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Temple's gorgeous new campus quad gets the green light

When Temple University architect Margaret Carney first toured the campus, something struck her as unusual.

"I was surprised to see how little open space there was," she recalls. "When you think about a campus, the open space that is the core and heart of the campus is generally the most memorable spot."

That’s why she calls a large proposed green space at Temple, part of the university’s 20/20 plan, "a real game-changer for Temple and really for North Philadelphia."

The quad is proposed for the city block between 12th and 13th Streets, and Norris and Berks Streets (Polett Walk on the Temple campus); it will be close to the size of Rittenhouse and Washington Square Parks.

While Temple doesn’t have plans to expand beyond its footprint, the opportunity for this new green space is an exciting one for the university and the local community. Temple has the challenges of a city campus, explains Carney. Instead of an overarching master plan that would be easier to enact in a less populous zone, Temple has had "more organic growth as city blocks became available."

Though the space hasn’t been formally designed yet, Carney can already point to a multitude of possible uses, from walking, biking, picnicking and lawn sports to festivals, farmers' markets and commencement itself (the finished green could hold as many as 10,000 spectators).

The area is also an essential part of the overall campus landscape plan that will soon go public -- that plan has a special focus on stormwater management thanks to partnerships with the Philadelphia Water Department and Temple researchers.

So, in addition to being a social and recreational gathering space, the new quad will be engineered as "a workhorse in terms of stormwater management," explains Carney, with the capacity to help manage runoff from nearby sidewalks and buildings for impact beyond the lawn.

Of course, the whole thing is still years away. There are currently two science buildings on the proposed site -- outdated biology and chemistry labs from the 1960s. Before stormwater engineering and landscaping plans can be completed (which will take about a year), those science buildings need to be demolished. They will be replaced with a new interdisciplinary facility in another location, which could be built by 2019 if fundraising, design and construction proceed according to plan.  

That means the new park could be open by late 2020 or early 2021.

Five or six years might seem like a long time, but in the life of a university, it’s right around the corner. Carney hopes the park will be a major boost for the experience of students, faculty, staff and neighbors alike.

"There’s a lot of excitement about this space," she insists.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Margaret Carney, Temple University 

CDC earns $40,000 to improve the city's health through its built environment

When this year’s call for applications for the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) IMPACT Awards of Greater Philadelphia came in, staffers at Center City’s Community Design Collaborative (CDC) saw a big opportunity.
 
GSK has been awarding these $40,000 grants annually for about twenty years -- that’s almost $6 million for 150 local nonprofits focused on some aspect of improving community health and quality of life in categories such as Diet and Exercise, Education, and Family and Social Support. In 2014, GSK added a new category: the Built Environment.
 
CDC leaders knew they couldn’t pass up the chance to apply, and this fall they learned that they were among eight organizations (out of a pool of about 100 applicants) to win a $40,000 grant. (GSK partnered with United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey for the 2014 round of Philly grants.)
 
"Community health and wellness is definitely one of the themes we could address," says CDC Executive Director Beth Miller of pursuing the program. It was the first time the CDC had applied, and it was "a super-duper honor" to be chosen, winning alongside organizations such as the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the University City District.
 
The recognition is an important boost for an organization like the CDC, explains Miller. While completed blueprints, groundbreakings and openings always grab the most press, the vital legwork behind those milestones can be hard to notice or articulate. The CDC doesn’t provide finalized architectural plans and it doesn’t assist in the construction of the projects it works on, but its design-related services, including community outreach and discussion, public charrettes, conceptual designs and cost estimates -- all key to luring investors and developers -- serve as a vital bridge from neighborhood needs to actionable plans.
 
The GSK grant will benefit a range of CDC efforts in 2015, including five new community health and wellness projects. These are yet to be determined, but, as Miller puts it, they’ll "bubble up" from the local organizations involved.  
 
The dollars will also aid a revamp of the CDC website; the new site will include a gallery of past projects and a package showcasing the work the organization has done to galvanize new futures for 18 empty public school sites.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Beth Miller, Community Design Collaborative

Massive Chinatown development project unites a divided community

The intersection of 10th and Vine Streets has been a sore spot for years in the Chinatown community -- the construction of the modern Vine Street Expressway razed countless homes and businesses, effectively splitting the neighborhood in half. But the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC) got exciting news in October: a $3.7 million Pennsylvania Economic Growth Initiative grant. It’s a major step toward making the Eastern Tower Community Center, planned for the northwest corner of that infamous intersection, a reality.

"We’ve looked around, but we haven’t found anything quite like it," says PCDC managing director Andrew Toy of the planned 23-story building, which has a projected budget of $76 million. That’s not just because of the size and cost -- which as far as PCDC knows, is the largest ever undertaken by a Philadelphia CDC -- it’s because when it’s finished, the Eastern Tower will house an unprecedented range of services and programs.

Those include 150 mixed-income residential units (which Toy estimates will mean at least 250 new neighbors on the 10th Street business corridor), a bilingual preschool and prekindergarten program from the Chinatown Learning Center, a grocery store, a recreation and community center, programming for seniors, a computer lab, and even doctors’ offices focused on preventive care for a linguistically under-served population.

Part of the story on the project’s financing is its special status through a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)-administered program: Eastern Tower is an EB-5 qualified investment project. This is a low-interest brand of international financing that targets areas of the U.S. with high unemployment and focuses on creating jobs. And it’s not just about a financial return -- foreign investors who help create ten jobs for every $50,000 they spend can receive green cards for themselves and their families.

A grant from the William Penn Foundation helped PCDC set up a dedicated regional center to act as a conduit for these investments, and since it will continue to operate once the Eastern Tower project is complete, Toy hopes it will become a permanent gateway for development in the area.

Even local youngsters have been getting involved -- for example, the Philadelphia Suns, a neighborhood sports and volunteer organization, recently raised money for the project.

“The youth of the community are getting more and more engaged, because they see this as a real thing and they’re getting excited about having a place of their own,” says Toy. “Success has a lot of mothers.”

"It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight," he adds. But with local, state and federal support, the project is currently on track to finalize its financing by early 2015. They’re looking at "a shovel in the ground" this winter, with an official opening slated for early 2017.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Andrew Toy, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation

 

Boston's Rental Beast brings the tools of homebuying to the Philly rental search

You want to buy a house. Besides your agent and a pre-approval on a mortgage, where do you start? It’s easy to get a comprehensive look at what’s available for sale through multiple listing services (MLS) like Trulia or TREND, filtered by categories such as location, property type and price. But what if you want to rent an apartment?

In Philly, you’re often doomed to crowdsourcing your social networks, hoping a friend of a friend has space to rent, or wading through the swamps of a website like Craigslist, whose listings, once posted, can’t be updated and can get buried in a matter of minutes.

Ishay Grinberg, the founder and CEO of Boston-based Rental Beast, calls the rental status quo in Philly "a nightmare," and he wants to change that. His site is an MLS for rentals, and it’s ready to put about one million listings at prospective renters’ fingertips through its network of hyper-local real estate experts.

"About forty percent of the population rents, and about forty percent of the population will continue to rent," explains Grinberg, acknowledging the boom in home-ownership that peaked in 2005  -- and, well, we all know what happened next.

"Almost everywhere you look if you drive around, you start seeing ‘for rent’ signs," he says of Philly, where a Rental Beast team is already set up in Center City, readying an official launch for early 2015. "There’s plenty of demand to be satisfied."

Rental Beast works for renters as well as landlords and property managers, from those handling just a few properties to those handling thousands. In less than five years, the company has seen huge success in Boston, nabbing 70 percent of the city’s market share. Now its sights are set on Philly, its suburbs and the surrounding area, including central Pennsylvania, and parts of Delaware and New Jersey.

"We’re completely free for landlords of any size to list with us," insists Grinberg.

That free-of-charge model for both landlords and prospective tenants is supported by large brokerages who partner with the company for access to its inventory, and provide a portion of the broker fee when a property is leased through the site.

But the service isn’t just about aggregating and maintaining the most up-to-date, customizable info from landlords, managers, brokers, neighborhood experts and wider market data. Users also have access to tools for everything from proper pricing to drawing up the lease to finding contractors for when there’s quick turnover on a unit.

"When small landlords have a unit turn over, they don’t have an armada of maintenance people like the large managers do," explains Grinberg. For jobs like cleaning, sanding or painting, Rental Beast maintains a free database of vetted service providers.

Philly’s "good startup community" is part of the reason he’s bringing Rental Beast to the area. With the growing trend of millennials staying in the city to work or launch their own ventures after graduation, he insists it’s the perfect time to simplify the rental market.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ishay Grinberg

 

Philadelphia region will be home to the Northeast's first Advanced Data Center

Most of us can use a computer application -- from Facebook, to an insurance exchange to a data store for a research project -- without thinking about the servers where all that information actually lives. Right now, all of the U.S.’s advanced data centers (ADCs) operate from Florida or locations in the Southwest. Keystone NAP wants to change all that by opening the Northeast’s first ADC in Pennsylvania's own Fairless Hills.

Currently, the major metros in the Northeast -- New York, Boston, Philadelphia -- have what Keystone NAP founder and CEO Peter Ritz calls "plain old data centers," which were adequate as recently as the 1990s, but in today’s web-scale world can't cut it.

"In the last two years, we have created more data, more bits of data…than all the time before that," explains Ritz. He compares today’s old data centers to telephone landlines: adequate for doing business ten or fifteen years ago, but rapidly growing obsolete.

The servers at those centers don’t have the capacity and scalability that today’s up-and-coming tech giants (and local mid-sized businesses) need, and with a single connection to a traditional power grid, they’re vulnerable.

Remember Hurricane Sandy?

"People don’t think about it, but what happened there is that people had a single source of connection to the grid in their data center," he says of widespread computer system outages after the storm. "They had to pray and they had to beg to make sure they would get the diesel fuel delivery."

Keystone NAP's ADC will have the data service capacity to house the equivalent of eight Googles. It's special not just because of its location and its data capacity, but because of its innovative approach to power.

"It’s the steel-forging shoulders that we stand on," says Ritz of how the region’s historical infrastructure makes this possible. Instead of a single connection to the power grid, the Keystone NAP facility will operate with the help of five distinct power sources, including gas turbines and a nearby trash-to-steam plant burning refuse from a local landfill.

Ritz describes the individual servers as looking like rectangular pizza boxes, stacked as many as forty high in specialized shelving. It all generates enormous heat: fifty percent of any data center’s energy budget goes to cooling those servers with air or water-based systems.

Because not every business's server has the same energy needs, Keystone NAP is offering a uniquely secure and modular approach to power dubbed KeyBlocks. It’s common for a data center to host multiple entities’ servers, but bringing that eco-friendly customization to the powering of the diverse servers is another thing that sets the facility apart.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Peter Ritz, Keystone NAP

 

Improvements on deck for a busy corner of Chelten Avenue in Germantown

As part of a larger effort to improve Germantown's walkability, a problematic corner on Chelten Avenue is getting a low-cost, high-value makeover. The spot in question is the northwest corner of Chelten Avenue and Greene Street, right next to the southeast corner of Vernon Park.

"It has some pretty inherent design flaws that have been present ever since it was constructed," explains City Planning Commission North/Northwest Senior Planner Matt Wysong, noting a walled-off fifteen-foot-wide area, whose floor is lower than the rest of the sidewalk. "It renders it very unusable. It’s hidden and also a vacuum for trash...[It also tends to] attract people who do not-so-legal things."

Efforts to revamp the corner got underway about a year ago when Wysong first met with a group of local designers. They had ideas for low-cost, low-maintenance ways to improve the intersection. These included knocking down the wall that divides the space and putting in decking to correct the grade change. There'd be no need to dig up or replace the existing concrete.

Wysong also points to better seating and regular tree pruning as simple ways to spruce up the space. And since Vernon Park is invisible from Chelten Avenue (thanks to the line of stores along its east side), taking down the wrought-iron fence that currently divides the plaza from the Chelten and Greene plaza could be a great way to offer a new "front door" to the park.

There is $17,000 in the pot for the project’s initial design and engineering, cobbled together from some money left over from a city planning contract for yearly on-call services through the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities.

Those kinds of dollars -- "not enough to plug into a large project," says Wysong -- are just the ticket for a small-scale improvement like this. Wysong estimates that the design phase will be done by this spring, with construction beginning in early 2016. The complete overhaul would cost about $200,000, he guesses, which could come from a combination of state-level and foundation grants.  

With a little local elbow grease and a bit of funding, the ultimate goal is to make the corner "a more usable, more active place," in line with efforts to improve Germantown’s overall pedestrian infrastructure.

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

 

Robust winter crowds mean year-round possibilities for the Delaware waterfront

You can't separate Philadelphia from its rivers, but according to the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC), locals’ connection to Penn’s Landing -- versus other up-and-coming areas of the city -- isn’t as strong as it could be.

"Our goal is to change the conversation on how Philadelphians see and use their waterfront," says DRWC spokesperson Jodie Milkman of the announcement that this year’s Waterfront Winterfest is getting a major upgrade and extension. Attendance last year was phenomenal despite the fearsome weather.

Summertime also saw major growth in traffic to the waterfront thanks to Spruce Street Harbor Park, and though the market for visitors is different between the summer and winter seasons, "the waterfront can be a year-round attraction and asset," insists Milkman.

After debuting for the month of December last year, Winterfest is returning as an cold-weather fixture in Philly, re-branded along with the rink as the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest. This season, the fun will run from November 28, 2014 through March 1, 2015, and include skating, food from Garces Events, light shows, plenty of fire pits, a "winter garden and forest" from Groundswell Design Group’s David Fierabend (featuring hundreds of trees and locally-sourced recycled shipping containers) and a Philly Beer Week collaboration (details TBA).

"It’s not as disconnected or hard to get to as people might have imagined," adds Milkman, especially since the Philly PHLASH unveiled a new winter schedule that includes the Winterfest site (stopping on Columbus Boulevard just south of Walnut Street). From November 28 through Dec 31, the PHLASH will run from Penn’s Landing to the Philadelphia Zoo every day from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., and a special Holiday Evening Loop -- including the waterfront, Franklin Square, LOVE Park and more -- will run 6 - 10 p.m.

But the DRWC is also looking beyond winter festivities to focus on the overall impact of extended programming and "placemaking" on the waterfront, which, as Milkman puts it, proves "the need to support winter tourism in addition to summer tourism."

And it’s not just about maximizing visitors. Increasing traffic at waterfront programs today, whether it’s a summer park or skating with Santa, is key to future development there.  

"All of these programs are hopefully setting the stage for large-scale future development," says Milkman, "and pre-conditioning audiences to support businesses on the waterfront in the summer and the winter. It’s a lot easier for people to invest in the waterfront if they feel it has an audience.” 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jodie Milkman, The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

 

The sushi burrito comes to University City and beyond

One of Philly’s freshest restaurants is on the cusp of a major expansion, and hopes to use our city as a launching pad to spread nationwide.

Hai Street Kitchen and Co., a unique Japanese-inspired food spot, opened its first eatery at 18th and Chestnut Streets in May. Now company spokesperson Patrick Hughes confirms that another Hai Street location will open in University City before the end of this year.

Hai Street Kitchen is under the umbrella of Genji, an international company based in Center City Philadelphia -- anyone who’s ever picked up sushi at a Whole Foods location on the east coast has already tasted Genji's products.

The restaurant, meanwhile, offers quick sushi-style flavor wrapped up in a new way. According to Hughes, as popular as sushi is among its devotees, only 15 percent of Americans eat it.

"We want to expand to that other 85 percent of America, and came up with the sushi burrito," he explains.

What’s the typical American response to sushi, Hughes asks? It’s cold, it’s small, it’s not filling, it’s only for people who know how to wield chopsticks, and "what’s this green thing in the corner?"

Hai Street diners can order their own sushi-style burritos in a nori wrap (or they can select a rice or salad bowl) with basics such as shrimp tempura, tataki salmon, chili citrus pork and more. They can choose dressings from spicy peanut sauce to black pepper teriyaki, and add a wide variety of toppings, including grilled zucchini, pickled jicama, carrots or cucumbers, wasabi guacamole, and fried garlic or shallots.

"Basically, everything is made right in front of you," says Hughes. And it's meant to appeal to everyone, from health-conscious city lunch-breakers to guys looking for something to "scarf down instead of a cheesesteak."

As with Genji’s Whole Foods-approved sushi, Hai Street focuses on organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, sustainably raised and harvested proteins and veggies, sourced locally in the tri-state area whenever possible (that means a menu that adjusts with the seasons).

They’re also expanding their green mission with the restaurant’s new delivery system, launched last month, serving "Vine to Pine, river to river" Monday through Friday, using bike-centric One Hour Messengers.

The company has grand aspirations -- in addition to their second restaurant later this year, Hai Street aims to open eight more in 2015, including locations in South Jersey, King of Prussia and the Main Line, with more planned for 2016.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Patrick Hughes, Hai Street Kitchen & Co.

 

Penn's South Bank campus gets a new name; Pennovation Center breaks ground

The University of Pennsylvania's South Bank campus, a 23-acre swath of development at 34th Street and Grays Ferry Avenue (purchased by Penn in 2010), is getting a new name: "Pennovation Works."

According to Penn Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli, President Amy Gutmann coined the "Pennovation" moniker, looking toward the opening of the Pennovation Center, a 52,000-square-foot three-story building, slated for renovation and re-opening in 2016.

The Pennovation Works complex will include a mix of previously existing and new buildings housing the Bio Garden of the Penn School of Arts & Sciences, UPSTART’s Novapeutics, the Philadelphia Free Library archives, KMel Robotics and much more.

On October 31, Gutmann and other Penn executives welcomed a crowd of 800 people (two-thirds of them Penn staff, faculty, and students) for a ceremonial groundbreaking and day-long seminar of tours and sessions to celebrate a wide variety of scientific, academic and commercial innovation at Penn.

The Pennovation Center concept, which includes a variety of cross-discipline co-working and research spaces, got its start within the last two years based on a need for incubator space, particularly incubators with affordable lab space.

"One of the really neat things about this project is the architects actually are entrepreneurs," says Carnaroli. "So they learned themselves that you need a space where you learn how to do your five-minute elevator pitch…they’re thinking very holistically."

That means the finished Pennovation Center, from its workshop garage spaces -- hosting prototyping gear such as 3-D printers -- to its third-floor robotics lab isn’t "just a space to do the work. It’s also about networking."

A major part of the Center’s mission will be facilitating not only research, but its application and commercialization. That means offering low-cost lab space with no restrictions on types of use and unusually broad opportunities for corporate partnerships, since the property wasn’t financed with any tax-exempt capital.

“You’re always looking for a hybrid of ideas,” says Carnaroli, explaining why it's important to house diverse thinkers -- such as life-sciences faculty alongside robotics researchers -- in freewheeling co-working spaces. He hopes this will foster "that breakthrough that no-one’s seeing until that impromptu conversation at the coffee machine." 

The Center will open in multiple phases, including a new home for Penn's GRASP engineering lab next summer, with full completion of the new complex planned for spring 2016.

Given the adjacent Schuylkill River’s place in the heart of Philly’s manufacturing history, the Pennovation Center’s location is a symbol of the shift from the industrial economy to a "much more intellectual and modern economy," muses Carnaroli. "It’s very symbolic the way this property is about to be transformed."

Author: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Craig Carnaroli, The University of Pennsylvania

Millennium Dance takes over South Street's Pearl building

Do you want to get moving somewhere other than the mall on Black Friday this year? Philadelphia's own Millennium Dance Complex, taking over the old Pearl Arts & Crafts building at 417 South Street, promises to be open by November 28.

Lori Ramsay Long, who lives with her teenage daughter in Gloucester Township, N.J., is the newest owner and studio director of a Millennium Dance Complex franchise. There are currently eight locations operating or getting ready to open their doors, including spaces in Tokyo, North Hollywood, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City.

Long, an alum of Florida State University, Rowan University, Thomas Jefferson University and Drexel College of Medicine, has worked as a forensic scientist, ER nurse and biology professor -- and she also has 20 years’ experience in the dance and fitness world.

Long's first step towards opening Philly's Millennium franchise was her daughter’s love of dance. Kylie is currently a member of the Broadway Dance Center’s teen program, but it’s a killer commute. Before she was old enough to take a train or bus on her own, driving her to Manhattan and back "literally consumed every single weekend from Friday to Sunday," recalls Long.

Despite Philly being full of great dance programs and institutions, Long was always surprised that the city didn’t have any broadly accessible drop-in dance training center: that is, a roster of flexible, professionally-taught, one-time classes open to all instead of specific dance courses working toward a degree or recital.

Many dance enthusiasts, from busy working moms and dads to students, want "ongoing advanced education" in dance without enrolling in a specific course, explains Long.

Enter Philly’s new 39,000-square-foot space, which will offer 90-minute classes in a range of genres, all for $15 dollars each. So far, the Millennium brand is drawing choreographers and trainers who work with stars like Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, Usher and Beyonce.

The first floor will feature four dance studios. The second floor will boast a childcare space, and the third will host industry video and photo shoots. There will also be a 5,000-square-foot roof space and 7,000-square-foot basement under it all with a running track, tumbling mats and other fitness areas.

And that's just the first phase: the second, with a planned 2015 finish, will include a retail area, a spa and massage zone, performance rehearsal space, and event space available for rent.

"The South Street community really wanted something cultural in that building," something "artsy and eclectic," says Long. "The dance community is starving for this."

Author: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Lori Ramsay Long, Millennium Dance Complex

Community Design Collaborative charrette to spotlight empty schools

On November 14, Center City's Community Design Collaborative (CDC) will hold a special Reactivating Vacant Schools Design Charrette to help spark a new future for two recently-shuttered Philly schools: Old Frances Willard School at 1290 E. Orleans Street in Kensington, and the M. Hall Stanton School at 1523 W. Cumberland Street in Lower North Philadelphia.

According to Heidi Segall Levy, director of design services at the CDC, two teams (boasting about twelve professionals each, including architects, landscape architects, urban planners, and graphic and lighting designers) will be assigned to each school, for a total of four teams.

Because "the development of these sites is going to take awhile," Levy explains, each school will get one team focused on a short-term use solution, with "a low-cost way to activate those sites as soon as possible," and one team focused on a long-term plan for the space.

Short-term uses could include a farmers' market, urban farm or youth recreational space. Meanwhile, ongoing conversation with community partners in the charrette, including Community Ventures, Impact Services Corporation and the New Kensington CDC, point to a variety of long-term use possibilities. That could mean envisioning these sites "as something completely different from what they were," adds Levy, noting that the buildings may not continue as schools, but become a new type of "community anchor."
 
There is a special benefit to hosting charrettes -- versus other types of support, such as grants -- explains Levy, because charrettes are a more active way to build awareness through a wider cross-section of the city, with a focus on schools that did not elicit any interest from potential developers.

Levy hopes that the plans that come out of the charrette, which the CDC will develop into an accessible and actionable packet, "may grab the attention of developers for these sites, and ignite attention" for other empty schools facing a similar fate.
 
Plans developed through the CDC charrette model also lay the groundwork for locals' continued input, helping developers understand that it’s important to engage the community.
 
The charrette is happening with the help of a design team from KieranTimberlake Associates, LLP, as well as students from the Charter High School for Architecture and Design; partnerships with AIA Philadelphia and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development; and funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia.

While slots on the design teams are now full, the public is invited to a free presentation and panel discussion from 4 - 6 p.m. on November 14 at the Center for Architecture (1216 Arch Street); reception to follow. To RSVP, click here.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Heidi Segall Levy, The Community Design Collaborative

 

Get your hands dirty at the Love Your Park Fall Service Day

When we think of enjoying Philadelphia's parks, we usually think of spring and summer maintenance and activities. But as Fairmount Park Conservancy park stewardship coordinator Erin Engelstad insists, it’s just as important to help "put our park spaces to bed for the winter."

The Conservancy and the Philadelphia Department of Parks & Recreation partner with city-wide volunteers twice a year for Love Your Park service days, one in the spring and one in the fall. The spring service day typically includes as many as 100 parks and 2,000 volunteers, while this year’s fall event, on Saturday, November 15, includes 75 parks so far. Engelstad expects about 1,000 volunteers to turn out across the city.

There’s a lot to do to keep our outdoor treasures looking good once winter looms. The first item of business is clearing out all those fallen leaves. Parks & Rec will be on hand with cleaned-out trash trucks ready to transport all the gathered leaves to the Philadelphia Recycling Center in Fairmount Park, where this year’s autumn color will become next year’s mulch.

If you love spring flowers, you can help plant crocus bulbs; volunteers will also pitch in to plant up to 200 new trees -- according to Engelstad, autumn is a great time to put them in the ground.

Helpers will include school groups -- kids, parents, and teachers from North Philadelphia’s Gesu School who will be working at Smith Memorial Playground.

"They’re excited to have a large group, because they want to make the biggest leaf pile in Fairmount Park," explains Engelstad.

And yes, even though it may make some extra work in the long run, the pile will be open to jumpers of all ages.  

Park organizers, who will manage the schedule and to-do lists at their individual parks, can provide gloves and tools, and no experience is necessary to pitch in. Residents are welcome to just show up, but they can give organizers a hand by signing up in advance online.

"It’s an opportunity for folks to get to know people in their neighborhood," adds Engelstad.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Erin Engelstad, Fairmount Park Conservancy

 

University City District ahead of schedule on reinvention of 40th Street Trolley Portal

University City District (UCD) is moving forward with its plans to revitalize the 40th Street Trolley Portal. The project is being led by Prema Gupta, the organization's director of planning and economic development.

If you've ever been to the 40th Street trolley stop, you probably know it’s not the most inviting or vibrant place in University City. That will soon change with the introduction of The Plaza, the first component in UCD's creative reimagining of the transit hub.

The Plaza will boast chairs, tables, benches, trees and planters, and even boulders for climbing and play. Designed as an amenity for local students, residents and SEPTA passengers, the space will also host ongoing UCD programming and events.

The second component of the portal, The Apron, will improve pedestrian access and replace surfaces around the tracks with seating walls bordering heaps of wildflowers and native plants selected to attract butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators.

Gupta originally announced the project this past spring, and it looks like UCD will begin construction earlier than planned after raising an additional $1.4 million in funds for the effort.

"Because we’ve raised such significant funding, we’re really able to see this come to fruition sooner than we anticipated," says UCD representative Lori Brennan.

"Our work is what happens at ground level," adds UCD Policy and Research Manager Seth Budick, who is currently working on an ambitious public space survey. "We look to constantly make improvements to all the areas and spaces between developments and transit."

It's likely Budick's findings will lead to numerous project tweaks, as he continually oversees improvements to existing public spaces in University City.

"We’re studying in great detail how people are using these [public] spaces and what they’re doing there," he explains. "It’s an approach we’ve really taken to heart."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Lori Brennan and Seth Budick, University City District

 

Dust off your skates! The Rothman Ice Rink is coming to Dilworth Park

At a press event this past Wednesday, October 15, Center City District (CCD) President Paul Levy announced the upcoming Rothman Ice Rink at Dilworth Park in front of City Hall.

Sponsored by its namesake orthopedic practice, the Rothman Institute, the new ice skating venue will open to the public on Friday, November 14. Along with Rothman, PNC Bank and local ABC affiliate WPVI have provided financial support for the rink, which will be erected atop Dilworth Park's 11,600-square-foot fountain. It will ve roughly the size of the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.

All-day admission to the ice will be $3 for children and $4 for adults, with skate rentals available for $8. Open seven days a week, the venue will stay open on holidays and offer a four-week learn-to-skate program on Sunday mornings, along with additional events and programs coordinated by CCD.

Avid people-watchers and tired parents will be able relax on the PNC terrace, where they can enjoy coffee, pastries and sandwiches from José Garces’ Rosa Blanca Cuban Diner. Free Wi-Fi will remain available throughout the winter.

As a result of a competitive bidding process held by CCD earlier this year, Rink Management Service Corporation will operate the rink and offer group discounts, birthday party packages and private rentals. 

Held at noon, the press event allowed visitors to get a sense of just how popular Dilworth Park has become as the midday lunch crowd and tourists streamed into the brand new public space.

Other Dilworth Park updates were also provided: According to Levy, a lawn and more bench seating will be accessible this week, and the remainder of the park is set to open before Thanksgiving.

Information on Rothman Ice Rink events and other updates are available at dilworthpark.com.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Paul Levy, Center City District

 

Cafe and DVD rental shop coming to Broad and Tasker in South Philly

Temple film school grad Dan Creskoff might be best known for his eighteen-year stint as a manager of two TLA Video locations.

"People would come to TLA and hang out for an hour," he recalls, "and just talk about movies."

Creskoff came to cherish the relationships he formed there.

It wasn’t long after the closing of TLA's brick-and-mortar stores that the cinefile began running into some of his old customers around town. The resulting conversations made Creskoff realize that there was a need for that sort of shared space. With that in mind, he began working on his new business, CineMug.

CineMug, a cafe that will also contain a DVD rental shop and function as quasi-clubhouse for film lovers, is due to open at 1607 S. Broad Street sometime later this fall. The roughly 800-square-foot cafe -- formerly a wireless phone shop turned doctor’s office -- will operate seven days a week. CineMug will also host weekly movie screenings.

Buildout is nearly complete. Creskoff describes the space as "having that living room vibe of hanging out with people you like and talking about things that interest you." Custom reclaimed wood countertops will give the cafe a casual and inviting feel, he adds.

In addition to a carefully curated collection of DVDs that will also be available for online and mobile perusing -- think must-see classics, cult films, documentaries, and plenty of arthouse and indie features -- CineMug will be serving up Fishtown’s ReAnimator Coffee alongside its own housemade chai and iced tea.

Cafe staples like bagels, spreads, pastries and baked goods will also be available, and the full CineMug menu will feature signature dips and sandwiches from South Philly favorite Cosmi's Deli.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Dan Creskoff, CineMug
 
 
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