient new artery for walkers and bikers from across the city, brownfield sites north and south of Bartram’s Garden will be "more attractive to developers, which will help pave the way for future commercial and light industrial development in Southwest Philadelphia," argues a factsheet from the Fairmount Park Conservancy.

Project partners include Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, the non-profit SRDC, the John Bartram Association and other City agencies. The dollars are coming from the City of Philadelphia, the William Penn Foundation, PennDOT, the Pew Foundation, the Lenfest Foundation, Councilwoman Blackwell's office and the Knight Foundation.

"We’re getting closer to an exact timeline every day," Gray says of construction details. For now, the final design for the space is expected by late spring or early summer of this year, with a groundbreaking expected this summer. Gray projects a 2016 opening for the new trail.  

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Danielle Gray, Schuylkill River Development Corporation

 

Mt. Airy USA and partners get $100,000 for neighborhood planning

This month, Mt. Airy USA announced that they had won a competitive $100,000 neighborhood planning grant, beating out applicants from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
 
The dollars from the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation will kickstart a year-long study and planning process in the northwest Philly neighborhood, scrutinizing everything from early childhood education and vacant buildings to commercial corridors and senior living opportunities.
 
"We have taken a very collaborative approach in the application process to get this grant," explains Mt. Airy USA executive director Anuj Gupta; stakeholders include East & West Mt. Airy Neighbors, the Mt. Airy Business Improvement District, Weavers Way Co-op and more.
 
Now that they’ve got the grant, the dollars will be administered through Mt. Airy USA, which means "even more collaboration" with a "true cross-section of stakeholders," he adds. Gupta feels that the neighborhood's cooperative, community-driven legacy helped the organization stand out among other applicants.
 
A neighborhood plan was completed in 2004, but it has now become irrelevant. That’s because of progress that has already been made, but also challenges no one foresaw, such as the foreclosure crisis. A new comprehensive look at the neighborhood’s structure, recreational demand and opportunities, and commercial development was needed, and now, the money is there to do it, with the help of a professional team of evaluators and planners including Urban Partners.
 
Beginning this spring, the process will include "a comprehensive evaluation of Mt. Airy’s physical environment," explains Gupta, including "the way residents view their neighborhood as is, and also what they want to see it become over the coming years."
 
That means a property-by-property survey (including questions on resident satisfaction), widely accessible community forums, focus groups and stakeholder interviews.
 
The results will reveal the true extent of Mt. Airy's blight and vacancy, while identifying new opportunities for housing rehabilitation. There will also be a market-driven analysis of opportunities for growth on the commercial corridors.
 
The process will culminate in a comprehensive 10-year plan for Mt. Airy, and, yes, Gupta laughs, that means more fundraising. But the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation does offer a grant program for implementation, so the organizations may set their sights on that next.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Anuj Gupta, Mt. Airy USA

 

$2.75 million renovation for Temple's Center City campus launches with a new public cafe

This month, Temple University cut the ribbon on its renovated Center City campus, just west of the revamped Dilworth Park.

According to Temple Center City Campus Director William Parshall, the upgrades -- which include a Barnes and Noble-run bookstore and café open to the public at 1515 Market Street -- had been in the works for about four years; construction on the $2.75 million project didn’t begin until 2014.

The work was three-pronged: a re-done entrance to the main lobby, significant renovations to the Fox School of Business space on the sixth floor and the new bookstore/café.

The Fox renovations are in line with a bigger trend in higher education.

"They created a new type of classroom called a collaborative learning studio," explains Parshall. Two existing classrooms were combined into "one giant classroom" -- the furniture is all on wheels, from the chairs and desks to white-boards.

"It gives faculty a great deal more flexibility in how they teach," he continues. A class as large as 70 can be arranged in a traditional lecture format, but can also break easily into smaller groups.

In addition, the upgrades included converting office space into additional student breakout rooms with LCD desktops and projectors, and an enhanced MBA student lounge.

"We have always been limited in our ability to provide food on-site, and it’s been very popular," says Parshall of the new café. It had a soft opening on March 2 during spring break, and business is now in full swing.

"The timing worked out really well," he adds, referencing the transformation of Dilworth Park. "A lot of our undergraduate students take the Broad Street Subway," and the new City Hall entrances are now much more inviting. More extensive City Hall station renovations are in the pipeline at SEPTA.

Temple’s next big Center City goal is working with the owner of 2 Penn Center and SEPTA on improving the plaza between the two buildings. Currently home to little more than some bike-racks and "one big slab of concrete," the area is very dark at night.

"One of the things that we would really like to see happen is some friendly lighting…something that would illuminate the plaza," says Parshall, making everyone feel more comfortable overnight. 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: William Parshall, Temple University

 

Do parklets really boost business? University City District gets the data

Are parklets -- the conversion of one or two parking spaces into an outdoor seating area complete with traffic-buffering plantings -- really a boost for nearby businesses? While plenty of detractors still insist that nothing maintains revenue and customer base like convenient parking, University City District (UCD) set out to quantify the impact of Philly’s first-ever parklets.

Working with the City of Philadelphia, UCD installed parklets in the spring and summer of 2011, turning parking spaces into attractive outdoor seating areas with the cooperation of adjacent businesses, who helped with clean-up and nighttime security for the benches and tables.

It seems like a socially, environmentally and economically positive initiative, but would the data be there to prove it? In March, UCD’s department of planning and economic development released a report titled "The Case for Parklets: Measuring the Impact on Sidewalk Vitality and Neighborhood Businesses."

The sample size so far is small: the user numbers, activities and demographics of six University City parklets observed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in spring and summer of 2013. But UCD Manager of Policy and Research Seth Budick insists that the results buoy the case for more parklets in Philly and beyond.

He notes that the busiest parklets were near small businesses, including restaurants with more customers than they could seat inside.

"If you provide additional seating outside the business in a comfortable, attractive way, that’s going to right away have a positive association with sales," he argues.

Numbers from four participating University City businesses bear this out: On average, they saw a 20 percent increase in sales while the parklets were installed (remarkable, the study notes, since the summer is not the season of peak traffic in University City, when many students are away).

According to UCD, the parklets attracted a crowd, especially those stationed outside a taco shop and an ice cream parlor: "Over 150 unique users over the course of a day in the 240 square feet that could otherwise have hosted just one or two parked cars."

But there are less tangible benefits, too.

"The parklet just changes people’s larger perceptions of a street," says Budick. "Instead of being a place you merely pass through, it becomes a hub of activity, a nexus for the community."

Especially in an "urban village" like University City where many residents know one another, it’s a chance to meet friends in the street, linger in a comfortable outdoor place or stop into neighboring businesses for an impromptu snack or drink.

According to Budick, one parklet at 43rd and Baltimore was a particularly good example of this. Already a "crossroads of the neighborhood" near the park, a farmer’s market and many businesses, a new "synergy" popped up in the former parking space.

"That feeds back into business activity," he continues. "It’s really what we call placemaking -- creating what people perceive as a place where before it was an intersection."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Seth Budick, University City District

 

Big announcements, big fun on the Delaware Waterfront this summer

"The additions to the Delaware River Waterfront in recent years are truly remarkable," enthused Mayor Michael A. Nutter on April 9 at the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation's summer programming announcement. The upcoming warm-weather festivities will include a first-of-its-kind outdoor roller rink and the return of Spruce Street Harbor Park. 

Since 2009, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation has worked to activate the city's underused spaces. This year, the organization is partnering with Independence Blue Cross and Univest/Valley Green Bank, enabling them to move toward seven-day-a-week programming.

"[This] helps us build towards our mission of making the waterfront a recreation destination throughout the year," explains Communications Manager Emma Fried-Cassorla.

Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest, Philadelphia's first and only outdoor roller rink, will replace the popular Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest site, giving the space year-round vibrancy. The rink  -- featuring roller and in-line skates as well as a high-end roller-hockey-grade flooring system -- will be open seven days a week from May 22 through the end of September. 

The Winterfest Lodge will transform into a boathouse-themed restaurant and venue, decorated in a relaxed summer vibe. The whole fest will be free and open to the public (with roller skating being the only ticketed activity; Independence Blue Cross cardholders skate for free).

Also luring the hot, thirsty and bored east will be the return of Spruce Street Harbor Park (SSHP). The wildly-popular boardwalk-inspired installation will open Memorial Day weekend, a month earlier than last year, and expand its offerings -- that means more seating, more hammocks, more dining choices, more beer and more family-friendly attractions. The park will also boast a new meadow donated by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a re-imagined version of the Oasis.

In addition to the new outdoor roller rink and SSHP, Philadelphians and visitors can also enjoy a slate concerts, festivals, and movies along the waterfront this summer. 

Writer: Hailey Blessing
Source: Delaware River Waterfront Corporation
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