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Center City : Development News

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Viridity gives 10 Penn Center some energy with new Center City office

Viridity Energy joined with Mayor Nutter to cut the ribbon on its new Center City office last week, located on the top floor of 10 Penn Center. Viridity is an up-and-coming renewable energy company most notable for working with SEPTA on rail regenerative braking and Jefferson Hospital on wind energy storage. Before the opening of the new office, Viridity was located in Conshohocken, about 14 miles from Center City.

The innovative energy firm is excited to now be located downtown. H.G. Chissell, Viridity’s strategic development director, is convinced that his company made a good decision in moving. He points out that employees, clients, and partners can get to and from New York and Washington D.C. much more quickly and easily from Center City. This improves the lines of communication between Viridity and its growing list of clients and partners. Along with this, Chissell says that many talented, skilled people are attracted to companies with a downtown address.

Another impetus to Viridity’s move is its expansion. "We needed more space because we expanded so quickly," says Chissell. The firm now employs forty people, and continues to make headlines. Chissell is especially eager to point out his company’s increased program development and network operations space at the new location. The office also offers ample conference, cubicle, and technology room.

"The management of the building has a commitment to sustainability in line with ours," praises Chissell. As a matter of fact, the high-rise was awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold status. Below LEED Platinum, LEED Gold is the second highest sustainability designation. Some of the strategic development director’s favorite sustainable features of the skyscraper include its abundance of recycled content and outside air flow.

Some of the most notable clients include Drexel University, SEPTA, Jefferson Hospital, Con-Ed Electricity, and the U.S. Army’s Fort Meade. When Chissell mentioned ease and speed of traveling to New York and Washington, he may have been thinking about Con-Ed, which is New York City’s energy provider, and Fort Meade, which is located in the Baltimore-Washington area.

Chissell summarizes Viridity’s mission as a company that strives to make its clients and partners more aware of the electricity they use. "Viridity is taking consumers and turning them into prosumers," sums up Chissell. "Prosumers" are professional consumers who are knowledgeable about the production of the energy they utilize. As electricity continues to become more in demand, and Viridity continues its growth pattern, expect to see many more prosumers. 

Source: H.G. Chissell, Viridity Energy
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Friends of Seger Park Playground uses $500K from city to become more kid-friendly

The Friends of Seger Park Playground have been feverishly looking for funds to make their park at 11th and Lombard Sts. a destination for Center City and South Philadelphia children. They’re looking to improve their play equipment and install a sprayground, both of which cost a handsome amount of money.

It looks like the playground will be able to move forward with its first phase of improvements, thanks to a $500,000 grant from the city. This is in addition to a $50,000 donation from Jefferson Hospital. Adrienne Kenton, co-president of the Friends of Seger Park Playground, predicts construction will commence during the summer of 2012. In the words of Kenton, one of the biggest changes will be that all of the play equipment will be moved into one area on the 11th St. side. This would include a “dedicated tot lot,” says Kenton, which would be tailor-made for kids who are "barely crawling."

The second component of the Friends of Seger’s dream is the repair of a water sprayground that currently doesn't work. The playground held a competition to create a design for the sprayground, which was won by six designers from Kansas. The victorious design is called Fluid Scape, and includes two walls, a bench, and over a dozen water jets. This is meant to be a complement to the other playground equipment for children. Regrettably, the Friends are still $350,000 short in their quest to raise enough cash for the sprayground. Kenton assures that she and her cohorts are busy trying to identify sources of funding.

Kenton underscores why it's so important that Seger Playground be amenable to children. "So many families are opting to stay in Center City," says the co-president. Indeed, Center City is seeing a noticeable amount of young families who want to raise children in the city. This, coupled with parents rearing young children a few blocks south in South Philadelphia, should ensure plenty of use for the renovated playground. Right now, the only thing sitting in the way is $350,000.

Source: Adrienne Kenton, Friends of Seger Park Playground
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Race Street Connector debut a sign of movement on vast Delaware River waterfront plan

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) is embarking on an ambitious plan to make it easier to get to and from the Delaware River. To do this, they have identified three connector streets that will receive bicycle, pedestrian, lighting, and artistic improvements. These streets are Race and Spring Garden Sts., and Columbia Ave. On Thursday, DRWC will unveil the enhanced sidewalks, lighting, and artwork along Race St.

One of the most eye-catching changes to the Race St connector beneath I-95, which runs between Columbus Blvd. and 2nd St., will be a 24-hour-a-day projection of the Delaware river on four LED screens. These screens will be hooked up to cameras along the river, which will capture every wave, boat, and aquatic animal, and be able to shift on account of lighting conditions. Tom Corcoran, president of DRWC, explained that this will be a technique to help bridge the gap between the river and the rest of the city. This river projection is the product of artists Richard Torchia and Aaron Igler, and was the winning entry in a competition by the city's Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy.

Corcoran says that other updates to this section of Race St. include the installation of colorful "high-impact" lighting, the widening of sidewalks to better suit pedestrians, a more navigable intersection with the I-95 entrance, and the striping and painting of a bicycle lane on the north side of the street. The lighting and sidewalk improvements will be on display starting this week, while the roadwork and bicycle lane will be part of a second phase of work to be completed later. All of this is part of Corcoran’s dream to make Race St. an inviting, not intimidating, conduit to the Delaware River via foot, bike, or car.

While Corcoran is elated at the work being done with the Race St. connector, his vision extends beyond one street. The next connector between the river and the rest of the city that his corporation plans to improve is Columbia Ave., which leads to Penn Treaty Park and the river. Not wasting any time, this project is being done on a "rush basis," says Corcoran. This effort is a collaboration with PennDOT, and involves plenty of consultation with Fishtown neighborhood groups over artistic elements that capture the unique qualities of the neighborhood.

Similarly, the Waterfront Corporation plans to work with the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association (NLNA) to make the Spring Garden St. connector to the Delaware River more bicycle and pedestrian amenable, more luminous, and more artistic. Corcoran gives Spring 2012 as a probable start date for this. Another element of this project may be a push to get SEPTA to increase service frequency on routes that use Spring Garden St., including the Routes 25 and 43. Corcoran intimated that DRWC will make an effort to lobby for increased bus service, along with light rail service in the median of Columbus Blvd. in the coming decade.   

Source: Tom Corcoran, DRWC
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Center City skatepark gets $1M boost, construction to begin in spring

Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund (FPSF) will be the recipient of $1 million in Philadelphia Parks and Recreation funds to construct Paine’s Skatepark along the Schuylkill River Trail in Center City. This will give skateboarders a space to dot heir thing in Center City for the first time since they were banned from Love Park. Construction is expected to commence in Spring 2012.

Claire Laver, the executive director of FPSF, is committed to seeing skateboarders get a downtown location to practice their sport.

"Philadelphia has long been synonymous with street skating, but since the banning of skateboarding in Love Park, we have been without a centralized hub," laments Laver. "The skateboarding culture in this city hasn’t been the same since."

Laver is referring to then-Mayor John Street’s forbidding of skateboarding at Love Park in 2002.

Paine’s Park is slated to be by far the biggest skatepark in Philadelphia. According to Laver, there are currently skateboarding parks in Frankford, East Kensington, and Southwest Philadelphia, all of which are between 5,000 and 10,000 sq. ft. In contrast, the proposed park will be greater than 50,000 sq. ft., or more than five times as large as each of the existing parks. FPSF hopes that the size of the park will attract internationally acclaimed skateboarding events, including or comparable to the X Games and Maloof Money Cup.

Despite Paine’s primary function as a skatepark, Laver is confident the park will be useful for non-skateboarders as well. She brags that the park will include a panoramic observation deck with views of the Schuylkill River, Center City, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Also, the executive director envisions an amphitheater to support ceremonies for Ben Franklin Parkway events, concerts, and movie nights. Finally, she assures that the park will provide the one million people who use the Schuylkill Trail each year with a place to relax.

As with the recently built Penn Park, Paine’s Park aims to be a model for sustainability. This will include a unique watershed design that will lend itself to environmentally friendly storm- and groundwater control. Despite it being a skatepark, Laver also promises considerable green space. The park will also recycle some materials used in the building of other city projects. Fittingly, this includes "the installation of granite benches removed from Love Park years ago," adds Laver.

The Skatepark Fund makes its case for Paine’s Park from an economic standpoint too. Laver references a 2008 Econsult study, which indicates that Paine’s Park could rake in tens of millions of dollars in direct spending and recreational worth. One reason why this estimate is so high is because of the park’s connectivity to the trail, which means it's an easy walk or bike ride to the art museum, other points in Center City, or University City. Not only will skateboarders be welcomed back into Center City, non-skateboarders will welcome the increased revenue and connectivity.

Source: Claire Laver, Franklin's Paine Skatepark Fund
Writer: Andy Sharpe

A high-rise is only as good as its tenants: The sustainable renovations at 1650 Arch Street

These are exciting times for Center City’s 1650 Arch Street, which has just completed some sustainable renovations, and is looking at becoming even more environmentally friendly. After all, what would you expect from a high-rise building that houses the Philadelphia regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)?

Thanks to the recently completed remodeling, 1650 Arch Street is now Energy Star certified. Some of the renovations that led to this designation include the installation of energy-efficient chillers, which regulate a building’s temperature, humidity and ventilation. Also energy-efficient lights were attached on the inside and outside of the building. Finally, the EPA is financing a high-tech air filtration system that maximizes the amount of fresh air in the high-rise, according to Drew McGowan, the leasing agent with Jones Lang LaSalle, which is responsible for leasing office space at 1650 Arch.

Yet, the building’s owner is not quite satisfied with 1650’s sustainability just yet. The final phase of the sustainability project will commence shortly, giving the tower more energy-efficient elevators. "The new elevators are designed to use less power and will operate faster and more efficiently, so there is less waiting time for building occupants," says McGowan. Once these elevators are installed, Jones Lang LaSalle and the renovation architect are confident the building will be able to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) status for 2012. 

Jones Lang LaSalle also blends sustainability with art in the renovations. The remodeled lobby, which acts as a literal and figurative centerpiece for the re-design, features a sculptural landscape of recycled objects across the city of Philadelphia by environmental artist Tom Deininger. “Thematically, the found objects recycled into art represent the refreshed image of 1650 as an iconic piece of modern architecture, as well as the building's sustainability efforts," says McGowan.

Source: Drew McGowan, Jones Lang LaSalle Real Estate
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Community groups get social boost from Philly Net Squared's Net Tuesdays

One Tuesday every month, a bunch of techies, wannabe techies, and people who freely admit they don’t know much about current online trends get together to discuss and learn how to use social networking for social good. This is Philly Net Squared’s Net Tuesday, which has been gaining more and more steam since its inception in May 2008, not to mention bringing an ever growing number of community groups, non-profits, and businesses into the same room.

While it’s difficult to pin down a precise mission for Net Tuesday, founder Seth Horwitz has a general mission for his monthly meetings. “I think of our mission as helping Philly area folks to share our knowledge, passion and concerns around using emerging social web tools for making the world a better place,” explained Horwitz.

Some of Horwitz’s favorite Net Tuesdays have been the “social web samplers,” which consist of informal audience presentations on any on-line social media topic they feel is germane. This leads to fifteen short periods where audience members can elaborate on noteworthy aspects of the audience presentations.

For community groups, non-profits, and businesses, the “crowdsourcing change” Net Tuesdays are especially pertinent. During these meetings, two or three area groups present their on-line social media strategy to the audience, and then receive feedback on what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong, and what they’re realty doing wrong. Groups that have volunteered to crowdsource their on-line presence include the Philadelphia Police Athletic League, The Academy of Natural Sciences, and the Painted Bride Art Center.

Philly Net Squared thrives in its use of Facebook, Twitter, and Meetup.com. Horwitz sees two ways in which Facebook enables the Net Tuesdays, which are disseminating information about events to a broad audience and allowing attendees to RSVP. “Twitter also helps to promote the events, and it also enables us to maintain a backchannel during the events, which- combined with our Internet stream- enables us to engage with people not in Philly,” said Horwitz. Finally, Meetup.com has been a reliable RSVP source, as well as a means for members to better connect with each other.

Source: Seth Horwitz
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Better Blocks: Southwest Center City's streets to be more complete for pedestrians and bicyclists

For one week in mid-October, pedestrians and bicyclists on Christian and Catharine Streets in Southwest Center City will be able to breathe a little calmer. This is thanks to the South of South Neighborhood Association (SOSNA), which will be implementing creative traffic calming techniques as part of their Better Blocks Philly celebration for DesignPhiladelphia.

While it would be a stretch to say all the details have been worked out by now, Katie Winkler, a design coordinator for Better Blocks Philly, was able to give a rough itinerary. In short, the event will raise awareness of safer streetscape and neighborhood design policy and local businesses, aiming to even the playing field between cars, pedestrians, and bicycles. Winkler says raised mid-block crossings will make it easier for pedestrians to cross streets, bump-outs will be constructed at intersections to slow down vehicles, and the installation of new signage will make sure motorists are aware to share the road.

Winkler is also aiming to beautify Southwest Center City. “We will be having trees generously donated to us from the new Tree Philly Program of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, as well as other planted material from Greensgrow Farms and County Line Nursery,” says Winkler. Additionally, the neighborhood will offer more sidewalk lounge space by crafting a parklet at 17th and Christian Sts -- similar to the recently opened one near Clark Park in West Philadelphia.

Another important component to Better Blocks Philly is the rehabilitation of unused building space. Winkler currently has two or three spaces in mind that she wants to turn into short-term cafes or shops. As well, a coalition of 30 craftspeople and thinkers called PhillyWorks plans to set up an open studio and/or think-tank space. Also, a group called Cartographilly might set up a space to showcase its Philadelphia mapping project.

Inspiration for Better Blocks Philly comes from a variety of different places. According to Winkler, Philadelphia Park(ing) Day, where parking spots across the city sprouted into one-day parks, was a weighty inspiration. Also, inspiration was gleaned from other U.S. cities including Seattle, Portland, and especially Dallas. Believe it or not, the Texas bastion was where the national Better Block movement originated. SOSNA is acting as the "project head," while Wallace, Roberts, & Todd is the "lead design coordinator" and Brown and Keener Urban Design is the "lead event programming and sponsorship coordinator."

Source: Katie Winkler
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Switched on: Startup music label to transform Bartram's Garden into a concert hall

The Philadelphia-based music label Data Garden will be launching their idiosyncratic brand of music and visual art in a most unusual location for DesignPhiladelphia. This unveiling will take place at Bartram’s Garden, in what is being called "The Switched-On Garden."

Data Garden is the progeny of local musicians Joe Patitucci and Alex Tyson, and web designer Ian Cross. Within Data Garden are a number of musicians and visual artists, with names like Tadoma, Ray, and the Prisms, Cheap Dinosaurs, Cosmic Morning, and DJ Ryan Todd.

Because of the diversity and eclectic nature of Data Garden’s artists, it’s next to impossible to pigeonhole them into any particular genre of music or artwork, says Patitucci. "For instance, Cheap Dinosaurs uses Game Boys and 8-bit sounds, but there’s so much more to their music than what you would normally see classified as 'chiptune' or 'chip' music," elaborated Patitucci.

Yet, the true news of Data Garden’s release will be the convergence of music, nature, and sculpture. To set themselves apart from other labels, Data Garden will highlight their "Switched-On Garden" with "bio-interactive sound sculpture where people can interact with plants and each other to make music," said Patitucci.

To be sure, respect for nature will be high on the agenda for "The Switched-On Garden." To demonstrate this, Patitucci, Tyson, and Cross will be printing download cards on seed paper with water-based ink. This way, attendees can recycle the cards, which will eventually be planted at the garden, after they've downloaded Data Garden's offerings. 

Data Garden is certainly confident that they chose Bartram’s Garden. Tyson explains that the event will specifically highlight many of the garden’s natural gems, including its native plant species, meadow, pond, and trail that runs up to and along the Schuylkill River. Patitucci doesn't hesitate to add that there’s an area on a hill that acts as a "natural amphitheater." He suggests guests bring a blanket and relax on the hill.

The trio also didn’t give a second thought to releasing their album as part of DesignPhiladelphia. "Like Data Garden, DesignPhiladelphia is about finding the unexpected, combining disparate forms of design into an experience that can inspire people to create art themselves," says Cross.

The "Switched-On Garden" will unfold on Sunday, Oct. 16 from 3-8 p.m. at Bartram’s Garden. Admission is free, and the event is wheelchair accessible.

Sources: Joe Patitucci, Ian Cross, and Alex Tyson
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Center City District's park improvements garner international honor

The Center City District's work on three Center City parks have drawn an IDA Merit Award from the International Downtown Association, a global advocacy group for livable urban centers.

With the help of more than a dozen city and state agencies, foundations and neighborhood groups, CCD made $4.57 million in improvements at Aviator Park and Three Parkway Plaza/Cafe Cret along the Ben Franklin Parkway and Chestnut Park at 17th and Chestnut St.

Aviator Park's new design created a "town green" for gatherings of all sizes. Three Parkway Plaza's renovations included paving, a granite seating wall, benches, plantings of trees and seasonal flowers, pedestrian-scale lights and a 1,200 square foot cafe and information center. Chestnut Park's original gates and concrete tiered fountain were conserved and landscaping was improved.

The award was presented at IDA's annual conference in Charlotte, NC last week.

Source: Linda Harris, Center City District
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Rittenhouse-area parking spot sees coffee instead of cars for Park(ing) Day Philadelphia

SMP Architects helped transform a parking spot on the 1600 block of Walnut St into a coffee garden, just one of over 30 parking spots in Philadelphia transformed into parks for the fourth annual Park(ing) Day. Indeed, the aroma of coffee penetrated the air around 16th and Walnut, all to generate awareness of the perceived negative impact of cars on a city.

SMP certainly demonstrated its commitment to Park(ing) Day, as they had their display percolating from 8:30 a.m. until at least 3:30 p.m., says architect Scott Ritchie. To be sure, the coffee theme was a unique one on this day. “Ground is essential to a city, so we collected coffee grounds from local shops,” said Ritchie, who was eager to explain his firm’s eclectic choice. All told, the spot contained scores of cups filled with coffee grounds from area coffee shops.

Ritchie explained that his firm pounced at the chance to participate in Park(ing) Day because of its history of sustainable design. “We want to be a part of the dialogue that makes the city greener,” says Ritchie. When asked about the primary benefits of the day, the architect mentioned discussion about pedestrian conditions, as well as the effect of autos on a city.

By far, most of the one-day parks were located in Center City, although University City, Mount Airy, Manayunk, and North Philadelphia all had participating spots. Organizations that came out for the day included city and regional planning agencies, other city government bodies, architecture and design firms, alternative transportation advocacy groups, and community development corporations.

Park(ing) Day began in San Francisco back in 2005, the brainchild of an art and design firm called Rebar. It has blossomed into a worldwide phenomenon, with events in 183 cities spanning six continents. In the U.S., cities that saw parks temporarily sprout up included Memphis, New Orleans, Raleigh, and Salt Lake City.

Of course, there was no tally of how many angry drivers inched by the newly formed parks. At the 1600 Walnut St. park, Ritchie saw a few miffed motorists. However, putting it in perspective, Ritchie says it was a negligible impact for one day -- a day set aside for those not driving in downtown areas. 

Source: Scott Ritchie, SMP Architects
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Still hope for City Council passage of zoning code re-write by year's end

Philadelphia’s Zoning Code Commission unveiled a new timeline that they hope will lead to a modernized zoning code during a six-hour public hearing in front of City Council. The public certainly got to weigh in, as 40 different people signed up to testify, split into thirteen panels of three or more people at a time.

The barrage of public comment not withstanding, the Zoning Code Commission (ZCC) announced its strong desire to pass a new zoning code in City Council by the end of the year. Perhaps no one is more eager to see a new zoning code before the year’s end than Eva Gladstein, the Executive Director of the ZCC. Gladstein is cautiously optimistic about the odds of success. "A number of members of City Council expressed their interest in passing a new zoning code before the end of the year, and we believe that while the timeline is tight, it is achievable," says Gladstein.

From the look and sound of the hearing, City Council members and public testifiers -- including community group leaders, developers, and environmentalists -- support most parts of the zoning code update. However, there are a few sticking points among City Council and the public that might impede the ZCC deadline.

Councilman Bill Green, who many believe may run for mayor some time in the next decade, has raised many of the questions and concerns on City Council. He clarified his concerns by releasing a set of 10 amendments that he feels are necessary for the proposed zoning code re-write. At the hearing, Green complained that his office had not received a revisable copy of the zoning code proposal. Both Gladstein and Alan Greenberger, Acting Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and a member of the ZCC, claimed they did send the document. 

One of Green’s concerns is that the proposed zoning code does not adequately restrict potentially harmful industry from going into residential neighborhoods. Some of the community groups present seemed to agree with this, as well as other aspects of Green’s amendments. Another complaint, voiced by the East Falls Community Council, was that there was insufficient, albeit improved, participation from community groups in the re-write.

With this in mind, the politicians and the public seemed ready to proceed with an improved zoning code. Speaker after speaker seemed to delight in commending the ZCC for its hard work in drafting sorely needed zoning reform. Even hesitant City Council members, like Green and Brian O’Neill, acknowledged that the zoning code needed to be modernized. Thus, it's not if, but when the zoning code reform will pass. Many hope it will be by year’s end, but that’s not a guarantee.

Source: Eva Gladstein, Philadelphia Zoning Code Commission
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Penn Park opens as a sustainable gateway between University and Center Cities

Last week, the University of Pennsylvania made an effort to bridge the gap between itself and Center City by opening a newly-constructed 24-acre park. Penn Park, which combines a former postal service parking lot with university property, is bounded by Walnut and South Sts. to the north and south, and rail tracks to the east and west.

One of Penn Park’s most notable qualities is the opportunities it provides for pedestrian connection to Center City. According to Anne Papageorge, Penn’s Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Services, the park is "knit together" by three pedestrian bridges. One bridge connects the park with Walnut St. just past the Schuylkill River, while another bridge enables pedestrians going to or coming from downtown to access the park from the South St. bridge.

Another of Penn Park’s accomplishments is that it transformed a parking lot into something sustainable. Papageorge was proud to list some of the park’s environmentally friendly components, including "cisterns, energy efficient lighting, and native plants." What this means is that 548 local trees were planted in the park, all of which can be irrigated using recycled rainwater from cisterns. Also, energy-efficient lighting should save the park 300,000 watts of energy per hour. 

Penn Park is expected to become a pivotal part of Penn’s athletic system. The park is graced by three multipurpose NCAA-worthy fields, including one that seats 470 spectators, as well as 12 tennis courts, which can accommodate another 200 sports fans. Steve Bilsky, Director of Athletics at the university, believes the park is a leap forward for athletics. "Because it's a park, more and more people will visit the athletic facilities," says Bilsky. He adds that it will be a worthwhile, albeit contemporary, addition to the famed Palestra and Franklin Field.

The park cost $46.5 million, paid for by the university and donors, and created 233 local jobs. Penn celebrated the park’s opening last Thursday by offering everyone a free picnic with hotdogs and soda and setting off fireworks at dusk. Onlookers on the Walnut St. bridge were treated to an up-close showing of the fireworks, which were set off from a parking lot below. In keeping with the theme of connecting with Center City, the fireworks were also clearly visible from the Schuylkill River Trail.
Source: Anne Papageorge, University of Pennsylvania
Writer: Andy Sharpe

SEPTA prepares for vote on new way to pay on Regional Rail

At a press conference this past week, SEPTA announced that its Board will be voting on an ambitious plan to modernize the Regional Rail fare structure in September or October. This comes after the Regional Rail Fare Policy Advisory Group, which consisted of 14 suburban and urban transportation planners and transit activists and had been meeting since May, released a report concerning SEPTA’s New Payment Technologies proposal.

However, before the Board votes on reforming Regional Rail payment, SEPTA wants more input from riders. To this end, SEPTA has placed a brief survey soliciting opinions about New Payment Technologies on its website. The authority has also promoted the survey in stations and vehicles. John McGee, SEPTA’s chief officer of New Payment Technologies, is eager to see rail riders participate in the survey. This survey "really impacts what we’re doing," said McGee. "It will help us lay out the foundation of a gated railroad system."

For Regional Rail riders, conductors, and engineers, the installation of turnstiles in the five designated Center City stations, which are Temple University, Market East, Suburban, 30th Street, and University City Stations, may be the most noticeable proposed change.

Because of this, the addition of turnstiles is also proving controversial.

"Turnstiles are both a physical and psychological barrier to riding the train," said Matt Mitchell, a director at the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers (DVARP) and a vocal member of the advisory group. "They slow down people as they’re rushing to catch the train." Yet, SEPTA remains eager to install turnstiles and gates. "We’ll buy gates soon after the Board vote in September or October," pointed out McGee.

Another notable aspect of New Payment Technology concerning Regional Rail is that, if approved by the SEPTA Board, riders to some stations closer to Center City will have to pay for traveling further, and then collect a refund when they disembark the train. McGee looked to brush off skepticism about this for riders paying with credit or debit cards. "The refund will be instantaneous for contactless credit and debit card users," reassured McGee.

It is important to add that many of these proposed changes are still at least a couple of years away. Also, some of the changes are not even etched in marble yet. "We’re still open," said McGee. "That's why we’re asking for wider input."

This means that debates over whether fares will be collected in one or both directions and what to do about paying with cash and transferring vehicles are not over. 

Source: John McGee, SEPTA
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Panel to explore role of arts and culture in community development

There's more than one way to build community, and arts and culture provides ample opportunity to do just that. Living in a hotbed for such activity, it seems entirely appropriate that the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance has teamed up with the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations.

The organizations are co-presenting Arts and Community Development: Dynamic Partners, a workshop and panel discussion set for Thursday, Sept. 8 from 12:30-2:30 p.m. at Asian Arts Initiative (1219 Vine St., Philadelphia). The program will include opportunities to learn about best practices of community development organizations, artists and cultural groups working collaboratively to advance revitalization strategies, locate space, and develop community programs. Special attention will be paid to partnership building, new funding sources, and smart use of data.

Guests include Maggie Mailer, co-founder of the Pittsfield Storefront Artist Project, a nationally recognized model that uses arts as an economic catalyst in a distressed area of Western Massachusetts. The loss of 10,000 General Electric jobs there has had a major impact on the Pittsfield area's economy, population and morale. Now a weekly summer street festival attracts 10,000 people downtown on a regular basis as Pittsfield has become "the Brooklyn of the Berkshires."

Register here. Cost is $15 for PACDC and Cultural Alliance members, $10 for each additional staff person, and $25 for non-members.

Source: Pamela Bridgeforth, Pennsylvania Association of Community Development Corporations
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Philly's long-proposed park in the sky, Reading Viaduct, gains traction with design study

The design firm Bryan Hanes Studio has begun to embark on a study that could make a long-supported but perpetually stalled Philadelphia project move forward. This study is examining how to design a park on the abandoned railroad tracks up high on the Reading Viaduct in the city's Callowhill neighborhood.

Specifically, the design study concerns the SEPTA-owned portion of the tracks. This is actually just a spur of the viaduct, as the rest is owned by the Reading Company, which has left the rail business and now dabbles in film in California.

The group that has perhaps been the most vocal in support of developing a park is the Callowhill Reading Viaduct Neighborhood Improvement District (CRVNID), which is effusive in its praise of a park. "A park would make the neighborhood more livable," points out John Struble, a cofounder of the Reading Viaduct project with CRVNID. "There is no green space and no park in our neighborhood, (so with this) people can enjoy the outdoors."

This design study is the second phase of examination for the proposed Reading Viaduct park. A year ago, an environmental impact study gave a favorable review to the idea of a park. According to Struble, the design study, which is financed by the William Penn Foundation, is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Struble, who calls himself a "neighborhood advocate" eagerly pinpoints other cities like New York (the High Line in Manhattan's Lower West Side) that have succeeded with similar parks. "This caught on in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Atlanta."

The one shortfall of the Reading Viaduct park proposal is that funding sources have not currently been confirmed. Struble did make sure to add that Poor Richards Charitable Trust might provide some capital. Despite the financial question mark, it looks like Philadelphians might be looking up in the sky for their newest park.

Source: John Struble, CRVNID
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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