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Sister Cities Park opening brings a slice of the Wissahickon and a piece of Paris to the Parkway

Historically, Center City has been defined in part by its four outlying squares, which are Rittenhouse, Washington, Franklin, and Logan. However, Logan Square has long been an anomaly because of its circular shape. While Logan Square is fabled for its fountain, it has lacked some of the park-like characteristics of the other three squares. The Center City District (CCD) saw the need to expand on Logan Square and rehabilitate Sister Cities Park at 18th and the Parkway. This facelift was complete last week, and Sister Cities is now open for relaxation, lunch, and sailboats.

Sister Cities Park is unique because it brings a Wissahickon Valley-themed landscape, a Parisian-style café, and a children’s sprayground to Center City. The sprayground, which has the names of Philadelphia’s 10 sister cities etched in it, is a great alternative to Logan Circle for children to cool off. Families and other park-goers can grab a few bites to eat at the Milk and Honey Café, which is the offspring of West Philly’s Milk and Honey Market. Here, they serve French-style sandwiches and  pastries. The Independence Visitor Center also has a satellite branch inside the café.

The rear of the park is perhaps most impressive, as it includes a miniature boat pond, streams, and a rugged rock-filled landscape evocative of Northwest Philly’s Wissahickon Valley. The local architecture firms DIGSAU and Studio| Bryan Hanes collaborated to design Sister Cities, along with Pennoni Engineers, says Paul Levy, the president and CEO of the CCD. The Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory, which is an organization in Frankford that teaches children from Frankford, Kensington, and Port Richmond about maritime life, will provide youth-made sailboats for the pond. 

The Center City District has been the driving force behind Sister Cities Park, and will provide management and maintenance of the space. "This will be maintained and run in a first-class manner," says Levy, with a blast of conviction in his voice. The CCD will be employing sustainable techniques to maintain the park, such as dumping ladybugs to preserve the plant life. Ironically, the ribbon-cutting for Sister Cities took place exactly a year after the international park’s groundbreaking. As with many CCD projects, the park was finished quickly and efficiently.

Dignitaries cut the ribbon at Sister Cities this past Thursday in an event that featured plenty of participation from local K-12 students. The Friends Select School Choir roused the crowd with their singing and instrumentation, while younger kids from the Russell Byers Charter School put the ceremonial first boats from the Wooden Boat Factory into the pond. Speakers, which included Mayor Nutter, Paul Levy, and the Knight Foundation’s Don Kimelman were clearly wowed. "There’s a very heartening view across Logan Square and to Aviator Park," said Kimelman.

The transformed park is a testament to the sense of connectedness that Philadelphia shares with its sister cities. Representatives from the Israeli, Italian, and German consulates were on-hand at the ribbon-cutting to offer their appreciation and wince at the speaker’s pronunciation of their names. The park honors sister cities in Cameroon, China, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Poland, and Russia. It was first opened in 1976, but became a homeless hangout and never caught on with the general public. 

Source: Paul Levy, Center City District
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Spiga gives growing culinary hotspot Midtown Village an Italian dining option

Thanks to the work of Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran, Midtown Village is quickly becoming a dining destination. Earlier this year, we told you about their newest restaurant, Jamonera, which is a Spanish-style tapas bar on 13th St., just south of Chestnut. Now, this gastronomical blitz is extending to Locust St. in Midtown, as the casual Italian restaurant Spiga opened this past weekend. Spiga is co-owned by Anthony Masapollo, who is also know for Le Castagne in Rittenhouse and La Famiglia in Old City, and the executive chef is Brian Wilson.

Masapollo is elated to be a part of the Midtown Village community. “We sat outside El Vez, and I thought to myself, ‘this is where I want to be’,” says Masapollo. He adds that he loves the community feeling in Midtown. He made sure to join the Midtown Village Merchants Association last week. The partner is also planning on working with other businesses, such as the 12th St. Gym, to do outreach. Masapollo says that another perk of being in the neighborhood is that it connects Le Castagne and La Famiglia by providing a midpoint. 

Spiga, which translates to stalk or stem, can best be described as a casual Italian restaurant. Chef Wilson’s menu items include pasta, pizza, burgers, and steak, fish, and pork chop from the eatery’s two wood-burning grills. Masapollo is especially proud of the wood-fired grills. “It’s like cooking outdoors,” he says. For those with wheat allergies, gluten-free items are also available. Patrons are encouraged to share menu items. Spiga also has a bar on the premises, which serves up wine and cocktails. 

The restaurant is located at 1305 Locust St., which is convenient to PATCO, the Broad St. Subway, and a parking lot. Before Spiga, the location housed a few LGBT-themed lounges, the last of which was JR’s Lounge. Masapollo says he and his business partners had been looking to create Spiga for quite a while. He says they first set their sights on the Locust St. location last summer. 

Spiga seats 70 people between the main dining room and the bar. They are generally open until 10 PM on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends, although they are closed on Mondays and close early on Sundays. In addition to Masapollo and Wilson, Skip DiMassa and Giuseppe Sena are co-owners. Entrees generally cost between $12 and $30, while some appetizers cost as little as $4. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Anthony Masapollo

Photo courtesy of Spiga

Delaware Valley Green Building Council's challenge gets plenty of local takers for 2013 pledge

The Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC) recognizes the potency of the region's sustainability movement in recent years, and has come out with a challenge pledge in anticipation of the 2013 Greenbuild conference, which will be held in Philadelphia. Specifically, DVGBC is looking for local businesses non-profits, and other organizations to come up with measurable sustainable goals that can be realized by 2013. 

Even though the Council’s pledge has only been circulating for a couple of months, it has attracted the participation of a number of for-profit and non-profit companies vowing to practice even more eco-friendly development. One development firm that was early and enthusiastic in signing the pledge is Brandywine Realty Trust. The Trust has promised to have 75 Energy Star-certified buildings with 900,000 sq. ft. of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified real estate, says Heather Blakeslee, the deputy executive director of DVGBC.

Brandywine is by no means the only developer who has already made a pledge to be more sustainable through Energy Star and LEED. MaGrann Associates, which is an energy consulting and engineering company that started in Mount Laurel, has vowed to certify 1,500 LEED residences, make 5,000 additional homes Energy Star-compliant, and achieve LEED certification for commercial interiors for their Navy Yard and South Jersey offices, says Blakeslee.

DVGBC’s pledge has drawn buy-in from some small local start-ups. Two such companies are Greenable and BluPath, both of which are sustainable building and design companies. “Greenable pledges to get green building products specified and used by architects and builders in 20 new, local green building projects,” says Blakeslee. Meanwhile, BluPath has announced they will work Habitat for Humanity's local chapter to retrofit a rowhouse to the ultra-green Passive House Standard.  

The Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha and the Jonathan Rose Company have jointly promised to do away with 78,840 automobile trips in a year with their Paseo Verde transit-oriented development by the Temple University Regional Rail stop, says Blakeslee. Flying Kite highlighted this development a few weeks ago. 

Also in the transportation sphere, the Valley Forge-based building materials manufacturer CertainTeed and Saint-Gobain has pledged to reduce 10,000 gallons of gas by reducing single-occupancy vehicle commutes by its employees at its Valley Forge and Blue Bell offices. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Heather Blakeslee, DVGBC

Picture courtesy of DVGBC

With success on the ground, Center City looks up for more office jobs, high-rise renovations

There are some richly exciting things happening with Center City residential, commercial, and transportation development, but there are also areas that beg for improvement. This was one of the takeaways from last week's panel, "The Next Cycle of Downtown Development," held by the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation (CPDC).  The program was moderated by CPDC and Center City District executive director Paul Levy, and featured executives at Liberty Property Trust, Brandywine Realty Trust, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), and the Parkway Corporation.

Levy delivered opening remarks that ought to have provoked optimism. These remarks served to preface the release of the Center City District's "State of Center City Report," which is expected this week. Levy defines the "Center City core" as being the neighborhoods between Vine and Pine St., while he ambitiously defines "Center City extended" as being the communities between Girard Ave. and Tasker St. Levy reports that residential prices in the "extended" Center City zone are quite healthy, with the average value being $310,446. 

The opening remarks contained more points of pride for those who live, work, take classes, shop, or play in the extended downtown. Levy saysthis area is second to only New York City in terms of the number of "cultural institutions." He adds that the hospitality sector is performing strongly in Center City, as job growth in this field "is outpacing the suburbs." Finally, Levy is ecstatic that sustainable transportation is becoming a more and more appealing alternative to driving for downtown inhabitants, as 74% of Center City "core" residents commute to work without a car.  

While the executive director's remarks accentuated the positives in both the core and extended parts of Center City, they also drew attention to the area's bleeding of high-rise office jobs. Levy says that 39% of private sector jobs in Center City are in office buildings, which is the highest percent of private sector employment. Even with population growth in Philadelphia and its suburbs, these Center City offices continue to lose jobs, even while offices in Radnor, Great Valley, and elsewhere are gaining positions.

After Levy wrapped up his report, the executives on the panel began discussing how the city can draw more office jobs. John Gattuso, the senior VP and regional director at Liberty Property Trust, hinted at a new office high-rise to be proposed within the next couple of years. He also mentioned that Three Franklin Plaza, which currently houses GlaxoSmithKline, will be undergoing a "significant" $30 million renovation, with the installation of new bathrooms and elevators, for when Glaxo moves out. This anticipates the building at 18th and Race "will be coming to market in 2014," says Gattuso.   

Joseph Coradino, president of PREIT, also imparted some nuggets of hope on the audience. While he spent considerable time talking about PREIT's suburban development, such as at the Cherry Hill Mall, he also said good things were in store for PREIT's Gallery at Market East. He said Philadelphia Media Network's move to 8th and Market coupled with the new digital sign allowance for Market East could signal a rebirth for the beleaguered strip. He expressed a desire to "activate The Gallery at the street level," which would mean opening sidewalk cafes at the mall. 

Sources: Paul Levy, Central Philadelphia Development Corporation; John Gattuso, Liberty Property Trust; Joseph Coradino, PREIT
Writer: Andy Sharpe

New pedestrian advocacy group's agenda includes improving intersections

When it comes to sustainable transportation around Philadelphia, pedestrians have been without an active group speaking on their behalf since PhillyWalks ended about a decade ago. While bicyclists have enjoyed advocacy from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and mass transit riders have been represented by the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, pedestrians have not found a similar voice recently. That is, until now. The Clean Air Council has just formed a pedestrian advocacy group, and is in the process of creating an agenda for those who travel with two feet on the pavement.

This new group, dubbed the "Pedestrian Advocacy Project," has met twice so far and has crowdsourced its agenda through the hundreds of people who are on its listserv, according to Dennis Winters, a trails associate at the Council who is leading the project. Winters says e-mail participants indicated the biggest problem facing pedestrians is that "red-green lights (are) not synced right." In other words, traffic lights around the Philadelphia area often favor motorists over pedestrians.

At the project’s second meeting, the 10 or so attendees largely agreed with the e-mail survey. They discussed intersections in Philadelphia, such as 20th and JFK Blvd., that are not as pedestrian-friendly as they believe they should be. Attendees arrived at the conclusion that pedestrian countdown signals and corresponding traffic lights should be re-timed to equalize the playing field between drivers and walkers. By the end of the evening, a committee had formed to study pedestrian countdown signals, and how they could be improved.

One prevailing question for the nascent advocacy group is whether pedestrian countdown signals themselves are to blame for diminishing the pedestrian experience, or whether bad behavior on the part of motorists is to blame. Deborah Schaaf, an employee of the City Planning Commission and a walker herself, says that police enforcement of aggressive driving had to be cut short due to lack of funds. In fact, police overtime money that was supposed to go to the "Give respect, get respect" campaign targeting vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian infractions instead went to Occupy Philly coverage.

The Pedestrian Advocacy Project’s online members also indicated that the presence of outdoor seating and other obstructions blocking sidewalks, traffic laws not being adequately enforced, and aggressive drivers turning left were other impediments for pedestrians. Most members of the listserv attended the Academy of Natural Sciences forum "Walkability: Philadelphia Strides into the Future," which was where the pedestrian advocacy group was unveiled. Given that just about everyone in Philadelphia walks, even if it is just to get to their car or train, this group could help a lot of people.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Dennis Winters

Vine St. groundbreaking expected later this year for Pennsylvania's first Mormon temple

While most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) live along the Mormon Corridor in the Western U.S., there are actually quite a few Mormons who live in the Delaware Valley. Despite this, members of the Church currently have to schlep up to Manhattan or down to Washington D.C. to find a temple. This will soon change as the Church is preparing to put the first shovel in the ground on a new temple and mixed-use facility on Vine St. between 16th and 18th Sts.

Currently, Vine Street is a sea of surface parking between 16th and 18th, despite its prime location near the Ben Franklin Parkway, the main branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Convention Center annex. The Mormons have bold plans to make use of these lots by building a 60,000 sq. ft. neoclassical temple, a 20,000 sq. ft. temple services building, a 155-space underground parking garage, and an undetermined mixed-use space, says Corinne Dougherty, the Philadelphia regional public affairs director for the church.

The temple’s exterior design promises to be dramatic. According to Dougherty, the exterior of the holy place will be made out of granite, and will include two spires, with the statue of an LDS angel gracing the top of one spire. The facility’s façade will be designed in such a way that will mesh well with the Free Library and Family Court buildings. "It is important for our temples to compliment the architecture and culture of the cities in which they reside," says the public affairs director. Salt Lake City Utah’s FFKR Architects is responsible for the exterior design.

While the exterior of the temple should be marvelous, the interior of the building will be beautiful in its own right. It will be designed in the Classical style, and contain a majestic entry and waiting space, a baptistery, offices, and instruction and ordinance rooms, according to Perkins+Will, the design firm that is in charge of the interior. Among the luxuries that will be found inside the temple are stained glass, broadloom carpet, ornate paint and gold leaf, and intricate stone flooring. Perkins+Will is a large firm with offices in more than two dozen locations across the globe, including here since 2007.

There is still no word on what the Church will do with the mixed-use parcel it acquired at 16th and Vine. While Grasso Holdings was previously given permission to build a 46-story mixed-use space at the site, they agreed to hand over the land to the LDS. The Church has consented to meet with neighbors, the City Planning Commission, and the Re-Development Authority (PRA) when it does decide what it wants to do. 

Dougherty explains that no groundbreaking date has yet been etched in stone for the temple, which means rumors of a July start for construction might be premature. She does say that construction should commence by the third quarter of this year, but doesn’t say when that will be. She is fairly certain that the temple and temple services building will be completed by 2014. Once that happens, the temple will have an open house period for several weeks. Take advantage of this open house, as the temple will only be open to Church members after it is dedicated, says Dougherty.

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Corinne Dougherty, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Data Garden brings its local, nature-friendly audio feast to the Art Museum

After a wildly successful blending of nature and sound at Bartram’s Garden, the local audio experimenters of Data Garden are participating in an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art this weekend.  Data Garden was invited to participate in the exhibit "Zoe Strauss: Ten Years," which is a display of urban photography from Strauss and the Philadelphia Public Art Project. The audio quartet will be featuring sounds from four tropical plants to provide a natural backdrop to Strauss’ urban landscape. 

Data Garden will translate the "electronic impulses" of two philodendrons, a schefflera, and a snake plant at the "Data Garden: Quartet" performance, says Joe Patitucci, a sound artist in the group. One member will be responsible for the electronics, two members will handle the sound production, and the fourth artist will create the ceramic planters. They will sell 25 limited edition albums at the show, all of which will be made of a material that can be put back into the earth and planted, says Patitucci. Music can also be purchased on Data Garden’s website.

The audio synthesizers are excited to perform at the Art Museum, even though it’s not as public as previous performances.  "The Philadelphia Museum of Art is an amazing venue and we know it's going to expose us to a larger audience we don't normally have an opportunity to reach," says Patitucci. He also muses that audio art will be a refreshing break for exhibit-goers from gazing at paintings on a wall. 

This exhibit comes on the heels of a smashingly successful public art display at Bartram’s Garden, which Patitucci says drew the most people ever to an event at the Garden.  He says that over 700 people came "to experience art, performance and public space in new ways" during The Switched-On Garden, which took place in early-October. The event was so successful that the audio label has already started a Kickstarter page, and is hoping to raise $7,000 by April 24 for another public art installment at Bartram’s. Patitucci says it’s important the event remain free.

"Data Garden: Quartet" was invited to participate in the Zoe Strauss exhibit by Megawords, which is a photography magazine that hosts public art events. Megawords has a library and exhibition space in the exhibit. Patitucci describes the upcoming performance as an intersection between "plants, music, and technology." If you’re unable to make the Quartet, the audio will be made available in the Data Garden store on their website. Even better, Data Garden’s next public art performance at Bartram’s Garden might be sooner rather than later. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Joe Patitucci, Data Garden 

Photo courtesy of Data Garden  

Proposed townhouses could relieve pain point at 12th and Lombard

While the residential neighborhood around it has taken off, the intersection of 12th and Lombard has found itself caught in the chokehold of The Pain Center.  The Pain Center was a medical facility recently shut down after a grand jury investigation revealed the doctors had been defrauding insurance companies out of $5 million. Yet, a local developer seems to have some non-painful news for the area, as he hopes to convert the facility into six townhouses. 

The community seems intrigued by developer Virgil Procaccino’s preliminary plans to tear down The Pain Center and build single-family units, says David Fante, VP for planning and development at the Washington Square West Civic Association (WSWCA).  Fante reports that Procaccino went in front of the civic association’s Zoning and Governmental Affairs committee in early March with some plans. The committee seems impressed. The "townhouses are well-designed, attractive, and in keeping with the residential scale of the neighborhood," says Fante.

While WSWCA’s committee was generally excited about Procaccino’s plans, they did have a few recommendations. Fante says they felt as though the developer should reduce the building’s height in accordance with the city’s new zoning code and offer a gate to provide access to the complex’s proposed parking lot. Fante is happy to say that the developer seems ready to accept the recommendations. 

Fante and other members of the civic association are breathing a sigh of relief that something will be done with The Pain Center. Fante complains about the drug-dealing and prostitution that have moved to 12th and Lombard in the wake of the building’s closure.  Also, he sees litter and a lack of activity in front of the building as problems. Fante adds that new residential would lead to enhanced street lighting and increase the neighborhood’s density, which he sees as a good thing. 

If you have an opinion on The Pain Center re-development, make sure to attend a future WSWCA meeting.  The Zoning and Governmental Affairs Committee meets the fourth Tuesday of every month at Jefferson University, while the overall Board meets the second Tuesday of every month in the same location.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: David Fante, Washington Square West Civic Association

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     

Franklin Square's pavilion is now open; kids immediately party with Ben Franklin

Franklin Square celebrated the opening of its sixth season with a ribbon-cutting for The Pavilion at Franklin Square.

One lucky tot, Jason McKenzie, got to be the first person to have a party in the pavilion, as he celebrated his third birthday with Ben Franklin (aka Ralph Archbold).

Officials from Historic Philadelphia, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the William Penn Foundation (which funded the pavilion), and Starr Restaurants (which owns SquareBurger on the square) were on-hand. Check out our previous coverage here.

-- Andy Sharpe

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   

BICYCLE COALITION: Volunteer training, bridges that open and close, and a new look

Editor's note: This is presented as part of a content partnership with The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia gets a new look this week, with an updated (and awfully sharp, in our opinion) logo as part of its 40th anniversary. It has never been easier to be a part of the Bicycle Coalition's efforts. The organization is holding an outreach training on Wednesday (April 4) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at its office at 1500 Walnut St. (Suite 305) in Philadelphia. The Bicycle Coalition is looking for volunteers willing to help man tables at events this summer, like the Kensington Sculpture Derby, and conduct street outreach. RSVP here ([email protected]) or call 215-399-1598 (x707).
Walnut Lane Bridge Rehab Q&A
The mighty Walnut Lane Bridge stands tall over the Wissahickon, but will soon undergo rehab. PennDOT is hosting a public meeting to answer questions, collect comments and hear concerns that will help inform the project. The Q&A session is set for Thursday (April 5) from 5-7:30 p.m. at Kendrick Recreation Center (5822 Ridge Ave., Philadelphia).
Speaking of Bridges
The Ben Franklin Bridge's South Walkway reopened on Monday to the public. Walkway hours are 6 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, weather permitting. The north walkway will now be closed to the public.
Philly Public Art Bike Tour
If you're interested in the guided Public Art Bike Tours in Fairmount Park on April 14 and 29, you're not alone. The more challenging, 10-mile rides are all booked, but you can email here ([email protected]) to be added to the wait list. Sufficient demand may lead to another day of tours in May.
There is still availability for a family-friendly, 4-mile loop slated for April 29 from 1:30-4:30 p.m. All tours begin at the Iroquois Sculpture at 24th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. and end at the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
THE BICYCLE COALITION OF GREATER PHILADELPHIA has been making the region a better place to ride a bike through advocacy, education, and outreach since 1972. The nonprofit, membership organization's programs include Bike Philly, the Bicycle Ambassadors, Safe Routes Philly, the Complete the Schuylkill River Trail campaign, and Neighborhood Bike Works (now an independent organization). Follow the Bicycle Coalition on Facebook, Twitter, and on their blog.

Send feedback here.

Public art in Open Air: Ben Franklin Parkway to convert people’s voices, GPS into 3-D light

The Philadelphia Live Arts & Philly Fringe Festival and DesignPhiladelphia, are going to light up the Ben Franklin Parkway like never before come September. The best part is that visitors to the Parkway will be the ones controlling the light show through the use of a smartphone app. This will be the world premier of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s "Open Air" art installation, which will provide a web of light over the path many people use to access Center City.

Open Air will consist of 3-D light that is powered by the voices and GPS locations of Parkway visitors through the use of a free smartphone app, says Susan Myers, the Open Air project manager with the Fairmount Park Art Association. Myers makes sure to mention that everyone will be given a chance to participate, as the Art Association will have a station by the Philadelphia Museum of Art parking lot where people can borrow smartphones to use. 

The display will span from 21st to 24th Sts. along the Parkway, with lights mounted to Parktowne Place, the Best Western hotel, and scaffolding on Von Colln Field, according to Myers. In all, there will be 24 robotic searchlights, which will be visible from as far as 15 miles away. While Myers admits a similar presentation was done in Tokyo, this will be considered a world premiere. If Lozano-Hemmer is successful here, he will likely follow suit with similar interactive light shows in cities across the world. 

The Fairmount Park Art Association received  the largest amount awarded through the 2011 Knight Arts Challenge from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, $250,000, and a $45,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to bring Open Air to Philly. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a Mexican-Canadian artist who works with architecture and high-tech theater, and whose works have been displayed around the world and in prestigious museums, like the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. 

Myers is truly excited to bring "Open Air"to the Parkway. "We feel public art is one of the city’s most overlooked assets," she says. The project manager has reached out to various stakeholders, such as the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA). She makes it clear that the searchlights won’t shine in anyone’s window, which is a point that seems to satisfy members of LSNA.    

Source: Susan Myers, Fairmount Park Art Association
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Photo courtesy of the Fairmount Park Art Association 

NextFab Studio expands to massive former ironwork shop on Washington Ave. on heels of growth

It is fitting that the upcoming expansion of NextFab Studio, the two year-old "gym for innovators" that features digital fabrication tools and the opportunity for most anyone to create most anything, will bring it to a new flagship location at a former custom ironwork shop run by old-world craftsmen.

NextFab announced last week it will be growing in a big way from its original space in the University City Science Center at 3711 Market Street, where it has doubled membership in the last six months and tripled revenue between 2010 and 2011.

And inside its new facility, expected to open by early July, NextFab2 will look to create the latest edition of the creative economy, just like when slabs of iron were being shaped decades ago at the new site at 2025 Washington Ave.

"As our members increase in number and skill and the reputation of our design, engineering and custom fabrication services has grown, an increasing number of members and clients want to take on projects that fall outside of that size range, or which need more privacy or more intense around-the-clock effort," says NextFab president and founder Evan Malone.

Indeed, the new facility in Southwest Center City/Graduate Hospital should provide ample space: 21,000 square feet of equipment, expert staff, classes, workshops and accessible design, engineering and custom fabrication services.

Media-based architecture and design firm inHabit has reconfigured the building, which will provide private studios with 24/7 access, 14-foot ceilings, CNC water-jet cutter, CNC machining center, CNC router, more advanced 3D printers and a chemistry and micro-fabrication lab.

According to Malone, NextFab2 will have the layout and space for the big tools necessary for massive projects. There will be drive-in loading/unloading, a forklift and crane, a vehicle lift and facilities for car and motorcycle customization and electric-fuel conversion. There are also plenty of lighter touches, like a street-level cafe, space for exhibition and sales of products and art, and dedicated classroom spaces.

NextFab has come a long way in a short time. Revenue in 2011 was almost $500,000 with a membership that numbers 150. Full-time teaching and consulting staff has more than doubled to 17 professional artists, engineers and designers. Classes, of which there are 30 and range from Digital Embroidery to using a CNC Plasma Cutter, often fill up a month in advance.

"Our members are now successfully selling book scanners, laser-cut home decor and fashion products, custom speakers and more that they make at NextFab," says Malone.

Part of NextFab's aim is to reduce the learning curve associated with digital fabrication and foster an environment of innovation that transcends culture and education backgrounds.

"In traditional mass production you build an expensive factory to cheaply make millions of identical products," says Malone. "Digital Fabrication is an economic game changer because each thing you make can be unique for the cost of changing the picture on the computer screen."

Memberships will be available at the current rate until May 1, when rates will go up to help fund the expansion.

Source: Evan Malone, NextFab Studio
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Liberty Bike Share builds support, strategy to introduce long-awaited bike sharing program

What do New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, Baltimore, Spartanburg SC, and Hollywood FL all have in common? Hopefully you’ll have an answer by the time I’m finished with this sentence. If you don’t, these are all East Coast cities that offer bike sharing. Notice that Philadelphia is not in there. With this in mind, a team from the University of Pennsylvania is looking to put our city on par with the likes of Spartanburg by establishing Liberty Bike Share, which aims to bring bike sharing to Center City, University City, South Philly, and the Temple University-area.

Liberty Bike Share is the product of three Masters degree candidates at UPenn who closely analyzed the 2010 Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) “Philadelphia Bike Share Concept Study,” says Dylan Hayden, who’s helping to organize the bike share concept. Hayden says Liberty is hoping to make 2,500-2,700 bicycles available to be shared at a cost of abougt $15 million. He adds that Liberty has the support of the Center City District and certain members of City Council. At this point, his group is waiting for the city’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) to issue an RFP. 

As is usually the case, the cost of setting up operations is one of the biggest challenges Liberty faces. Hayden emphasizes that his team is looking to solicit pledges from local hospitals, universities, insurance companies, and other private sector entities willing to chip in. He does admit that securing financial contributions in the Philadelphia-area can be “like squeezing a turnip.” On this note, MOTU has identified the up-front costs of bike sharing as one of its biggest worries. 

Hayden says his team hopes to implement Liberty Bike Share in two phases, with the first concentrating on Center and University Cities and the second extending the program up to Temple. Liberty has two companies in mind, Alta and B-Cycle, to operate the bike share. Alta operates the bike sharing programs in New York City, D.C., and Boston, while B-Cycle is responsible for bike sharing in Spartanburg, Chicago, Denver, and elsewhere. Hayden envisions charging members an annual fee of anywhere between $75 and $90.

The UPenn team hopes Liberty Bike Share will complement mass transit in Philadelphia. “We’re looking to deal with last-mile issues,” says Hayden, who’s talking about the distance between a transit or rail stop and someone’s final destination. Indeed, the Penn senior envisions a future where someone can (as an example) take a train to Market East Station and share a bike to get to their final destination. Hayden hopes to work with SEPTA to incorporate bike sharing in with their upcoming New Payment Technology.

Locally, only one borough offers bike sharing. That would be Pottstown, a borough with around 22,000 people in Western Montgomery County. Bike Pottstown, Pottstown's bike sharing program, is run by Zagster, which launched its bike sharing consultancy in Philadelphia under the name CityRyde before moving to Cambridge, Mass last year. Bike Pottstown is a free bike share, which has filled the streets of the borough with 15 eye-snatching yellow bicycles. 

Hayden is unequivocal about the benefits of bike sharing. “Bike sharing is a policy Swiss army knife,” he says. By this, he means it ameliorates a host of policy issues, including healthcare, sustainability, and mobility. He also says that the city already has much of the infrastructure in place to support bike sharing, including the 215 miles of bike lanes he cites. Bike sharing would provide Philadelphia an opportunity to catch up to other American cities, large and small.  

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Dylan Hayden, Liberty Bike Share
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