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PRA looking to re-develop land in bustling Francisville

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) has begun the process of marketing an 18,500-square foot parcel of land in the fast-growing Francisville neighborhood. The parcel, which is on the 1700-block of Folsom St. and is zoned R (Residential)-10, currently consists of vacant land, which is located next to three Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) houses, and one market-rate residence, says Leigh Jones, a project manager within the PRA. The current residences could represent a further development opportunity.  A pre-submission conference was held last week to interested developers and community groups.

“We’re really excited about the Francisville neighborhood,” says Jones, who adds that it’s five blocks from the Fairmount Broad Street Subway Station and near parks and green space. In addition, it’s situated not far from Fairmount Ave, which has ample dining, shopping, and café options. 

The Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation (FNDC) has some very strong opinions about what it would and would not like to see go into the PRA property.

“We [Francisville] are over-saturated with affordable housing,” says Penelope Giles, the executive director of FNDC. “The neighborhood is not going to accept any more subsidized affordable housing.” Instead, Giles hints that two or three bedroom condominiums would be a great fit for the neighborhood. 

The Redevelopment Authority will gather submissions from developers for the property through June 21. She says that submissions should include a development pro forma and financial plan, a statement of qualifications and financial responsibility and a Minority and Woman-owned Business Enterprise (MBE and WBE) plan. 

As of the pre-submission conference, the PRA admitted it has not yet talked with the PHA about the three existing public housing properties. Instead, they're leaving it up to the developers to contact the PHA themselves. The parcel of land runs from 1716 to 1726 Folsom St. and then from 1730 to 1750 Folsom. 703-705 N. 18th St. is also affected. The developers in the room certainly sounded interested, representing Community Ventures, Altman Management Company, Loonstyn Properties, Pennrose Properties, and Universal Companies.

Sources: Leigh Jones, PRA and Penelope Giles, FNDC
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Philly Painting: Money follows art as Haas & Hahn transform Germantown Ave.

It's not your typical tourist destination, but a stretch of lower Germantown Avenue is now in the process of becoming world famous. This week, Mural Arts Program kicked off Philly Painting, led by Dutch artists Jeroen Haas and Dre Urhahn, AKA Haas & Hahn.

"The first part will go on from where we are standing now as far as you can see," said Urhahn, pointing north from the corner of Germantown Avenue and West Huntingdon Street. The One+Seven Variety Store, owned by Mrs. Tokhui Kelly, is the starting point for the massive 100,000 square foot project. The corner store at 2601 Germantown Avenue has been transformed with blocks of color Kelly chose from a palate of 50 options offered by the artists. "I chose bright colors," says Kelly. "Everybody pays attention. It helps this neighborhood look good."

Urhahn says he and Haas settled on the fifty color set by doing a photographic analysis of the city of Philadelphia, choosing hues most commonly seen on the streets. Each building owner has the option of selecting color combinations. "Some are not interested, and some think it's important. They might come back twenty times, while other shop owners tell us just to make something nice."

Located just steps away from the Village of Arts and Humanities, the Germantown corridor project has hired a paint crew of 21 local young people, but this summer, Elizabeth Grimaldi, director of the Village, says she'll be running a free summer camp to attract some of the 1800 kids in walking distance of the project.

Mayor Michael Nutter stopped by for Wednesday's kickoff, and highlighted $3.5 million in improvements to the Germantown Avenue corridor, funded mostly by the Department of Commerce and assisted by the Planning Commission. The project was among those funded by the Knight Arts Challenge.

"In reality," adds Urhahn, pointing to cracks in one store's facade, "these buildings need a lot of attention. But this project is the first step to more businesses coming in, and more money moving around."

Source: Dre Urhahn, Elizabeth Grimaldi, Mrs. Tokhui Kelly, Mayor Michael Nutter
Writer: Sue Spolan

Plans for two elementary schools to be more sustainable include secret garden, greenhouse, trails

Given elementary schools are where we send our children to begin their learning career, it makes sense that these schools should be places that cultivate environmental sustainability. Yet, with Philadelphia children being bullied by a large education budget deficit every year, sustainability isn't often a priority. With this in mind, four teams presented their plans to sustainably transform West Philly’s Lea Elementary and Germantown’s Kelly Elementary at last week’s design charrette held by the Community Design Collaborative.

The first two plans examine ways to transform Lea School, which is a K-8 school at 47th and Locust Sts. in the Walnut Hill neighborhood. The first plan strives at "establishing the schoolyard as the ‘front door’," says Maurice Jones, the president of the Lea Home and School Association, who presented on behalf of the first team. Jones says his team recommends cultivating a garden for an entrance, which would provide stormwater management through rain barrels and a rain garden. The school is already in the process of doing this, using the City's Recyclebank grant money.

The second plan for Lea addresses stormwater, learning, and traffic. This plan calls for turning the asphalt that dominates the schoolyard into a soft porous play surface, says presenter Michael Hickman, a water resources designer for Meliora Design in Phoenixville. Hickman also calls for tree trenches and cisterns to better control rainwater. To bring the educational component back into play, he also wants to create an outdoor classroom and a “secret garden,” somewhat similar to the first plan. Finally, Hickman desires curb bump-outs to calm traffic on Locust and Spruce Sts. 

The other two teams tackled ways to sustainably transform Kelly Elementary, which is a K-6 school in the much less dense neighborhood of Pulaski and Manheim in Germantown. The first plan for Kelly prescribes removing the school’s blacktop, putting in some trees, establishing some raised bed gardens, and possibly constructing a greenhouse, says presenter Dennis Barnebey, who taught in Philadelphia public schools for 32 years. Finally. Barnebey desires an outdoor classroom and rain garden, which would support woodland and other plants.

The final plan for Kelly facilitates “exposing the children with their connection to nature, says speaker Vicki Mehl, the president of the local Hansberry Garden and Nature Center. She is passionate about including different types of habitat at the elementary, such as meadow and wetland. She also proposes a “wellness trail” and an interactive sculpture. Perhaps the most interesting idea to come out of the presentation is that of a “trash-gobbling monster,” which is a trash can that would make it fun to toss out refuse.

Sources: Vicki Mehl, Dennis Barnebey, Michael Hickman, and Maurice Jones
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Sketches courtesy of the Community Design Collaborative

Community Ventures working with Parks and Rec. on new affordable housing, park at 16th and Master

We recently told you about the redevelopment spree occurring on Broad St. in North Philadelphia. While the high-value development is mostly confined to Broad St., there is some interesting residential redevelopment being proposed for the streets around it. One of the most promising developments is Ingersoll Homes, an affordable housing complex and park at 16th and Master Sts. Ingersoll is being pushed by Community Ventures, an affordable housing developer that does a lot of work in neighboring Francisville. 

Community Ventures is looking to put up 10 single-family units, eight three-bedroom houses, and two four-bedroom homes, all of which will be owner-occupied, says Steve Kaufman, the executive director of Community Ventures. Kaufman plans on offering the single-family homes for $140,000 each, and they'll only be available to community members who are interested in purchasing. This is to allay community fears about the influx of Temple U. students renting property, which has intensified with the proposed Neighborhood Improvement District (NID).

One of the really unique components to Ingersoll Homes is a developer who's interested in not just housing, but also a park. Kaufman underscores how much the neighborhood deserves a park. A "2015 park expansion plan regards the surrounding area as a high priority for placement of a new park because it is far away from any existing park, is high density, and [is in] an underserved neighborhood (high poverty rate, etc)," says Kaufman. 

Because of Kaufman's affinity for parks, Community Ventures took the initiative to approach the city's Parks and Recreation and Water Departments. He says that both agencies quickly developed an interest in Ingersoll Homes and endorsed Ventures' application to the city's Office of Housing and Community Development for funding. Kaufman reports that the PWD is excited to use Ingersoll Park to manage stormwater that would otherwise flow into the city's antiquated combined sewer/stormwater system. 

Kaufman hopes to begin construction on Ingersoll Homes and Park in late winter next year. He admits that Community Ventures still needs to go through the bureaucratic approval process, which will include Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) variances. Yet, he doesn't anticipate much trouble. "The development has been strongly supported by Council President Darrell Clarke and the surrounding community," Kaufman says.

Source: Steve Kaufman, Community Ventures   
Writer: Andy Sharpe

South Philly school, surrounding neighborhood get $400,000 grant to improve stormwater management

When it comes to sustainability, Philadelphia boasts of a first-rate stormwater management plan called "Green City, Clean Waters,” which is implemented by the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD).  Thanks to a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), students and staff at South Philly’s Nebinger School and residents of the adjacent community will be able to exemplify sustainable rainwater management. This grant will be coupled with a matching $200,000 grant from PWD and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.

The EPA hopes to make Nebinger, at 6th and Carpenter Sts., a national and international exemplar for rainwater control.  The combined $400,000 grant will go in part towards educating students about how to sustainably make use of rainwater. Lessons will be facilitated through the installation of a large rain garden, permeable play surfaces, and stormwater planters.

David Sternberg, press officer for EPA’s Region 3, which includes Philadelphia, says the PWD nominated Nebinger because of the school’s previous work with the city, the Trust for Public Land, and the Community Design Collaborative on stormwater management.

"Therefore, the partnership would not be starting from scratch, but could have something implemented for demonstration in the near future,” says Sternberg. 

Sternberg adds that Nebinger fulfills a number of other EPA prerequisites. This includes an "ongoing classroom educational laboratory” on environmental curriculum, a strong local business improvement district (the East Passyunk Business Improvement District), a stellar academic history, and a diverse collection of students, according to Sternberg. 

While the initial grant only covers the school and a few surrounding blocks, indications are it could eventually stretch much further than that. Sternberg hints that students at Nebinger might partner with pupils in Rio de Janeiro on sustainable stormwater management as part of the EPA-facilitated Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability. This initiative brings together members of the U.S. and Brazilian government, "private, academic, and civil society sectors” that promote environmentally-friendly cities, says Sternberg.

The immediate neighborhood is poised to benefit as well. The grant will cover Passyunk Ave. between 6th and 10th Sts. The community will benefit from tree trenches and other methods that enable trees to better handle rainwater. According to Sternberg, PWD and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, which have been handling business outreach, have found a "significant amount of interest” from local members of the East Passyunk Business Improvement District.

No official word on when Nebinger and the neighboring streets will begin to see stormwater improvements, although a source tells us green street retrofits could begin as early as autumn. This same source says design and construction of the rain garden and other features at the school could begin in late spring of next year, although that’s not confirmed.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: David Sternberg, EPA

Local group lobbying to cultivate Triangle Park between Queen Village and Bella Vista

About a month ago, Flying Kite told you about a pocket park in Pennsport that was made possible through the charity of a developer. Just a few miles north and west of that is another potential community park, Triangle Park, which straddles Queen Village and Bella Vista. However, it is a decidedly different story with this park, as the Friends of Triangle Park have been unsuccessfully trying to wrestle control away from a private owner for some time. In the process, they have generated considerable political and neighborhood support for community green space.

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) has extended an offer to purchase the park, but has not heard back from the owner, says Joel Palmer, head of the Friends of Triangle Park (FOTP). The main problem with the site is that it likely will need some remediation, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). "The only fly in the ointment is what are the requirements to satisfy DEP and who is gonna (sic) foot the bill," says Palmer. The Friends have no idea how much the bill is, but know it's enough for the owner to not want to pay.

Friends of Triangle Park currently aren't sure if the developer, Stuart Schlaffman who owns Condom Kingdom and The Mood on South St., wants to try to put a building on the parcel or is willing to hand the property over to the PRA. Schlaffman was initially happy to let the Friends clean up the park. However, he has recently encapsulated the park with a security fence to keep people out. In Palmer's opinion, the owner of the property has "a better chance to catch polio" than be able to sell the property, thanks to all of the DEP's regulations.   

Palmer says there is massive support for maintaining Triangle Park as green space. He says state senator Larry Farnese, district councilman Mark Squilla, and incoming state representative Brian Sims have all vowed support for Triangle Park. In addition, countless neighbors support the community park. Palmer would know, as he's the former president of the Bella Vista Town Watch

The park is at 601 Christian St, and is named for its triangle shape between the intersection of Passyunk Ave., 6th St., and Christian St. It's on a popular block, as a new residence is being constructed across the street at 606 Christian and the popular Shot Tower Coffeehouse opened at 542 Christian a little over a year ago. The triangle used to house a gas station, hence the need for environmental remediation.  

Source: Joel Palmer, Friends of Triangle Park
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Photo courtesy of Friends of Triangle Park   

Frankford businesses get the chance to show off for those merely passing through

Frankford is an important gateway between Center City and Northeast Philadelphia, as it is home to the Frankford Transportation Center. But this doesn't help local businesses in Frankford, as travelers have little reason to hop off in a neighborhood that has suffered from its share of crime and blight. That's why the Frankford CDC is partnering with Aria Health to highlight shops along the Frankford Ave. commercial corridor and elsewhere in the neighborhood.

The Frankford CDC anticipates beginning its campaign in late-May, says Michelle Feldman, the commercial corridor manager at the CDC. Each quarter, four new businesses will set up shop inside the cafeteria of Aria Health's Frankford campus. Feldman says she has received interest "from a whole range of institutions and businesses" in participating. These businesses include Gilbert's Upholstery and Antiques, which has graced Frankford Ave. for more than 30 years, Frankford Friends School, Cramer's Uniforms, Mezalick Design Studio, and Denby's Sweet Sensations pastries.  

Feldman says that outreach to local businesses about the chance to be featured was done via e-mail and shop-to-shop canvassing. The latter was made much easier by the fact that Feldman is used to walking up and down Frankford Ave. and interacting with shopkeepers and employees as part of her role with the CDC. While she says the CDC focuses on businesses along the Avenue, some of the participating businesses are on Griscom St., Orthodox St., and elsewhere off of the main commercial corridor. "We're here to help all businesses," says Feldman.

Community leaders in Frankford are quick to laud Aria Health for allowing businesses to market themselves. Feldman says the idea for this campaign came from the realization that many Aria employees merely drove or walked past businesses on Frankford Ave. without actually going inside any of them. This is quite similar to the scads of El commuters who ride, drive, or walk through Frankford, but would probably have trouble naming even a few shops. The CDC hopes to generate interest in shopping and eating locally among Aria employees through this. 

Along with the marketing campaign for local businesses, there are a few other exciting things happening in Frankford. Feldman mentions the Mural Arts Program recently held two public meetings to determine the designs of the upcoming "Imagining Frankford" murals by artist Cesar Viveros. Also, Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez recently spearheaded a grant for targeted facade improvements on the 4600-block of Frankford Ave. Finally, the CDC inaugurated a new computer lab for the community, which was made possible by Philly Rising and Temple University's Computer Recycling Center

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Michelle Feldman, Frankford CDC

Nicetown aims for transit-oriented development across from Wayne Junction Station

In a neighborhood short on new developments and long on challenges, just about any project is welcomed. In Philadelphia's Nicetown, a transit-oriented development (TOD) project known as Nicetown Court II is being viewed as a key piece in the neighborhood's comeback puzzle as it would bring low-income housing and retail to the community around the Wayne Junction train station.

Nicetown Court II is designed with 50 low-income rental units and ground-floor retail, according to Richard Redding, the director of the Community Planning Division of the City Planning Commission. The complex would be at the intersection of Wayne and Windrim Aves, across the street from Wayne Junction. The apartments would be mostly two- and three-bedroom, with a few four-bedroom units. In addition, Redding adds there would be around 5,000 sq. ft. of retail, which could be frequented by Court residents, other Nicetown residents, or train commuters.

No word on when construction will begin, although it was recommended by the City Planning Commission last week and also has Redevelopment Authority approval. The development is a collaboration between the Nicetown CDC and Kenny Gamble’s Universal Companies.  

While part of the story is that Nicetown Court II will provide development nourishment for a hungry Nicetown, the other part is how this is a prime example of TOD. There will be a stop for SEPTA’s Route 23 bus right outside the Court that can take residents to Northwest, North, and South Philadelphia, and Center City. The complex is also a pebble’s flick away from Wayne Junction. “This is a train station that is being re-constructed,” says Redding, who adds that this development is in line with his agency’s TOD plans for both Nicetown and Germantown.

Nicetown Court II follows the December completion of Nicetown Court I, which contains four stories with 37 mixed-income apartments and ground floor retail, a little further down Germantown Ave. The original Nicetown Court is now fully occupied. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Richard Redding, Philadelphia City Planning Commission

Two examples of Philly's landmark stormwater management in action

It's a dry subject, but as Philadelphia wins widespread acclaim for its progressive approach to stormwater management, including the $2 billion, 25-year plan approved by the EPA last week, two projects on opposite ends of the city exemplify how the public and private sectors can cut runoff, flooding and pollution and improve neighborhoods.
On a North Philly block bounded by 16th, Master, Smedley and Seybert streets, an area without much open space, a public/private partnership is proposing Ingersoll Commons, 10 new, affordable rowhomes and a lush, new public park with rain gardens to collect and gradually infiltrate stormwater runoff from the site and neighboring blocks.  Planted with native meadow grasses, the "passive" green space -- no active recreation -- "would be a very different aesthetic from the traditional park," says Glen Abrams, an official with the Philadelphia Water Department's Office of Watersheds. The city's Department of Parks and Recreation and the Water Department are waiting on a request for state funding to build the new park; Community Ventures, a nonprofit developer of affordable housing, is the partner on the residential piece of the project. 
Meanwhile, in South Philly, Carpenter Square at 17th and Carpenter will be a market-rate, mixed-used residential and commercial project with a small public plaza. But what really distinguishes the project, designed by Johnston Stromberg Architecture and developed by Goldenberg Group and MR Scott Development, is that it "celebrates stormwater opportunities," as architect Christopher Stromberg puts it.
The 11 townhomes and condo/commercial structure will have green roofs. The paving of the plaza and the rear parking will be porous. And along the street, instead of  tree pits, will be a series of three-by-15-foot stormwater planters with native vegetation. All of this, explains Stromberg, is designed to gradually drain water back into the ground instead gushing into the sewers. 
Both projects could be bellwethers of how real estate development will evolve under new stormwater regulations and the city's 25-year "Green City Clean Waters" plan. 

Source: Christopher Stromberg, Johnston Stromberg Architecture; Glen Abrams, Philadelphia Water Department
Writer: Elise Vider

Transit-oriented development Paseo Verde to provide green path to Regional Rail in North Philly

The land around the Temple University Regional Rail station has long presented a golden opportunity to give North Philadelphia some much-needed development. After all, SEPTA's fourth busiest train station presents the perfect means of travel for a neighborhood accustomed with poverty and reeling with parking woes created by the influx of students at the nearby university. This is exactly what Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha (APM) had in mind when they broke ground on the Paseo Verde residential, retail, and office development on the former PGW lot at 9th and Berks Sts. on Tuesday.

Paseo Verde, which means "green path" in Spanish, is a $48 million development that will include 120 low and moderate-income residential units for rent and 30,000 sq. ft. of office and retail space. The excitement over this sustainable transit-oriented development (TOD) was palpable at the groundbreaking, as Mayor Nutter, Council President Darrell Clarke, state Senator Shirley Kitchen, and David Walsh, the senior vp of Community Development Banking at JPMorgan Chase all delivered optimistic remarks for this slice of North Philadelphia.

APM was clearly ecstatic to be hosting the groundbreaking for Paseo Verde. Nilda Ruiz, the president and CEO of APM, gushed that the TOD exemplifies a "combination of vision, practicality, and beauty." Jonathan Rose, the head of Paseo Verde’s developer, the Jonathan Rose Company, was also on-hand to serenade the development. Rose told the audience the project would likely be completed in eighteen months, and reiterated his company’s commitment to sustainable development in Philadelphia and across the country.

While the mixed-use development will promote sustainable transportation, it will also be sustainable in other ways. "The building will generate 25 percent less energy than today’s code," said Sara Vernon Sterman, the chief lending officer at The Reinvestment Fund, at the groundbreaking. She added that Paseo Verde will include low-flow water fixtures, solar panels, and white, green, and blue roofs. The white roofs will help to cool down the units, while the green and blue roofs will enable sustainable storm water control. Other sustainable perks will include low-VOC paint and energy-efficient windows.    

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Nilda Ruiz, Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha  

Lyceum Ave. porches and facades in Roxborough to get facelift thanks to Preservation Alliance grant

When you think of neighborhoods steeped in history, you probably think of Old City, Society Hill, and Germantown. Yet, the Roxborough neighborhood of Northwest Philadelphia has plenty of historic homes in its own right, and will now be given a chance to showcase Victorian-era properties on Lyceum Ave., a few blocks up from the infamous Manayunk Wall, between Ridge Ave. and Pechin St. This is thanks to a grant from the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia to rehabilitate the porches and facades of homes on the two-block stretch.

The Roxborough Development Corporation (RDC) is not wasting any time in taking advantage of the $30,000 grant, says James Calamia, its operations manager. "This summer is a target to begin construction, maybe even this spring," he says. The RDC held a forum on the grant this past Wednesday, where they handed out applications for interested Victorian homeowners to enlist. They also put on the first of multiple workshops on "historic porches and wood repairs," adds Calamia. There was an excellent turnout for both the forum and the workshop.

This is just the latest exciting news for Roxborough, which is trying to enhance its Ridge Ave. commercial corridor through walkability improvements and the opening of new businesses. In order to draw more people to live and shop in the area, RDC is trying to accentuate the neighborhood’s rich, albeit often untold, history. "The Roxborough Development Corporation believes in protecting the historical assets and heritage of the Roxborough neighborhood," says Calamia. 

In the past, Roxborough Township was known as a peaceful alternative to the frenetic bustle of Center City, buffered from the downtown by the Wissahickon Creek and the Schuylkill River. Many of the affected homes on the 400-block of Lyceum Ave. were built in the late-1800s to maintain the sense of closely-woven community that made Roxborough such an appealing place.   

Lyceum Ave. home- and business-owners are receiving the grants on behalf of the Preservation Alliance’s Vital Neighborhoods Initiative (VNI). The VNI targets moderate-income sections of the city that could use some additional preservation work. Roxborough and the Penn Knox, Tulpehocken, and Pomona Cherokee sections of Germantown are the only neighborhoods in Northwest Philly eligible for the grants. Recipients of the last round of grants included the Fairmount CDC, the Walnut Hill Community Association, and the Yorktown CDC.

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: James Calamia, Roxborough CDC

Skyscapes: A new art installation at Traction Company in West Philly at 41st and Haverford

If you didn't notice the Traction Company building at 4100 Haverford Ave. in West Philadelphia when renowned paper cutout artist Joe Boruchow's inaugural window installation "Polarities" was on display, you have another chance thanks to Ryan Hinkel.
Hinkel's "Skyscapes" textured skyscape photographs will be on display of the Traction Company's exterior windows through May 31, including an artist reception on Saturday (April 14) from 5-8 p.m.
Traction Company is a collaborative workspace and art center founded in 2007 by six sculptors who graduated from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. It is located at the site of a famous trolley manufacturing company established in the late 1800s and in an enormous facility with 40-foot ceilings. It includes a fully equipped metal and wood fabrication shop and casting facility.
Hinkel's work, using a Nikon D200, is best viewed from varying distances -- from afar they are literal and as one approaches them, they break down into points of color.
According to a news release, Hinkel "looks at the artifcats of the digital sensor, adjusts the tonality, and sometimes re-photographs them from a computer screen before printing. His works in general are concerned with how the world around us breaks down as we move through it."
The Traction Company's ongoing public art installation series is supported by NextFab Studio.

Source: Miguel Horn
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Developer chooses to save Pennsport's Manton St. Park and community garden

For months, things did not look good for Manton St. Park in South Philly’s Pennsport neighborhood. The city refused to designate the lot as a park, instead selling it to U.S. Construction, a private developer. U.S. could have easily built on top of the park, which would have given the developer room for two more houses. Instead, the firm decided to build three rowhouses next to the pocket park, and allowed the community to keep their beloved pocket park and community garden.

U.S. Construction has shown a willingness to work with neighbors in the 4th and Manton St. area that houses the pocket park, says Mark Berman, the president of the Friends of Manton Street Park and Community Garden. "They said initially they didn't want to start out in the community on a bad foot," he says. Berman continues that they’ve been approachable and cooperative. They've gone so far as to agree to pay for some of the supplies in rehabbing the park. Neighbors seem to be happy at the three new residential units, citing the large amount of abandoned lots in the neighborhood.

Now that Manton St. Park has been awarded a new lease on life, Berman has plans to bring it back to life. He hopes to get it listed on the Parks and Recreation Department’s inventory of parks, and turn it into a landscaped leisure area, perfect for picnics. The Friends also hope to continue the park’s current use as a community garden, which holds 10 beds and boasts a passionate bunch of volunteers. 

Berman says his group works closely with other community groups, but wants a better relationship with the city. He says his group has an intimate relationship with the Pennsport and Dickinson Narrows Civic Associations, and Friends of Jefferson Square Park. However, Berman still has a bitter taste in his mouth about how the city treated his park. He recounts poor communication from Councilman Frank DiCicco’s office and Parks and Recreation. However, the Friends have received support from the current councilman, and are optimistic about a better relationship with the city. 

The Friends of Manton St. Park anticipate that U.S. Construction’s new rowhouses will be ready in just a couple of months. Berman is excited that whoever moves in will soon have a landscaped pocket park and community garden right next door. He realizes that South Philadelphia "traditionally gets a bad rap for being full of litter and concrete." Thanks to the cooperation between U.S. Construction and The Friends, this won’t be true for the neighborhood around 4th and Manton.  

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Mark Berman, Friends of Manton St. Park and Community Garden

Photo courtesy of Friends of Manton St. Park and Community Garden 

Neighborhood Foods' CSA delivers West Philly's freshest to rest of region

Greater Philadelphia is rapidly becoming more of a hub for urban farming and community-supported agriculture (CSA). Just look at the recently expanded Mariposa food co-op on Baltimore Ave., the active Kensington Community Food Co-op, and the Creekside Co-op groundbreaking in Montgomery County. Another organization that hasn’t received as much publicity is West Philadelphia’s Neighborhood Foods, which is transitioning from just an urban farm to a CSA and is teaming up with other local food venders at Rittenhouse Square.

Neighborhood Foods will be using three different sites in West Philadelphia this year to cultivate fresh food. The main site is Polselli Farm, a two-thirds acre lot at 53rd and Wyalusing at which the group has been farming snce 2010, according to Dylan Baird, the business manager. He adds that his organization annexed two smaller farm sites last year, and will be growing from them starting this year. One site is the popular Walnut Hill Farm, which thrives in the shadows of SEPTA's 46th St. El stop. 

Baird is excited to announce that his urban farm will also feature a CSA this year, which he claims is the city’s first urban farm-based CSA. Members of this CSA will enjoy locally-cultivated fruits, vegetables, and grains, with all proceeds being returned to Haddington, Walnut Hill, and other sections of West Philly. According to Baird, the CSA will run for 22 weeks from the middle of May to October, and more include very affordable prices. Neighborhood Foods is currently looking for members.  

The CSA is now working with other local food sellers at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market every Saturday. "We are broadening beyond just urban farmed produce and we will be incorporating all kinds of Philly produced products," says Baird. Some examples of this include canned goods from South Philly’s Green Aisle Grocery, bread from West Philly’s Four Worlds Bakery, and jellies from Fifth of a Farm Jams

Proceeds from the Rittenhouse stand enable Neighborhood Foods to continue to grow and sell fresh food at a steep discount in West Philly. "Our business model is such that we sell our food at a premium around the city so that we can subsidize the price of food at our community farmers market as well as our community programs," says Baird.  

Neighborhood Foods is a product of The Enterprise Center CDC and Urban Tree Connection, and features produce that is grown naturally and without chemicals. Baird says that the urban farm benefits from a large local population of senior citizens, who understand the value of fresh vegetables from their early years in the South. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Dylan Baird, Neighborhood Foods

Photo courtesy Neighborhood Foods     

Philly has 2,500 acres for urban farming, crop value of $10M-plus, says Green Space Alliance study

The Pennsylvania Convention Center Annex was filled with the redolent scents of artisanal cheese, creamy gelato, freshly-baked bread and biscotti, and premium steeped tea last Sunday. These scents formed the aromatic calling card for the Philly Farm and Food Fest, which was co-organized by Fair Food and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). One of the highlights of the convention was a panel discussion on the Green Space Alliance’s recent study “Transforming open space to sustainable farm enterprises.”

The panel discussion started with an outline of Green Space Alliance’s (GSA’s) findings, which include recommendations on public outreach, zoning and planning, and urban areas. One of the chief findings is that GSA should extend an arm to local governments, land trusts, and conservancies to generate knowledge about sustainable farming. Under zoning, the study concludes that specific ordinance definitions should be drafted, says Justin Keller, an architect with Simone Collins Landscape Architecture, which prepared the study for GSA. 

Finally, the study advises that incentives be created for urban farms that bolster stormwater management through the elimination of impervious surfaces. It specifically pinpoints urban farms as sources of sorely-needed nourishment in food deserts and job creators in neighborhoods with rampant unemployment. GSA found that the city of Philadelphia has nearly 2,500 acres that can be used for farming, which could yield a crop value between $6.4 and $10.8 million, says Peter Simone, also an architect with Simone Collins.

After Simone Collins presented the study, three panelists offered conference-goers some feedback. Nic Esposito, who farms at East Kensington’s Emerald St. Urban Farm, is interested in the study’s examination of municipal land, as his farm is owned by three different city agencies. While the study looks at both CSAs and farms that donate food, Esposito makes sure to mention that Emerald St. donates all the food it generates from chickens and bees. He also adds that Councilwoman Sanchez and Councilman Green’s land bank resolution in City Council would be an asset for urban farming on vacant land.

Another panelist was Joan Blaustein, chair of the Philadelphia Food Policy Council and a director in the city’s department of Parks and Recreation. Blaustein, who grows food in her own backyard garden, emphasizes the practical nature of urban gardening. Urban gardens “should satisfy the social needs of people in the city,” says Blaustein. She proceeds to give the city a pat on the back for emphasizing urban farms in its Greenworks plan and mentioning it in its new zoning code

The third panelist was Fred DeLong, a project director at the Willistown Conservation Trust and Rushton Farm in Chester County. DeLong differs from the other panelists in that his farm certainly isn’t urban. Nonetheless, he has a similar goal to the study and his fellow panelists. “Willistown Conservation Trust wants to connect people to the land,” says DeLong. He adds that within the trust is the Rushton Farm, which is a natural community-supported agriculture (CSA) within an 80-acre nature preserve.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Sources: Justin Keller, Peter Simone, Nic Esposito, Joan Blaustein, and Fred DeLong, panelists at Philly Farm and Food Fest

Illustration courtesy of Philly Farm and Food Fest   
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