| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter RSS Feed

Diversity : Development News

41 Diversity Articles | Page: | Show All

PHS brings new Green Resource Center to South Philly

How do you top distributing 250,000 seedlings every year to gardeners and urban farmers throughout the city? The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) is working on it.

Recently, we checked out the installation of a new solar power array in Strawberry Mansion, our current On the Ground neighborhood. PHS has been building two new Green Resource Centers (GRC) over the past eighteen months (it already has four others throughout the city): one on the Strawberry Mansion site and another in South Philadelphia on a formerly vacant lot at 2500 Reed Street. (GRCs are a part of PHS's City Harvest program.)

The South Philly site is a partnership between the lot owner (the nearby Church of the Redeemer Baptist), PHS and the Nationalities Service Center (NSC), which works with refugees resettling in Philadelphia. NSC leases about two-and-a-half acres (of the three-and-a-half acre lot) from the church, and worked with PHS to develop a large community garden there.

"It’s an entire city block and it’s right by the old rail line, so it’s really a wonderful place to have a community garden," says Nancy Kohn, Director of Garden Programs at PHS. Before NSC and PHS arrived, the long-unused site was full of debris, rubble and stones. Volunteers from Villanova University and various corporate partners pitched in to clear the land and build hundreds of raised garden beds. Now the site has its own water line, a shed and 400 beds.

Half of those are "entrepreneurial beds," according to Kohn, for people who grow and sell vegetables to nearby businesses and restaurants. The rest are community garden beds open to the public.

The opportunity to garden is important to many NSC clients.

"A lot of refugees that are coming through this program have an agricultural background," explains Kohn. "The community garden has been a wonderful place to get them more connected to their background, as well as connected to their neighbors, who are South Philly natives."

Meanwhile, the impact of the GRCs extends citywide: Through the network, volunteers and PHS staff propagate a total of 250,000 seedlings each year, to be distributed to gardens and farms all over town (with the two new GRCs completed soon, that number will grow significantly). Participating volunteers give ten hours of work to the PHS site over the season and receive the seedlings in return. Earlier this month, PHS had a mass distribution of nine different varieties of veggies, including peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes and okra.

"The gardeners come to pick them up," says Kohn. "They take them back to their gardens, and they grow them for their communities."

Because of the landowner's evolving plan to eventually build a new church on the site, the community gardens will stay and continue to partner with PHS, but the permanent GRC will be built in another South Philly location (to be announced soon). The site will include a new greenhouse, demonstration and community garden beds for educational workshops, solar paneling for electric power, a wash station and a shade structure.

Kohn hopes the build-out on the new site will begin later this summer; the GRC should be up and running by next spring.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nancy Kohn, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

 

Proposed low-income housing development on Wister Street sparks debate in Germantown


How does a community navigate development without the displacement and disruption of gentrification?

This was a major theme on April 6, as Germantowners convened at the Germantown Life Enrichment Center (just a few blocks north of Flying Kite’s former On the Ground digs near Chelten and Pulaski Avenues) to hear from Fishtown's Women’s Community Revitalization Project (WCRP).

A developer of rental properties primarily for low-income women and families, WCRP held the community meeting to discuss affordable housing in Germantown. Their Nicole Hines Townhouse Development -- featuring 35 new "affordable family townhomes" -- has been proposed for 417 Wister Street in East Germantown. WCRP lead organizer Christi Clark led the discussion along with WCRP community organizer Ariel Morales; a long roster of partnering groups also sponsored the gathering.

About fifty attendees broke into groups and then shared their conclusions on two key questions: “What do you love about Germantown that you want to see preserved?” and "What is the need for affordable housing in Germantown [and] parks and green space?"

Talk about Germantown’s attributes raised a wide range of praise, from its historic properties to its cultural diversity, transit hubs, and thriving artist population.

Clark offered some current statistics on the neighborhood to feed the discussion on housing: 45,000 people live in Germantown, comprising 17,500 households. The area has seen a 24 percent drop in median household income since 2000, with almost half of local households spending 30 percent or more of their budget on housing, which leads to widespread economic difficulty, as there aren’t dollars left to flow elsewhere. Germantown used to have a majority of homeowners versus renters, but now the number of renters is on the rise.

True to form, attendees -- most of them longtime residents of the neighborhood -- spoke frankly about their concerns and didn’t shy away from lobbing questions about the Wister Street project (Clark said the units would have a 15-year lifespan as rental properties, after which tenants would have the option to buy) and housing in Germantown in general.

Many participants pointed out that it’s not so easy to define "affordable" -- it means different things to different people, and can be subsidized in a variety of ways. WRCP’s target population is families who make 30 percent of the area median income. In Germantown, that means about $20,000 to $22,000 annually.

Gentrification was another major theme of the conversation.

"Sooner or later gentrification is coming," said Yvonne Haskins, a board member at Germantown United CDC. "We need to think about affordability now...You know [gentrification] after it’s happened. Germantown is very attractive."

Many attendees expressed their frustration with a seemingly endless circuit of community meetings that yield few tangible outcomes for the neighborhood, and a lack of transparency around investments that are made.

WCRP is in its second round of funding applications for the Wister Street development, and will know in June whether the necessary dollars are available. In the meantime, there will be two more meetings in Germantown on April 27 and May 25 from 6 - 8 p,m, locations TBD.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Christi Clark, Women’s Community Revitalization Project

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).


On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.
 

New funds move Germantown closer to creating a master plan

Germantown United CDC (GUCDC) is one step closer to the comprehensive neighborhood plan it’s been eyeing for years thanks to a new $25,000 civic engagement grant from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.

The one-year grant will be split between GUCDC and a local theater-based nonprofit known as Just Act, which uses trained actor-facilitators (in teams of both youths and adults) to help spark community dialogues.

According to the two groups, the dollars will help them "map both the formal and informal networks currently contributing to community improvement efforts in Germantown." The work supported by the grant will be a "community network analysis" that ensures all of the neighborhood’s voices are "well-represented and prepared for their role as stakeholder in the larger effort to revitalize greater Germantown and the neighborhood’s shopping district and commercial sector."

"One thing we’d like to do is have a lot of these groups that may not be talking to each other right now start talking to each other," explains GUDCD Executive Director Andy Trackman.

Just Act Executive Director Lisa Jo Epstein -- who is partnering with GUCDC Corridor Manager Emaleigh Doley to spearhead the civic engagement project -- is on the same page as Trackman. The more people who participate the better, she says. "Then, when a developer comes in, there’s already going to be a new informal network that can say, 'If you’re coming in, you have to also respond to us. You have to do something for us, not for people from the outside.'"

"What I would like for this grant to do…[is] show that Germantown United is really committed to talking to all the voices in Germantown, especially as it relates to our planning of the neighborhood," adds Trackman. "I also would like to see this as a building block, as an attention-getter to get more resources into the neighborhood for this planning process."

Doley and Epstein are currently developing a series of community storytelling events; dates and locations TBA.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Andy Trackman, Germantown United CDC; Lisa Jo Epstein, Just Act

Working to curb illegal dumping on Philly streets

On January 20, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) continued its push to produce the city’s first unified front on the issue of litter with a convening of officials and community stakeholders at the Municipal Services Building’s 16th floor Innovation Lab.  

Attendees were from groups as diverse as the Streets Department, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), the Tookany Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, the Aramingo Business Association, the People's Emergency Center, the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, the North Fifth Street Revitalization Project, the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), the Schuylkill Navy of Philadelphia and the South of South Neighborhood Association.

"How do we do this as a city, and how do the smaller groups work together?" asked Marian Horowitz, an environmental engineer at PWD.

Alan Robinson of the Schuylkill Navy said that when it comes to the city environment, he wishes people would get as excited about reducing and eliminating litter as they are about pop-up parks, pools and gardens.

One of four specialized break-out sessions focused specifically on the problem of illegal dumping. PCDC Deputy Director Rachel Mak led the discussion.

While litter in the streets, sidewalks and waterways is a problem in Philly, illegal dumping is a problem on a larger and much more noticeable scale. People unwilling to dispose of their household or construction trash properly leave bags and piles on public corners or strewn around City trash cans.

Mak highlighted a few sites in the Chinatown neighborhood that research has pinpointed as hot-spots for illegal dumping, including the corners at 10th and Race Streets, 10th and Cherry Streets, and 11th and Wood Streets.

One reason tracking the dumping sites is important, Mak said, is that the installation of cameras can capture illegal dumpers in the act. Printouts of the images can also be distributed throughout the neighborhood.

PCDC also partners with the Streets Department’s Streets and Walkways Education and Enforcement Program (SWEEP) to check illegally dumped material for identifying information that can be used to track down and fine the perpetrators.

Stopping illegal dumping takes a lot of groundwork, persistence, education, and "getting your hands dirty," explains Mak.

"People get used to seeing trash, so they let it go when it happens," adds Horowitz. "People think they aren’t doing anything wrong or no-one will notice.

Later, we’ll take a look at how the new KPB consortium is hoping to mobilize business owners on the issue.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Rachel Mak, PCDC; and KPB litter convening participants

Almost 150 new apartments and fresh retail spaces proposed for Callowhill complex

Chinatown North/Callowhill residents are considering a significant new mixed-use development in the neighborhood. Last week, architects from the Chadds Ford-based T.C. Lei Architect & Associates met with representatives of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), the 5th Republican Ward and the Callowhill Neighborhood Association to introduce their plans and take questions.

The design features four independent buildings: two seven-story apartments towers and two five-story buildings with apartments above and a total of 12 new commercial spaces fronting Callowhill on the first floor. Financing is still being worked out.

PCDC hosted the Civic Design Review, which was required by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission in light of the complex's large footprint (173,913 square feet in four buildings) and high number of proposed residential units. The meeting drew a variety of community stakeholders. Architects Michelle Kleschick and Vernon Lei of T.C. Lei joined general contractor Alex Chau in presenting plans for the facility and its construction; the property owner/developer is Wing Lee Investment, L.P.  

The proposed project will sit on a rectangular parcel of what is now a mix of warehouses and industrial space, a lumberyard and vacant lots at 900-934 Callowhill Street. The area is bounded by Carlton Street, N. 9th Street, Callowhill and Ridge Avenue, and existing structures would be razed.

All residential units (146 in total) would be market-rate two-bedroom rentals of about 880 square feet. An open-air cruciform courtyard and central elevator/stairwell tower would complete the interior of the site, which is being designed with an estimated $20 million total budget. The development would include about 14,000 square feet of commercial space and over 135,000 square feet of residential space.

The green-roofed complex would hold 90 percent of its own stormwater with the help of a filtering and retention matrix. According to Lei, the commercial storefronts are slated to be "mom and pop neighborhood-size spaces" of about 1,000 square feet, with the option for open construction that would allow stores, service providers or restaurants of up to 2,000 square feet.

Chau explained that the steel-and-concrete construction would be consistent with the look of other modern residential towers in the city, while Lei touted the potential for a "beautiful" new commercial space along Callowhill boasting an "Asian motif" on the façade.

Meeting attendees had a variety of questions for the presenters, including parking options (ample spaces are slated for a below-ground garage), the potential disruptions of construction, specifics of the façades, trash removal and target tenants.

An official City Civic Design Review hearing is pending, date TBA. If the proposal moves forward, Chau hopes to break ground in spring 2016, with total time to completion of three to four years.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: T.C. Lei & Associates and partners


Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

 

An extra year of fundraising has Chinatown's Eastern Tower poised for construction

About a year ago, we looked in on Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation’s (PCDC) planned Eastern Tower, a 20-story mixed-use residential/retail/community services building at the northwest corner of 10th and Vine Streets. (Yup, that's in the heart of our next On the Ground neighborhood.) This was just after the organization had nabbed a $3.7 million Pennsylvania Economic Initiative grant, which PCDC Capacity and Projects Manager Sarah Yeung says helped to kick off some excellent financial and community momentum for the development.

"We had initially thought that we wanted to break ground in the beginning of [2015], but we actually spent the bulk of this year strengthening our position financially," explains Yeung. The last several months have brought significant contributions from PECO and Comcast, as major public and private funders took notice of the project’s traction.

After funding from the William Penn Foundation allowed the nonprofit PCDC to set up a regional center for project investors, the foundation gave an additional grant of $700,000 towards outfitting the community center portion of the building, which brought foundation gifts to a total of $900,000 in just the last quarter. The Philadelphia Suns -- who will be the primary users of the Eastern Tower community center -- raised $15,000 at their latest banquet. The CDC also received a $500,000 grant from the Commerce Department late last year.

All in all, the projected budget for the new center now stands at $77 million.

Eastern Tower has been a long time coming. The vision for the massive new Vine Street hub got started in 2004. Fundraising started in earnest in 2011. The complex (from the architects at Studio Agoos Lovera) aims to house the city’s most diverse range of community offerings under one roof: residential units, a daycare center, a community center, a pharmacy, a restaurant, a doctor’s office and more.

"From an outsider’s perspective, it looks like we threw the kitchen sink in, but this is a very strategic project for us," says Yeung of targeting much-needed services in the area. "It’s about equitable development in Chinatown North/Callowhill," a neighborhood with plenty of private development bumping up against ongoing issues of poverty, blight and lack of services for the local immigrant community.

Yeung says final closing on all the project’s financing will be accomplished by next month, and the contract for construction manager Hunter Roberts is ready to go. Funding is at 100 percent and construction should commence early next year.

"We’re as ready as can be," she enthuses. "We can’t be more ready. It’s a really exciting time for us. It’s been a long process and a huge team effort...on a city level, it’s going to be quite a significant project."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah Leung, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).


On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.
 

An ambitious Block Build helps eight homeowners in a single day

A day-long project to repair and weatherproof eight homes on one block of North Philly’s Eastern North neighborhood might seem simple, but the benefits reach deep and wide.

Rebuilding Together Philadelphia (RTP), the organizer of October 16's Block Build, is one of 150 local independent affiliates of a national program. According to Executive Director Stefanie Seldin, RTP staffers and volunteers -- who have helped to rehabilitate 1,369 homes since the group's 1988 creation by Wharton grad students -- are based out of an office in Frankford but work all over the city.

RTP usually does a few Block Builds per year, often in West Philly.

"We rely on community-based groups to say, ‘This is the block that really could use some TLC,'" says Seldin. "They go and recruit the homeowners for us, too."

The latest build relied on a partnership with Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, a local community development corporation.

About 100 volunteers pitched in for the October 16 event, including a mix of professional trade and corporate volunteers, and students from nearby schools with vocational programs such as A. Philip Randolph Career & Technical High School and Thomas Alva Edison High School and John C. Fariera Skills Center. Workers also included students from Project WOW, an organization that offers construction training to young adults without high school diplomas.

The homeowners were mostly elderly, low-income, longtime residents feeling the squeeze of property values that have doubled since 2010. Repairs included drywall and plaster repair, the installation of new vinyl flooring and front door locksets, cleaning, HVAC maintenance, caulking, painting and window replacement to better insulate homes and reduce energy costs.

Seldin appreciates the chance to lower utility bills for Block Build homeowners, many of whom "have so much counting on their very limited income. Our homeowners are often forced to choose between repairing their homes, medical treatment or food."

According to RTP, older adults make up almost 18 percent of the city’s population -- the largest percentage of older adults in America’s 10 largest cities -- and one in five of these elderly Philadelphians live in poverty. Combine that with the fact that 90 percent of Philly’s homes were built before 1980, and the need for work like this is clear.

In addition to the cosmetic and structural upgrades, RTP works with a dedicated occupational therapist who evaluates the' homes and recommends improvements for health and safety: things like grab bars, proper lighting, level flooring and extensions for light-bulb switches (so homeowners don’t have to climb stools).

But it’s not just about the safety and comfort of individuals. As housing values have risen in the last few years, the percentage of homeowners in Philly has dropped from over 59 percent in 2000 to 51 percent.

RTP's work, especially in the 19122 zip code of North Philly where developers are circling on the outskirts of Temple University, "is helping to stop that decline in homeownership," adds Seldin. "[We help] longterm lower-income homeowners stay in a neighborhood where more and more of those homeowners are forced out."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Stefanie Seldin, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia   

 

DesignPhiladelphia spotlights North Chinatown's Pearl Street Passage

Since last spring, the Philadelphia Center for Architecture has been working with its partners in Chinatown North and Callowhill on a special four-day public event spotlighting the possibilities of neglected alleyways. Part of the DesignPhiladelphia festival (October 8-16), Pearl Street Passage -- a pop-up exhibition located along the 1100 block of Pearl Street -- is one chapter of a bigger story. The Pearl Street Project, with partners including the Center for Architecture, Asian Arts Initiative and Friends of the Rail Park, has long-term plans to develop and revitalize this piece of the city.

On Saturday, October 10, Pearl Street Project will host its third annual block party. According to Rebecca Johnson, president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Philadelphia (which has its headquarters at the Center for Architecture), the party was what originally gave DesignPhiladelphia organizers the idea of spotlighting Pearl Street. The often overlooked alley runs behind Asian Arts Initiative’s building and extends for four blocks through Chinatown North and Callowhill. The buildings and organizations around it include luxury lofts, social service agencies, churches, schools, a homeless shelter and more. (The neighborhood will also be the second home for this year's On the Ground program.)

"It’s all about creative placemaking," explains Johnson. "How can they use it? We partnered because we wanted to use the slightly broader spotlight of DesignPhiladelphia to focus on what’s happening there as well as connect it with Friends of the Rail Park."

The all-ages block party will feature tours of Rail Park: a guided walk from the Center for Architecture through North Chinatown spotlighting Pearl Street Project’s long-term plans, and a chance to visit the ten installations that are coming to life inside Pearl Street Passage, going through the tunnel created by the intersection of the Reading Viaduct (itself the site of major impending upgrades through Reimagining the Civic Commons).

The ten teams have been working on plans for their diverse exhibits since last spring. The works include "Savage Salvage," which turns mixing bowls rescued from the TastyKake Factory into a gateway of planters, along with many other interactive and interdisciplinary displays.

The exhibition is open to the public from 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. October 8 - 10, and 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Sunday, October 11. The first three evenings will feature live music and dance performances, and on Sunday a drumline will close out the exhibition.

Though it’s only four days, there’s a bigger vision in place. Pearl Street Passage, funded through an ArtPlace America grant to Asian Arts Initiative, was the perfect opportunity to "talk about how we demonstrate the power of design to people, and one of the ways we do that is with these public festivals that are outside and not just in studios," explains Johnson. It’s a chance to expose people who might not look twice at a neglected little city passage -- which Pearl Street Passage designers cleared of trash, overgrown vegetation and dirt piles -- and get them to "think about how to use an alley, and it not be a gross place to be, but a beautiful, cool place to be."

Johnson hopes DesignPhiladelphia can keep participating in this kind of project in years to come.

"We want to have something public like this every year," she enthuses. "It’s engaged us in a way that we haven’t been before."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Rebecca Johnson, AIA Philadelphia and the Center for Architecture

 

Neighborhood Bike Works makes a big move

For almost 20 years, staff and the youth served by the nonprofit Neighborhood Bike Works (NBW) have hauled bicycles up and down the steps into the organization's basement headquarters. 

While they've had a great time in the subterranean section of St. Mary's Church on the University of Pennsylvania's campus, the time has come to open their own center. Last month, NBW announced plans to do just that: The organization is gearing up to move to 3939 and 3943 Lancaster Avenue, one mile from their current location in West Philadelphia. 

"We're a little hidden in this basement," explains Executive Director Erin DeCou. "But we wanted to stay nearby because our neighborhood has been so good to us."

The new location is close to where three communities -- Mantua, Belmont and Powelton -- converge. Currently, NBW must carefully balance its schedule of programming for youth and adults to make use of its limited square footage space. The Lancaster Avenue site combines two side-by-side storefront properties, giving the organization plenty of room for offices and two learning spaces.

Since 1996, NBW has helped over 4,500 young Philadelphians discover a love of cycling. Through education, hands-on bike-building and group rides, the Philly youth (ages 8-18) served by NBW develop job and life skills that serve them for years to come. NBW also hosts adult repair classes and "Bike Church," a recurring event where the community can get help fixing their rides and purchase affordable donated bikes or bike parts.

Later this summer, NBW will start the move, but to get the new space fully ready, they first have to raise $150,000. The organization will start by tapping the community and corporate sponsors, and follow that up with fundraising events.

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: Erin DeCou, Neighborhood Bike Works

Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse activates long-vacant Kensington storefront

Temple University alum Ariell Johnson first started to imagine opening her dream business when the independent coffee shop across from her favorite comic book store closed down. That was over a decade ago, before she graduated in 2005 with a degree in accounting.

As a self-described "geeky" woman of color who loves comics, Johnson says she’s a rare breed. She got serious about opening Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, her coffee shop/comic book store/community arts hub, in the last few years. She looked in a few different neighborhoods for the perfect spot, including Lancaster Avenue in West Philly and South Philly’s Point Breeze, before finding her 3,000-foot space at the corner of Frankford Avenue and Huntingdon Street.

Frankford's burgeoning arts corridor and mixed neighborhood demographic -- families, single young professionals, recent college grads, artists -- convinced Johnson it was the right place for Amalgam. And among a lot of "fun quirky little shops," tattoo parlors and galleries on the avenue, there still aren't any comic book stores.

"For what I’m doing, I thought it would be a great fit here," she explains.

Amalgam’s future home is a mixed-use building with apartments attached to a commercial space. Johnson says the latter has been standing empty for over ten years. Its history is unclear, but some of the leftover equipment they’ve found, along with an old painting abandoned there, hint that it had another life as an Italian restaurant. 

"We’re in the process of getting renovations done," notes Johnson. "The space is not nearly finished."

To that end, she’s running a crowdfunding campaign through March 3 with a basic goal of raising $5,000 and a dream goal of $30,000, which will help cover renovation of the plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems, as well as installing Amalgam’s coffee bar and kitchen. (If Amalgam can meet that crucial $5,000 goal, it’ll be guaranteed to receive those funds, plus any money raised beyond that.) 

Ultimately, Johnson, a Maryland native who now lives just one street away from her shop, will draw on a range of professional experience to make Amalgam a reality: her business and accounting know-how, a history in retail, and even experience as a barista and self-taught chef. The space will be a haven for comic-book lovers and the wider community, with places for browsing, sipping and snacking as well as conversation, book signings, film screenings and other events.

Johnson will carry industry staples like X-Men and The Flash, but is particularly dedicated to showcasing comics featuring women and people of color after years of being an ardent fan, but rarely seeing anyone who looked like her in the pages she loved.

"Not seeing yourself reflected in different forms of media is damaging," she explains, especially for children. "I want to actively fight against that."

Because of the variables of construction, Johnson says it’s too soon to know an exact date for Amalgam’s grand opening, but she hopes to have it up and running as soon as late spring.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ariell Johnson, Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse

 

Mighty Writers poised to open a new Italian Market space

Last year, when Flying Kite checked in with Philly’s Mighty Writers, a largely volunteer-powered group helmed by director Tim Whitaker, it had just nabbed a $75,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, which it planned to put toward opening a brand-new location in the heart of the Italian Market. That space will house a bilingual program called El Futuro.

Mighty Writers, now in its fifth year of serving youth ages 7 to 17, opened its original space at 15th and Christian Streets, and then a second one at 39th and Lancaster Avenue. Its programming includes mentoring, homework help, after-school sessions, writing classes and SAT prep.

According to Whitaker, former editor of Philadelphia Weekly, Mighty Writers launched a bilingual roster specifically geared toward Philly’s Mexican-American community about two years ago. Attendance at the 15th and Christian location has been enthusiastic and now Mighty Writers is on the cusp of opening a new space in the Italian Market, to better serve participants right in their own neighborhood.

Mighty Writers is hoping to close this week on a building two blocks north of Washington Avenue on 9th Street. The one-story space boasts about 2,500 square feet, with plenty of room for a variety of programming and new offices. After a few renovations, the group hopes to welcome youngsters there as soon as late February.

"There will be workshops for all, though focusing mostly on the Mexican community," says Whitaker. Workshop leaders will teach in both Spanish and English. Currently, Mighty Writers has five full-time employees, two part-timers and dozens of volunteers.

There will also be a daily after-school academy from 3 - 6 p.m., evening writing workshops and additional programming on the weekends.

Whitaker is particularly excited about the new location, flanked by fruit stands, a fish market and racially diverse businesses.   

"It’s really right in the middle of everything, which adds a lot for the kids to write about, a lot for them to see," he says. "It just feels like it’s the right place."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tim Whitaker, Mighty Writers

Massive Chinatown development project unites a divided community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Greensgrow Farms launches a retail gardening center in West Philly

The experimental urban agriculture organization Greensgrow Farms has been operating for nearly two decades in South Kensington where it not only runs a CSA program and a community kitchen, but also educates Philadelphians about sustainable living, and attempts to convince other communities to replicate aspects of its urban farming model.  
 
A little over a week ago, West Philadelphia became an extended member of the Greensgrow family when a gardening center, Greensgrow West, opened on the 4900 block of Baltimore Avenue at the former site of the Elena's Soul jazz club.  
 
The gardening center will remain at the Baltimore Avenue site for at least two years. They will sell plants and fruit trees, and eventually offer workshops similar to those held at the Kensington location. Greensgrow West will also be home to a farmer's market accepting SNAP and WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) benefits.
 
According to Greensgrow's Ryan Kuck, himself a 15-year West Philly resident, the organization saw the neighborhood "as really fertile ground," and an ideal location to further explore its mission of creating livable communities on underutilized urban land.

"We know we have a lot of support [in West Philly], and we know there's a market for greening," says Kuck, who adds that Greensgrow's mobile markets, which offer fresh food to underserved communities, are often based in West Philly. "It's also just a really interesting place for us to explore what Greengrow's future model might look like."
 
It's currently unclear what will happen to the site when Greensgrow's lease ends in April 2016.
 
Source:  Ryan Kuck, Greensgrow Farms
Writer: Dan Eldridge

 
Mobile Market photos by Jennifer Britton
Remaining photos by Bryn Ashburn

A commercial corridor manager brings signs of life to 52nd Street in West Philly

The intersection of 52nd and Market streets in West Philly has struggled for decades, but prior to SEPTA's reconstruction of the Market-Frankford Line, which wrecked economic havoc on the area, the 52nd Street retail corridor was better known as West Philly's Main Street -- a proud city-within-the-city where small businesses thrived.  
 
The Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation (TEC-CDC) has been working for five years to bring that vitality back. And thanks to a grant provided by the Philadelphia Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), they recently hired the street's first-ever commercial corridor manager, Akeem Dixon, whose job description involves returning the retail corridor to its former glory.
 
That's a tall order, to be sure, but according to Dana Hanchin of the Philadelphia LISC office, initiatives are already moving forward.
 
At a recent stakeholders meeting, TEC-CDC revealed some of the key elements of its commercial corridor work plan. It includes beautification efforts such as pop-up gardens on vacant lots, and the launch of both a corridor-specific newsletter and a business directory. A biweekly radio program covering the corridor is now airing on West Philly's community radio station, WPEB 88.1 FM, and a branding campaign is also in the works.
 
Meanwhile, Dixon continues to act as an intermediary between business owners and residents in the area -- something of an impartial ombudsman, whose top priority involves "getting everyone at the same table, and talking," as LISC Philadelphia's James Crowder puts it.
 
"I can't say that wasn't happening before," says Crowder. "But I can say it's happening in a way now that's way more efficient and productive."
 
Source:  Dana Hanchin, LISC Philadelphia
Writer: Dan Eldridge

 
Photos by Samuel Dolgin-Gardner 

Ambitious Pearl Street renovation planned in Chinatown North

In 2008, after two years of transition and multiple moves to make way for the Convention Center expansion, the Asian Arts Initiative moved into their current home at 1219 Vine Street. Now, nearly five years later, AAI is still looking for ways to make their presence known in "Chinatown North" (an area also referred to as the Loft District, Callowhill or Eraserhood).
 
AAI’s recent attempts to solidify the neighborhood's identity are rather ambitious -- the community-based arts center is aiming to revitalize four blocks of Pearl Street, an alleyway that runs from Broad to 10th just north of Vine Street. The goal is to turn the street into a public space, outdoor gallery and gathering spot, bringing together the area's diverse communities.
 
Currently in the early planning stages, the Pearl Street project has been on AAI's radar for a number of years. "Since we moved into this space we’ve been staring at Pearl Street outside our windows," says AAI Executive Director Gayle Isa. "The alleyway is a place you don't want to be right now. It has a reputation as dark and dangerous."
 
Until recently, the project was little more than an idea. "We were actually approached by a funder who was interested in partnering with us on one of our pet projects," says Isa. "We pitched the Pearl Street renovation and they were on board."
 
AAI is hiring Oakland-based landscape architect and artist Walter Hood -- he was in town recently collecting feedback from stakeholders along the alley. Hood will be back in Philadelphia this summer to conduct further research. Final designs are expected in the fall.
 
That group of stakeholders is exceptionally diverse: there's the homeless shelter Sunday Breakfast Mission, folks from the Philly Streets and Planning Departments, the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (the group behind the upcoming Eastern Tower Community Center) and Post Brothers, the developers behind upcoming luxury condos along the alleyway.

"The constituents really reflect the diversity of the neighborhood," says Isa. "The alleyway is a chance to tie them together.... Everyone we've met with has had an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm. There is a lot more openness to working together than I would have expected."
 
Few details have been worked out, but the overall vision involves improved public space, public art, lighting improvements and multi-sensory programmed activities meant to enliven the street. Green features will also be included, with the hope of eventually connecting Pearl Street to the long-envisioned Reading Viaduct project.
 
Source: Gayle Isa, Executive Director, Asian Arts Initiative
WriterGreg Meckstroth
41 Diversity Articles | Page: | Show All
Signup for Email Alerts