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Art aflame: Artist selected for installation at rebuilt Tacony fire station

Artwork and firefighting certainly seem like odd bedfellows. That hasn't stopped Philadelphia's Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy, along with the city fire department and other agencies, from striving to meld the two. This is evident in Tacony, where Suikang Zhao was recently chosen to design an art installation at the new Engine 38 fire station and community center.

The art installation will reflect Tacony's history and firefighting heritage. Margot Berg, a public art director in the Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy, lists a number of elements that Zhao is expected to include. Among these works are two-dimensional bronze displays of antique fire engines, a historic fire alarm, representations of some of Tacony's most distinct buildings, and models of Tacony saw blades. The latter is paying homage to the Disston Saw Works, which at one time was the world's largest saw blade manufacturer, located in Tacony.

Zhao is an acclaimed artist whose work is recognized worldwide. "He has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards, and has public art commissions in Phoenix and San Diego, among other cities," gleams Berg. Zhao's work, which ranges from sculptures, to paintings, to mobile image and sound installations, has also been featured in the New York Times.

Berg points out that this display is part of Philadelphia's "Percent for Art" program, which mandates that at least one percent of a city-financed project's budget go toward public art. What's so unique about this pubic project is that new firehouses don't often get built in the city.

The recollection and teaching of history is one of the overarching goals of this art installation. "The artwork will provide an opportunity for residents to learn about the history of Tacony and of fire fighting, and to see a reflection of their history and community in the Engine 38 site," says the art director. Not surprisingly, the Tacony Historical Society was instrumental in deciding what kind of art would be featured.

Engine 38 is being rebuilt after it was displaced due to the I-95 reconstruction. The firehouse and community center combination will be a LEED-certified building in a neighborhood that doesn't have very many of those. There is still a while before Zhao's art is expected to be completed, as the Office of Arts is projecting completion by autumn, 2012.

Source: Margot Berg, Philadelphia's Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Carrotmob to storm West Phillie Produce and show importance of a neighborhood produce store

If you’re going to be around the 63rd St. El stop this-coming Friday evening, you might witness a Carrotmob. However, you have nothing to worry about, even if you don’t like carrots.

This Carrotmob will be drawing attention to a struggling independent produce store by raising money through a mass purchase of its items. West Phillie Produce, which has struggled to find business since its opening in mid-2009 despite being located in a food desert at 62nd and Ludlow Sts., will be the beneficiary of the Carrotmob.

Former City Council candidate Andy Toy, who is now the director of the Retail Resource Network at West Philadelphia’s Enterprise Center, is one of the biggest promoters of West Phillie Produce. Toy heaps praise on the owner of West Phillie Produce, Arnett Woodall, who is really trying to make a difference in the neighborhood’s diet. Regrettably, Woodall has only had varying success in doing this. "Arnett continues to encourage neighbors to improve their nutrition habits, but old habits die hard," says Toy. "Some neighbors have still not visited (in) over 2 years."

To address West Phillie’s lack of business, various groups, led by the Enterprise Center, decided to team up and unleash a Carrotmob in the store. According to Toy, a Carrotmob is a "buycott" where a bunch of people shop at a given time from a particular business that has a sustainable, local, or socially conscious mission. The proceeds from a Carrotmob go toward the business, or toward some project that the business is embarking on.

In the case of West Phillie Produce, Toy says money raised from the Carrotmob will help finance new equipment and allow the store to continue giving away fresh fruit salads to local almsgivers. In addition, the Carrotmob will enable like-minded people a chance to network with each other and discuss how to encourage local, independent businesses and neighborhood nutrition.

The Enterprise Center has no qualms about aiding a local produce store against the threat posed by distant supermarkets. Toy points out that West Phillie Produce hires from the immediate neighborhood, is easy to access without a car, and is owned by someone who resides in the area. It also opened on what used to be an unsightly abandoned lot. The store doesn’t just sell produce either, as it offers nutritional smoothies, water ice, and juices.

This is the first Carrotmob to inundate Philadelphia, although an attempt was made in the past. The Carrotmob concept began in California, and has spread across the world. In addition to the Enterprise Center, participating organizations include the Food Trust, the Merchants Fund, and Sayre Health Clinic.

Toy is happy to assist the Carrotmob effort in Philadelphia. "We like the Carrotmob concept because it results in a real tangible outcome that benefits a worthy business," he proclaims. "We hope to replicate this effort in other neighborhoods across the City." As for the Carrotmob at West Phillie Produce, it’s scheduled to run from 4-7 PM this Friday.

Source: Andy Toy, the Enterprise Center
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Neighborhood friendly and green Mantua Square public housing complex opens, could be model for PHA

The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) opened a new door for residents of Mantua last week with the opening of the Mantua Square public housing complex at 35th and Fairmount. Mantua Square is a much more modern, sustainable, and neighborhood-appropriate successor to the previous 18-story public housing tower that stood at the site. It didn’t take long for the Pennsylvania Association of Housing and Redevelopment Authorities (PAHRA) to take notice, as they gave the PHA a “best practices” award for the development.

Michael Johns, the general manager of community design and development for PHA, describes why PAHRA appreciated Mantua Square so much. They liked that the “new facility fits into the overall character of the neighborhood,” says Johns. Johns adds that the award also reflects how the housing enhances the aesthetic of the area. The Authority is not surprised at these blandishments, as one of their main goals was to build public housing that jives well with the surrounding community. According to Johns, designers analyzed the existing brick pattern in Mantua, and drew up plans for the Square with that in mind.

Mantua Square also features some cutting edge sustainability features that are not seen in many other Philadelphia public housing developments. One of the most intriguing features is that the building has the capability to return unused electricity back into the grid. Photovoltaic solar panels capable of producing 200 megawatts of power annually are mounted on the roof. Finally, Johns says that environmentally sensitive stormwater management practices are being used.

Residents of Mantua Square can also exhale, as the Housing Authority has taken steps to make the complex safer. Johns describes the PHA’s strategy as “crime prevention through environmental design.” Some examples of this include where the PHA placed the doors on the units, more radiant lighting, and the large courtyard in the middle of the complex. Also, he points out that windows are placed on the sides, which enables self-policing for residents. This stands in stark contrast to the old high-rise public housing that sometimes proved a breeding ground for crime.

The PHA is hoping that they can learn some things about conserving energy from this new development. They are also collaborating with Drexel in an effort to examine how they can save money on electricity. Among the practices they’re considering implementing in other complexes is using solar energy. The Authority is hoping Mantua Square and their work with Drexel will serve as a guide for future solar energy collection.

Michael Johns and many others at the Philadelphia Housing Authority are hoping they can set a new precedent in neighborhood relations with Mantua Square. “We are showing the communities of Belmont and Mantua that government and the Philadelphia Housing Authority care,” says Johns. The statewide association of housing authorities has already recognized this. Now, all we need is for the residents of Mantua Square to take pride in this.  

Source: Michael Johns, Philadelphia Housing Authority
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

Art gallery with ambitious plans opens in heart of Camden this week

The opening of a new business in highly impoverished Camden is considered a notable accomplishment. The opening of a new art gallery in Camden is almost unheard of. That makes this week's opening of Gallery Eleven One, a "contemporary art studio and gallery," at 339 N. Front St. on Rutgers University’s Camden campus, such a noteworthy event. Gallery Eleven One is the product of artist William Butler, and his socially aware art, design, and clothing company, Thomas Lift, LLC.

Coming from Des Moines, Iowa, Butler deliberately chose to open his gallery in such a low-income city. After all, one of the main missions of his company is to help poor people of the inner city. To this end, Butler plans to donate at least 10 percent of Gallery Eleven One’s profits to socially conscious causes. Many of these beneficiaries are located within Camden, including Heart of Camden, which builds homes for financially destitute people, the Nehemiah Project, which focuses on removing blight through education and other means, as well as charter schools. Butler puts it succinctly when he says he wants his gallery to be "a small conduit causing a spark."

Gallery Eleven One is seen as a resource for Camden residents and Rutgers students alike. Butler is ardent about enabling everyone in Camden to be able to view his artwork. He has dreams of reaching out to charter schools to spread his art’s message to youth, and he also aspires to collaborate with other artists in Camden. Given the outcry about Camden’s shuttering of fire stations, it is a brush of irony that Butler opted to locate his gallery in a fully restored 1906 firehouse.

It is important to note that Butler is also looking to attract non-Camden residents and non-students to his gallery. Ads for Eleven One’s opening make prominent mention of how close the gallery is to Camden’s waterfront, making prominent mention of its proximity to Campbell’s Field and the River Line.

Butler gives some insight into what kind of artwork will be available at his gallery. He plans on featuring contemporary, abstract, and figurative pieces.

“There will be quite a variation in size, color, and feel,” says the artist. He gives a rough estimate of the range in size, which goes from 24x24 inches at the small end to 5x7 feet at the large end.

The buzz around Gallery Eleven One not withstanding, Butler and Thomas Lift, LLC plan to expand in the future. He’s looking at another abandoned firehouse in South Camden as a potential creative space for Camden residents. This would be a contrast with the Rutgers location, as South Camden is an exponentially rougher and lower-income neighborhood. Butler’s goal is to give "residents and visitors a number of access points" to art. However, this might be as far as a year away from opening. For now, Gallery Eleven One opens on Friday, with the opening reception spanning Friday and Saturday. 

Source: William Butler, Thomas Lift, LLC
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Friends of the Wissahickon help heal parklands, trails from weather´┐Żs wrath

While a number of communities in the Delaware Valley were affected by flooding from Hurricane Irene and the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, Fairmount Park’s Wissahickon Valley saw some of the worst flooding. Yet, for as ferocious as the flooding was in the valley, the efforts to clean up flood damage have been just as intense. Friends of the Wissahickon, a mostly volunteer group, has been instrumental in the quick, yet toilsome clean-up.

Because of the lack of homes in Fairmount Park, the Wissahickon’s serious flooding didn’t garner as much media attention as other local flood spots. However, Kevin Groves, the volunteer coordinator at Friends of the Wissahickon, makes it clear that the park’s landscape was altered from the flooding.

"There was really serious erosion all over the park, and areas of Forbidden Dr. close to the (Wissahickon) creek were under water," reports Groves. Groves elaborates by saying that some segments of the popular hiking trail Forbidden Dr. actually caved in from the strength of the water. Also, Bell’s Mill Rd., a well-traveled artery between Chestnut Hill and Andorra, sustained some damage.

The sheer extent of the damage has failed to deter over a hundred people who have volunteered with Friends of the Wissahickon to help clean up the valley. Groves is clearly proud when he lauds the hundred or so volunteers who showed up for emergency repairs in the famous Valley Green section. In addition, individual dedicated volunteers with the Friends have taken the initiative to go out and conduct their own trail maintenance. 

Even a few weeks after the storms, there is still plenty of damage and plenty of interest in volunteering to fix the damage. This past weekend, about a dozen volunteers labored to take a trail that had partially washed away out of service in the vicinity of the Andorra Tree House on the western rim of the park. This included digging the trail up, mixing the dirt, and placing branches across the path to make it difficult to walk along. The volunteers were an interesting mix of park experts with Friends of the Wissahickon, Chestnut Hill College students, and one reporter.

The effects of tropical systems Irene and Lee have taught the Friends of Wissahickon and the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation one big lesson, which is that trails in the valley can and should be designed to better withstand stormwater. Groves says it’s noticeable how much better the trails that were re-designed to handle flooding held up after the storms. As flooding will never cease to be a threat through the Wissahickon Valley, this is an important lesson to grasp.  

Source: Kevin Groves, Friends of the Wissahickon
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


Community groups LOOK! to spruce up Lancaster Ave. through art

If you’re strolling along Lancaster Avenue between 35th and 40th Sts., you probably notice something looks different. In fact, you’re right, as Drexel University, the University City District, and other community groups have partnered on a two-month art exhibition running through Nov. 30 called LOOK!.

There are three main components to LOOK!, which are art displays in the windows of unused buildings, group art events in galleries or public spaces, and performances open to anyone. The most omnipresent of these components is the art that now adorns the fronts of vacant buildings. According to University City District’s Mark Christman, there are thirteen such displays. These displays speak to the corridor’s history as well as the resiliency of the community, and include audio and visual artwork.

Additionally, the opening night of LOOK! Featured some fascinating performances. This included a dance exhibition that wound its way down Lancaster Ave. called Dances for Imaginary Places Barely There. The troupe made sure to modify its dance routine depending on the unique culture of every block. The opening night also saw some theatrical shows, which examined American culture, mental illness, and burlesque.

The University City District believes the success in organizing LOOK! is a great sign for the Lancaster Avenue corridor.

"The fact that community members, landlords, neighborhood institutions, and artists were able to successfully collaborate on a project of this scale is clearly a strong sign of the broader commitment to continue to transform the Avenue," says Christman. "Lancaster Avenue is clearly a great ‘main street’ in the making."

Christman builds on the "main street" theme by lauding the neighborhood farmers’ market, nascent galleries, cafes and dining establishments, and fencing academy. He says it only made sense to run a community arts show given how much is already going on with the avenue. While Christman is unsure as to whether LOOK! will ever be done again, he did say that community groups will make sure to analyze how art can beautify public space.

When the involved organizations announced they were seeking artists to participate in mid-July, they received an overwhelming response. Despite giving artists just three weeks to submit proposals, they received about 200 requests. Christman acknowledges how creative many of the proposals were, but says "we ultimately put together a panel that included representatives from neighborhood institutions, community members, and even two Pew Fellows."

Source: Mark Christman, University City District
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

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

Living city: OLIN Studio's plans for Brewerytown wins design competition

In an International competition to create a truly sustainable city--the Living City Design Competition--a Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm held its own with an innovative redesign of the often-overlooked Brewerytown neighborhood.

OLIN Studio earned the “Cities that Learn” award for their Patch/Work design entry this past spring. The award highlighted the project’s sensitivity to the cultural realities of the existing neighborhood and the emphasis on social equity. Indeed, the team chose the Brewerytown neighborhood in part because it already had such a strong cultural identity. The Patch/Work design that won the award utilized the historic industry that Brewerytown was built upon as well as its proximity to public transit and the open space of Fairmount Park to create a design that opened access to green space and urban agriculture. Though the plan itself was hypothetical, OLIN Director of Research Skip Graffam believes this sort of plan for Philadelphia, and in Brewerytown especially, is, if not entirely pragmatic, something the city can definitely take steps towards in the future.

The Living City Design Competition had a set of very stringent guidelines pertaining to greenspace and sustainability. Graffam stated that one of his team’s main goals was "not to destroy anything that was already there," so the design played off of the existing structures of the Brewerytown neighborhood. Aspects of the winning design included retrofitting and renovating existing row homes with solar panels and turning empty lots into agricultural and pedestrian areas.  An emphasis on reintroducing industry to the area and easing the commute to green spaces and local agriculture incorporated a plan to refurbish an existing brewery as space for local agricultural commerce. Open-air locavore markets were sprinkled throughout previously abandoned lots. The team gave the transformation a 25-year timeline, in which economic incentives would encourage the changes. Graffam suggested such measures as tax incentives for green, environmentally friendly building.

Graffam says, "Specific criteria wouldn’t work everywhere, but changes in the spirit of the competition could definitely be implemented everywhere."

Source: Skip Graffam, OLIN Studio
Writer: Nina Rosenberg

Just what does blight recertification mean for South Kensington?

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission is planning to conduct a blight recertification of the Germantown Avenue corridor between 2nd and Oxford Streets in South Kensington, but not everybody is thrilled about it. One group that is skeptical of the recertification is the Kensington South Neighborhood Advisory Counsel, which composed a “letter of non-support” to the Planning Commission.

The NAC is especially concerned that the blight declaration will enable developers to ignore community input and act heavy-handedly. One of the community group’s greatest fears is that this could lead the way to eminent domain. “The American Street Empowerment Zone in its heyday used blight recertification to enact eminent domain,” mentioned Erika Tapp, the director of the Kensington South NAC.

The Counsel is also rankled that two historically significant buildings were not included in the recertification. One factory is the Pieri Factory, which manufactured lamps from the intersection of Front and Oxford Streets. The other building is the Gretz Brewery at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Oxford Street. Tapp is especially enamored of the latter, calling it a “really cool older building.” Also, the neighborhood group frets about unforeseen consequences for community gardens, which are a source of pride for South Kensington.

Yet, the City Planning Commission counters that blight recertification is necessary to encourage development around the corridor. At last month’s planning commission meeting, planner David Fecteau bemoaned that 43 percent of the properties in the affected area are vacant.

Tapp said that Fecteau has done a good job of discussing the recertification with her group. She said he made it clear that the review process for blight recertification would be much stricter and firmer than previous ones, including the American Street Empowerment Zone.

Despite the efforts of the City Planning Commission to assuage neighborhood concerns, Tapp summed up why so many residents are skeptical about the blight recertification. “It’s a mistrust of the political system,” relayed Tapp.

Unfortunately, people in this community have seen similar situations in the past, and are not happy with how they turned out.

Source: Erika Tapp, South Kensington Neighborhood Advisory Counsel
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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