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Save Jewelers Row petition gains quick support in the face of proposed development

What would Jeweler’s Row look like with a brand-new 16-story mixed-use residential tower plopped onto the 700 block of Sansom Street? Philly citizens are grappling with the prospect ever since The Inquirer broke the news about the proposed Toll Brothers development. The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia acted quickly.

To unify the voices who believe that demolishing five properties from 702-710 Sansom Street would be a loss to Philly’s historic urban fabric, the Preservation Alliance launched a Save Jewelers Row! petition, addressed to City of Philadelphia Director of Planning and Development Anne Fadullon.

Less than a week after its launch on August 11, the petition had garnered almost 3,500 signatures and many comments from concerned locals.

"It was a tool available to give the many people out there who find this proposal shocking and upsetting a voice -- to say to City officials and the developer that we, Philadelphians, don’t want this to happen on Jewelers Row," explains Paul Steinke, executive director at the Preservation Alliance.

He says that the targeted buildings on the brick-paved street are typical of the original Jewelers Row built environment: "small-scale buildings of different sizes, shapes and styles," many dating from the mid-19th century.

"Jewelers Row is the oldest diamond district or jewelry district in the U.S., and the second-largest after New York," adds Steinke, calling it "one of the most iconic retail districts in the city."

The petition’s immediate goal is saving the buildings in question, and maybe with a strong enough response from preservationists and area residents, the developer could be persuaded to build on vacant land or a parking lot.

"Gouging out these six buildings will forever alter Jewelers Row and ruin one of our city’s most iconic destinations," the petition reads.

But Steinke also hopes the petition will help bring attention to larger issues, including the neighborhood’s CMX-5 zoning code, which enabled the project in the first place. That zoning -- which is the same zoning as for buildings like the Comcast Center or Liberty Place -- is "too dense for a street like Jewelers Row," he insists.

Another issue is that Jewelers Row is not a designated local historic district. It’s recognized as "contributing to a national historic district," but is not itself protected. The trouble lies with Philly’s Historical Commission, which, according to Steinke, has not designated any new historic districts since 2010.

"I think the interest in [the petition] is really prodigious," he adds. "It sends a strong signal that Philadelphians care about their city’s historic fabric and are concerned about its potential loss at the hands of developers."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Paul Steinke, Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia

PARK(ing) Day 2016 celebrates nine years of pop-up parklets in Philly

For the ninth straight year, an international event celebrating the transformation of public space is coming to Philadelphia. PARK(ing) Day, held worldwide on the third Friday of September, invites individuals and groups to temporarily repurpose a city parking space for relaxation, play and education. The 2016 incarnation is happening citywide on Friday, September 16 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Founded by the San Francisco-based Rebar Group in 2005, PARK(ing) Day came to Philly in 2008. The next year, the local Center for Architecture and Design (CAD) took the event under its umbrella.

"It’s certainly grown," says CAD Associate Director David Bender. In 2015, there were approximately 60 participating teams, up from about 25 in 2008. A wide variety of groups create spaces with themes from local history to stormwater management to neighborhood revitalization. Some simply repurpose what is usually a parking space into a miniature day-long oasis for anyone passing by.

CAD has even instituted a special prize: the Golden Cone Award. The five categories vary by year based on what participants dream up. Last year one of the winners was a parklet created by the North 5th Street Revitalization Project -- it won for being the site furthest from Center City: about 57 blocks north.

"We’ll see if anyone gets even further than that [this] year," says Bender. "What’s great about Philadelphia in particular is that the Parking Authority has really come on board full force, and they encourage us to do this. Philadelphia sees the value in public spaces and we’ve got leadership that can see beyond their narrow mandate."

According to Bender, the major goals for the day are for the public to have fun, ro see the value of public space, and to "begin to question the way that our environment is designed, and if it’s designed in a way that best serves our community today."

PARK(ing) Day Philadelphia is presented by the CAD in partnership with the Philadelphia Parking Authority, AIA Philadelphia, the Community Design Collaborative and the Charter High School for Architecture and Design. To celebrate, there will be food and music at a PARK(ing) Day after-party and awards ceremony from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Center for Architecture and Design (1218 Arch Street).

The deadline to register is Wednesday, August 31. More info and the required forms are available online.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: David Bender, The Center for Architecture and Design
 

MAAG partners with Mt. Airy USA for new Germantown Avenue development

When a major community hub loses its lease, what happens next?

About a year ago, we spoke with Mt. Airy Art Garage (MAAG) leaders about moving forward after unexpectedly losing their space. It was quite a blow given the nonprofit’s investment of about $250,000 to rehab and customize the formerly vacant and unfinished property near the corner of Germantown and West Mt. Airy Avenues.

Now things are looking up thanks to a partnership with Mt. Airy USA, a local community development organization.

"I think we’ve always recognized how important the artist community is for the neighborhood," says Mt. Airy USA Executive Director Brad Copeland. He’s been working with MAAG co-founders Linda Slodki and Arleen Olshan to give their organization a home in an upcoming mixed-use redevelopment on the 6600 block of Germantown Avenue.

The targeted site is actually two different parcels: Mt. Airy USA had already acquired the property at 6651-53 and begun a rehab; the more recently purchased lot is next door at 6657-59.

The building at 6657-59 was "the most blighted building on that stretch of Germantown Avenue," explains Copeland, calling it "a high-priority property for us…we started thinking about the site as a whole -- what we could do with the combined parcels."

That was when Mt. Airy USA reached out to Slodki and Olshan about whether the new space’s potential commercial footprint of 2,500 square feet could be a good fit for MAAG. The conversation continued from there. Copeland estimates that the new building will be ready for occupancy sometime in 2018 (Mt. Airy USA will partner with a to-be-announced developer).

The organization hopes to have a plan in place for the design and construction of the property -- anchored by MAAG with residential space and perhaps some artist studios -- by this fall. A public meeting in October or November will be held so community members can offer input to the developer.

"There’s a lot of activity in the neighborhood," says Copeland. "It did make sense for us to try to find out how to be good partners."

MAAG has to vacate its current location on August 31. Until it moves into the new space, the organization will be in pop-up mode. Some events will land at 6622 Germantown Avenue; classes and artist group meetings will take place at the Philadelphia Immigrant Innovation Hub at 6700 Germantown Avenue. Patrons and members can visit MAAG at the Lutheran Theological Seminary for Philadelphia Open Studio Tour and the organization's annual Holiday Art Market later this year.

"It’s a pretty exciting project," adds Copeland. "I think the opportunities that come out of it for further kinds of collaboration are even more exciting."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Brad Copeland, Mt. Airy USA

Shift Capital's MaKen Studios brings big change to Kensington

Currently, the most profitable trend for developers is to convert Philadelphia's former industrial behemoths into residential properties. But Shift Capital leaders Brian Murray and Matthew Grande say they're resisting the advice of most brokers with their massive MaKen Studios project on I Street in Kensington. 

"The first thing this area needs is jobs," not more housing, insisted Grande, Shift’s Chief Operating Officer, during an early August presentation to local organizations including Generocity, Campus Philly, Urban Affairs CoalitionPIDC and Flying Kite.

Shift Capital, "a real estate impact group" focused on urban revitalization through "shifts in environmental, social, and economic viability," is finally ready to "start talking to the greater Philadelphia community about what we’re doing," added Founder and Principal Brian Murray.

With a poverty rate nearing 60 percent and a lack of anchor institutions -- such as universities and hospitals -- Kensington relies on the innovation and collaboration of smaller groups like Impact Services CDC and New Kensington CDC.

In Shift’s upcoming MaKen Studios, former industrial space will be available for rent to interdisciplinary artists, small businesses and manufacturers. The project includes two massive buildings in Kensington’s Harrowgate neighborhood at 3525 and 3401 I Street.

Shift purchased the building at 3525 -- dubbed "MaKen North" (home of Jomar Textiles, Inc. until 2010) -- in December 2013 and "MaKen South," the building at 3401 (which includes 8000 square feet of space for the operations and distributions of Snap Kitchen) in February of 2013. The latter building includes 25,000 square feet of south-facing open space, perfect for events overlooking the city.

The former Jomar building will house Shift Capital’s new offices (currently the company operates out of a space on Castor Avenue just south of the Erie-Torresdale stop on the Market-Frankford Line). Prospective tenants already on the docket include a woodworker, a metalworker, a photographer and a small-batch manufacturer. Grande estimates that renovations will be completed in November

Lease terms for the spaces will be flexible, he says -- they could span anywhere from one to ten years. Some makers and companies tour the half-finished spaces and want to sign on right away; others feel that they’d be ready within a few years.

Grande and Murray hope that MaKen Studios will be the perfect spot for a wide range of makers and small businesses, creating much-needed local jobs and taking advantage of the neighborhood’s accessibility to Center City: under twenty minutes on the Market-Frankford Line, and even closer to Fishtown and Northern Liberties.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Brian Murray and Matthew Grande, Shift Capital

TourPHL is an exciting new resource for lovers of the built environment

Before this year, locals and tourists who were interested in the stories of the Philadelphia's built environment had limited options. But thanks to a brainstorm from Center for Architecture and Design Associate Director David Bender, there’s a new resource in town for those who want to go beyond Independence Hall and Elfreth's Alley.

A team of partners -- including the Center for Architecture, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and Hidden City Philadelphia--  have joined forces for a new collaborative resource that pools listings of various tours: TourPHL.org.

"There’s an appetite out there to explore other parts of Philadelphia, but it is less economically viable," explains Hidden City Project Director Peter Woodall, comparing the offerings of an organization like Hidden City against major for-profit tourist draws like Ride the Ducks. "[This is] why you see most of the tours that are outside that Colonial center being run by nonprofits."

TourPHL partners and their offerings represent what Woodall calls areas "that the market doesn’t really service, but are really important and are valuable.”

The project was sparked by Bender in spring 2015. The partners began to bat around ideas about how they could better cooperate -- a website where all the organizations could list their tours was the top idea that emerged.

A few months ago, TourPHL launched. It’s still in its early stages and Woodall has been working to build and maintain it.

He hopes that as the site attracts more traffic, it will gain visibility for locals and tourists who want to "find all of these in-depth tours that go way beyond the Colonial Philadelphia," he says.

Hidden City (coming up on its fifth anniversary this September) is already good at reaching local fans through published stories and social media, "but if you’re just rolling into Philly for a visit, that’s a completely different marketing situation that requires a lot of work," explains Woodall. Now all the information is in one place.

Woodall points to popular Hidden City tours like one of Mt. Moriah Cemetery (which actually spans the Philadelphia city line into Yeadon); one focused on Philly’s industrial history; a bike tour with SPOKE Magazine; and a tour from Center City up into Northern Liberties and Kensington, inviting participants to "understand how you might read certain cues in the urban landscape, and extrapolate from there certain things about how the city developed."

While TourPHL.org grows, folks can follow along on Facebook for information on events like Hidden City’s August 13 Forgotten North Broad Street Tour.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Peter Woodall, Hidden City Philadelphia 

Germantown's YWCA gets another shot at redevelopment

Back in winter of 2015, Flying Kite featured voices calling for the stabilization and reuse of the old Germantown YWCA, an early 20th-century fixture of Germantown Avenue on the northwest side of Vernon Park. This summer, a new RFP is out and neighbors are excited about the future of this historic building.
 
Built in 1914 and owned by the YMCA until its 2006 purchase by Germantown Settlement, the site was an important recreational, social and cultural hub for the neighborhood. By the time the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) acquired the building in 2013 for about $1.3 million, fires, vandalism and neglect had led to major safety and financial concerns. The PRA issued an initial RFP with options to demolish or redevelop the property in 2014.
 
That RFP yielded only one proposal, which the PRA didn't greenlight.
 
Amid avid community support for saving the building -- as well as support from Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass -- the PRA applied nearly $1.6 million in Neighborhood Transformation Initiative dollars to improve the building. That work included boarding up windows, structural stabilization and installing a new roof; construction ran from August 2015 to March 2016.
 
“The building’s in much better and more stable shape now than it was previously,” says PRA Executive Director Gregory Heller. When he came on to helm PRA last April, "one of the first things I started looking at are some big, high-profile buildings and pieces of land that are really important to communities that we just need to get out there for redevelopment…and the Germantown YWCA was pretty high on that list."
 
According to the new RFP, "The proposed rehabilitation plan should take into consideration the neighborhood and provide an attractive, well-designed development that enhances the quality and physical appearance of the community." Developers should be aware of the building’s history, preserve its façade and incorporate eco-friendly design features.
 
The RFP has no option for demolition, so neighbors who wanted the structure preserved have gotten their wish. No formal subsidies are offered to potential developers, but the PRA considers the official starting bid of $69,000 to be a subsidy in itself.
  
So far, there’s been a fair amount of interest: eight firms joined an initial walk-through of the building on July 27. (The next pre-submission site visit is scheduled for August 10.)
 
All proposals are due by August 16, 2016; a selection will be finalized by September 30 and an agreement drafted on October 14. The YWCA RFP marks the first time that the PRA will able to accept electronic submissions.
 
"I’ve been getting a lot of support for this," adds Heller. "People are really excited about the potential for bringing that property back and getting it redeveloped."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Gregory Heller, Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority

U.S. Department of Transportation design event targets Vine Street

In July, a special charrette led by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) -- one of four events nationwide -- targeted the Vine Street corridor. The goal was to brainstorm ideas for improving the quality of life along Route 676 for commuters and residents alike.

On July 14 and 15, the Chinese Christian Church & Center at 11th and Vine hosted a program packed with community outreach, tours, discussions and presentations. Partners included the Deputy Managing Director’s Office of Transportation & Infrastructure Systems (OTIS; formerly the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities), the Commerce Department, PennDOT, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) and the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation.

"This exercise has been fantastic because of all these different players in the room," enthused USDOT Chief Opportunities Officer Stephanie Jones.

Before the charrette's final public session, DVRPC Associate Director of Transportation Greg Krykewycz told Flying Kite that the event had "developed an integrated set of ideas" that made it a candidate for the DVRPC Work Program, which studies proposed infrastructure improvements as a possible step toward funding and implementation.

OTIS was responsible for bringing the needs of Vine Street to the USDOT Ladders of Opportunity Every Place Counts Design Challenge. The Washington, D.C.-based Congress for New Urbanism helps USDOT enlist city planners and designers to provide their expertise at the subsquent Ladders of Opportunity charrettes. The Philly event included walking tours, visioning and design meetings, and public forums for reacting to the preliminary designs produced. Participating architects and urban designers included Cindy Zerger and Ken Ray of Toole Design Group, and independent city planner Peter Park of Denver.

According to Park, the team’s observations included Vine Street bridge crossings that are "dangerous," "uncomfortable," and "inhospitable," fast-moving cars, and difficulty in navigating the designated crossing streets. But the "gravitas" of the neighborhood’s "historic urban fabric abounds," he added, even though it’s been "interrupted in significant ways" since the Expressway cut through Chinatown half a century ago.

USDOT's Stephanie Gidigbi shared a distilled vision from designers and participating community members after the two-day session: They hope to "re-imagine community gateways for the Vine Street Corridor that create inclusive and equitable commercial and residential neighborhood connections." More specific themes included green infrastructure, the study of vacant and underutilized space, mixed-use development potential, road diets, landscaping, new crossings and redevelopment of existing surface parking lots.

All of the concepts presented to the full house were preliminary ideas which will require further community input and study. They included a bike and pedestrian bridge to connect Vine Street to the Rail Park and Franklin Square; a "buffered bikeway" on Vine Street that would narrow the roadway and place parking between cyclists and drivers; partially capped bridges; separate bike and pedestrian space in crosswalks; stormwater planters; lighting improvements; and a traffic lane exclusively for bikes and buses.

Gidigbi urged participants to take the momentum into the neighborhood and engage residents in next steps (a report from the event will be made available online). This USDOT design challenge isn’t a finishing point, she added: The goal is to "ignite the conversation."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Greg Krykewycz, DVRPC; and Ladders of Opportunity leaders and designers

LEED certification meets affordable housing in Fishtown

A new row of homes in Fishtown may represent the future of sustainable development, from both an environmental perspective and a community one. Local developer Postgreen HomesAwesometown (14 units on the 400 block of Thompson Street) is the result of a unique longterm collaboration between the company and the New Kensington CDC.

The project, which features super-insulated walls and roofs, triple pane windows, Energy Star HVAC, green roofs and roof terraces, was certified LEED Platinum in June. The three- and four-bedroom two-bath units boast 1750 to 2100 square feet, with parking for up to two cars. Postgreen Development Manager Brian Ledder says the $420,000 base price aims to be within reach for those making 90 to 110 percent of the median income for the area.

Currently, eight homes are finished and six are still under construction. They’re all sold (four with the help of financing through NKCDC). Philadelphia’s Interface Studio Architects designed the project to achieve the LEED standard; eco-friendly specialist Hybrid Construction is the builder.

According to Ledder, NKCDC held the land, but the site’s history as the former home of Pathan Chemical and a fire after the business was vacated, meant there were challenging environmental issues to resolve. NKCDC wanted to partner with a developer that could handle the remediation (including soil replacement) and that "was interested in being sympathetic to the neighborhood as it was existing...as well as keeping the income levels where they were."

Postgreen launched in 2008, "just after the economy tanked," Ledder recalls, but it turned out to be the right decision: land was cheap, subcontractors needed work and it was a good time to lay groundwork with vendors. The company began by building about three homes per year -- now it’s building 30, with its own construction arm and a sales team.

The next homes available from Postgreen will be the nine-unit Arbor House at the corner of York and Memphis Streets, built to the same green standards as Awesometown. Ledder estimates they’ll be done by early 2017, with sales opening soon.

Postgreen launched the Awesometown development with NKCDC "to prove that you could [achieve LEED certification] at the same time as maintaining affordable units," he concludes. "It didn’t have to be a compromise."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Brian Ledder, Postgreen Homes

Tacony's temporary library builds buzz on Torresdale Avenue

The new South Philadelphia Library is open on Broad Street, but it's only the first of five major renovations planned at libraries across the city. And while work is officially underway on the Tacony Library at Torresdale Avenue and Knorr Street -- it's scheduled to last 18 months -- Tacony isn’t missing a beat in the meantime.
 
"These renovations don’t mean this community should go without a library," explained Sixth District Councilman Bobby Henon at the opening of the Tacony Library and Arts Building (LAB) on June 29. While construction on the new building continues (as part of the Free Library’s Pew-funded Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative), a partnership between the Mural Arts Program (MAP), the Free Library and the Tacony Community Development Corporation has led to this temporary space.
 
Now open at 6918 Torresdale Avenue, LAB occupies a street-level storefront that has been vacant for almost three years. Speakers at the opening included Free Library President and Director Siobhan Reardon and Tacony CDC Director Alex Balloon. They connected the temporary space to the mission of the future library: offering support and resources for small business owners, and spurring the evolution and revitalization of Tacony's commercial corridor.
 
LAB, a "hub for learning, creativity and community engagement," according to the Free Library, will host two MAP artists-in-residence: Nick Cassway (who hopes to develop a solar-powered parklet) and Mariel Capanna (a fresco artist whose residency will focus on the neighborhood’s industrial history). LAB will also play host to public art events, storytime for kids, a computer lab and free WIFI, and a selection of books to borrow.
 
"How we bring art and literature together will be a great experiment at Tacony LAB," said Reardon.

MAP Founder and Executive Director Jane Golden described the space as active and participatory, and hopes that more like it will result from similar partnerships in the future.
 
"It’s an awesome place and something that’s going to be modeled throughout the city of Philadelphia," added Henon.
 
Tacony LAB will open from noon to 8 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays; 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; and Fridays from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Councilman Bobby Henon and other LAB speakers 

At Bartram's, Philly's only 19th century flower garden blooms again

In March, we looked in on the reopening of Bartram House after a $2.7 million renovation project that included vital exterior rehabbing and the construction of 12 geothermal wells. Then on July 14, Mayor Jim Kenney, Senator Anthony Williams, Bartram’s Garden Executive Director Maitreyi Roy and other leaders formally celebrated the restoration of the Ann Bartram Carr Garden, an important 19th century horticultural landmark. (Bartram’s Garden is in our current On the Ground neighborhood.)
 
Developed and maintained on the west side of the house by John Bartram’s granddaughter Ann Bartram Carr (1779-1858), the garden featured ten greenhouses, 1,400 native plant species and about 1,000 exotic plants. Building on the Bartram family legacy of horticultural art, collections and writings -- as well as a world-wide trade in seeds and plants -- the enterprise started in 1810 and continued until the property’s sale in 1850.
 
Buyer Andrew Eastwick preserved the property until the City of Philadelphia took over the historic site. Stewardship of the house and grounds continues to this day in partnership with the John Bartram Association, formed in 1893.
 
Now Carr’s restored 19th-century flower garden is open to the public. Bartram's hosts about 50,000 visitors per year, and the upcoming Bartram’s Mile trail will boost those numbers.
 
"This is what it feels like to steward a legacy," said Bartram's President Elizabeth Stressi-Stoppe of combing through the site’s photographic, archival and architectural history and bringing the garden back to life. "We wanted to get it right."
 
"Ann remains as important today as she did in her time," added Roy.
 
The renovation of recreation centers and gardens is "essential for investment in our neighborhoods and communities," said Mayor Kenney, calling the new Bartram’s Philly’s "living room." He pointed to the fact that all state and city funding for the project came thanks to taxpayers putting their dollars into community green space.
 
"I’m proud to be a Philadelphian today," he enthused.
 
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell praised the site as a burgeoning destination not only for Philadelphians, but for travelers from across the country. Bressi-Stoppe called it a "nexus" for the cultural, physical and programmatic improvements happening all along the Schuylkill River.
 
Senator Williams touted the "vision, commitment and tenacity" of the Bartram’s board, staff and partners, and called his support for its funding "a simple responsibility," especially since his own father grew up nearby. He also pointed to the Bartram family’s Quaker legacy of peace, understanding and humanity.
 
"It’s much bigger than a garden to me," he continued. "Today is a statement. For all the violence, this is a place of peace."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Ann Bartram Carr Garden speakers

 
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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.

Support living shorelines at a pioneering Philly park

According to a campaign from Pew Charitable Trusts, U.S. coastlines are in serious trouble: The expanding use of concrete bulkheads and seawalls is "threatening the borders of our oceans, lakes and rivers," damaging and destroying wetlands that people, plants and animals rely on. Fortunately, Philadelphia is host to one of the only sites in the region working on a real solution.

In 2012, at Lardner's Point Park in Tacony, the Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC) constructed what’s known as a "living shoreline" on the Delaware River (check out our recent look at the upcoming K&T trail on the same site). In lieu of a concrete structure between water and land, a permanent installation of rocks and native plants preserves the natural habitat and helps prevent erosion and flooding.

Now Pew is helping to spread the word as the Army Corps of Engineers is opening a public comment period on its proposal to create a unified, nationwide permitting process for the creation of living shorelines. Currently, obtaining permits to develop these coastal structures can be a lengthy and onerous process without consistent standards from state to state -- meanwhile, it’s quick and cost-effective to obtain a permit for a traditional bulkhead or seawall.

According to Laura Lightbody, project director of Pew's Flood-Prepared Communities Initiative, advancing this nature-based infrastructure solution -- which helps mitigate disasters like storms and floods -- is about "protecting people and property, and reducing the cost to the federal government," as well as preserving and restoring natural habitats.

"Part of our effort is to do education for the American public about the benefit and value of living shorelines as a way to demonstrate to the Corps a need for the nationwide permit," she says. Lightbody calls Philadelphia a "unique area to highlight, where living shorelines are in a diverse geographic region."

Lardner’s Point Park was a great site for that effort, she continues: formerly not accessible to the public, the shoreline is now something "to be incorporated with other outside recreational activities for the community."

DRCC and Pew will hold a tour of the Lardner’s living shoreline in mid-July -- the timing is perfect to see the full potential of what was built in 2012 since it can take a few years for the vegetation to mature. Unlike a concrete shoreline structure which deteriorates, a living shoreline is an excellent infrastructure investment. They "tend to become more durable and more substantial over time," as the natural vegetation takes hold, explains Lightbody.

To find out more and comment on the Army Corps of Engineers proposal to streamline the permitting of living shorelines, click here

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Laura Lightbody, Pew Charitable Trusts

Parks on Tap now open through September

We've been watching the progress of an exciting new summer program: Parks on Tap, a mobile beer garden that will pop up in 14 different city parks for one week each through October 2. On June 29, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell and other partners cut the Parks on Tap ribbon just south of the Walnut Street Bridge. Schuylkill Banks was the first stop (through July 4).

"It’s probably going to start here in Philadelphia and then be stolen and replicated across the country," said Ott Lovell of the program, which offers gourmet food, snacks and drinks, family-friendly games and activities, and seating for up to 200 people in chairs and hammocks.

Parks on Tap is a partnership of Parks & Rec, the Fairmount Park Conservancy, and FCM Hospitality (the company behind Philly hot spots Morgan’s Pier and Union Transfer, and the annual Waterfront Winterfest at Penn's Landing).

"When you say you want to serve beer in a public park, the first thing most people say is, 'Hell no,'" said FCM Hospitality owner Avram Hornik of the program’s innovative bent. He pointed to the family-friendly atmosphere of the pop-ups and the chance to connect with neighbors in new ways.

Unlike the suburbs, where green space is usually privately owned, parks in the city "are common space. They belong to all of us," he continued.

Interim Conservancy Executive Director Tim Clair praised Elizabeth Moselle, Conservancy Associate Director of Business Development (who spoke with Flying Kite in March about the Parks on Tap plans) for her work on making the program a reality.

Each Parks on Tap pop-up will have two concession trucks: one with regional craft beers, wine and non-alcoholic drinks, and one serving a menu developed by local chef Mitch Prensky (owner of Scratch Biscuits and Global Dish Caterers). Food on offer includes a wide variety of hot sliders, vegan and vegetarian noodles and salads, and a range of snacks and desserts.

The program will ride throughout the city for the next few months: stops include Aviator Park on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (July 20-25), West Philly’s Clark Park (July 27-31), FDR Park at 1500 Pattison Avenue (September 1-5) and many others. (Check out Parks on Tap online for the full schedule and special events.)

Ott Lovell believes the program will be an effective way of "bringing people out to park spaces that they might not otherwise visit." She hopes Parks on Tap will endure and expand in future summer seasons.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Kathryn Ott Lovell, Fairmount Park Conservancy, and other speakers

The South Philadelphia Library opens on Broad Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New life for vacant lots in Southwest Philadelphia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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