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'Before I Die' closes at Drexel: University City's public space in transition

What do you want to do before you die? It’s an interesting question to pair with a complete makeover of one of Philly's educational landmarks. Over the past several months, Drexel University invited globetrotting artist Candy Chang to pose it as buildings at 38th and Powelton Streets were demolished.

Last summer, Drexel University City Development, LLC, in partnership with Wexford Science & Technology, LLC, bought the 14-acre site that housed the former University City High School, the Charles Drew Elementary School and the Walnut Center. According to a June 2014 statement from Drexel, the planned complex will total over 2.7 million square feet, with uses ranging from a new public school to residential, retail, recreational, laboratory and office space. The projected budget is almost $1 billion.

"It marks the end of one life and the beginning of another," says Chang of Drexel’s invitation to create one of her signature installations around the demolition site: Long chalkboard walls inscribed with line upon line following the words "Before I die I want to."

The designer and urban planner created her first "Before I Die" installation on a vacant building in New Orleans in 2011, and since then, with templates available to fans around the world, over 500 similar projects have sprouted up in 70 countries.

The University City site’s installation went up last fall, and it came down last week following the New Orleans-based Taiwanese-American artist’s April 30 lecture at Drexel: "Better Cities: Transforming Public Spaces Through Art & Design."

"The installation encourages people to pause and take a closer look at this space in transition," explains Chang.

In her process, she met with Powelton Village and Mantua community members to hear about the role the site played in their lives.

"One woman cried when she shared her memories of children who once went to that school," recalls the artist.

People have been sharing what they want to do before they die all over the walls of the installation. A few of Chang’s favorites include "drop all self-judgments" and "fix hearts I’ve broken."

"I also enjoyed some of the mashups of crude and contemplative responses. It reflects the gamut of humanity," she adds. Chang calls the installation a "personal anonymous prompt" which is "a gentle first step towards honesty and vulnerability in public," and increases trust and understanding in a community.

"These are essential elements for a more compassionate city, which can not only help us make better places but can help us become our best selves," she insists.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Candy Chang, “Before I Die”

A transatlantic collaboration reimagines North Philly's Lehigh Viaduct

Drexel University's new Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation has launched an ambitious cross-continental educational partnership that imagines a new future for the Lehigh Viaduct in North Philadelphia. They are also tackling a neglected power station (built in the 1920s) and a largely vacant 300,000-square-foot building that covers almost 1,000 feet of waterfront.

The Lehigh Viaduct and these nearby buildings are the perfect focus for an intensive planning project, says Harris Steinberg, executive director of the Lindy Institute and a professor of architecture and interiors at Drexel's Westphal College. The largely abandoned sites have "a lot of connections with work that’s being done in this country as well as around the world, particularly in Europe, around repurposing former industrial infrastructure," he explains.

Steinberg, formerly of the University of Pennsylvania, has a lot of experience in this area. For the last fifteen years, he has worked with groups like PennPraxis on addressing the waterfront, including 2006-2007's Civic Vision for the Central Delaware public planning process, which engaged over 4,000 people in 13 months. That project included the power station and viaduct the Lindy Institute is focusing on now.

The planning process occurred right before Mayor Michael Nutter came into office, and his administration used that work to create a master plan in partnership with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.

The Lehigh Viaduct is a raised embankment connector that runs into the heart of North Philadelphia, from the Port Richmond rail yards to the Girard Avenue interchange at I-95. This overgrown industrial remnant is off-limits to the public. While the Conrail-owned track -- which currently has just one active rail line left -- is not likely to see significant redevelopment right away, Steinberg still insists it’s "a longer-term possibility" to compile a publicly accessible plan for the future.

That will be done via tours, charrettes and workshops, including “Creative Transformations: Lessons from Transatlantic Cities,” a free public discussion that took place at Moore College of Art on February 26. It featured a panel of local and international experts, and was hosted by Drexel, the William Penn Foundation and the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Fifteen students and two faculty members from Germany's TU Dortmund University recently arrived to collaborate with a group of urban design students from Drexel.

"Can it become an amenity as opposed to just an element that divides Port Richmond and Kensington?" asks Steinberg. He hopes the workshop events, running in late February and early March, will give "some more ideas on potential reuse with some economic viability to it. The high-level question we’re asking is how do you repurpose these industrial assets which are not easy to transform, but could have an incredible catalytic impact on the regeneration of those neighborhoods?" 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Harris Steinberg, Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University


Millennium Dance takes over South Street's Pearl building

Do you want to get moving somewhere other than the mall on Black Friday this year? Philadelphia's own Millennium Dance Complex, taking over the old Pearl Arts & Crafts building at 417 South Street, promises to be open by November 28.

Lori Ramsay Long, who lives with her teenage daughter in Gloucester Township, N.J., is the newest owner and studio director of a Millennium Dance Complex franchise. There are currently eight locations operating or getting ready to open their doors, including spaces in Tokyo, North Hollywood, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City.

Long, an alum of Florida State University, Rowan University, Thomas Jefferson University and Drexel College of Medicine, has worked as a forensic scientist, ER nurse and biology professor -- and she also has 20 years’ experience in the dance and fitness world.

Long's first step towards opening Philly's Millennium franchise was her daughter’s love of dance. Kylie is currently a member of the Broadway Dance Center’s teen program, but it’s a killer commute. Before she was old enough to take a train or bus on her own, driving her to Manhattan and back "literally consumed every single weekend from Friday to Sunday," recalls Long.

Despite Philly being full of great dance programs and institutions, Long was always surprised that the city didn’t have any broadly accessible drop-in dance training center: that is, a roster of flexible, professionally-taught, one-time classes open to all instead of specific dance courses working toward a degree or recital.

Many dance enthusiasts, from busy working moms and dads to students, want "ongoing advanced education" in dance without enrolling in a specific course, explains Long.

Enter Philly’s new 39,000-square-foot space, which will offer 90-minute classes in a range of genres, all for $15 dollars each. So far, the Millennium brand is drawing choreographers and trainers who work with stars like Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, Usher and Beyonce.

The first floor will feature four dance studios. The second floor will boast a childcare space, and the third will host industry video and photo shoots. There will also be a 5,000-square-foot roof space and 7,000-square-foot basement under it all with a running track, tumbling mats and other fitness areas.

And that's just the first phase: the second, with a planned 2015 finish, will include a retail area, a spa and massage zone, performance rehearsal space, and event space available for rent.

"The South Street community really wanted something cultural in that building," something "artsy and eclectic," says Long. "The dance community is starving for this."

Author: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Lori Ramsay Long, Millennium Dance Complex

UCD's annual report sheds light on development trends and the community narrative

On Wednesday, October 15, University City District (UCD) will present its annual State of University City report to a select group of representatives from neighborhood institutions, real estate development groups, small business owners and residents.

In over 70 pages worth of eye-catching charts, graphs and text, the report tells the story of a vibrant and growing submarket that continues to attract a steady stream of educated individuals, innovative startups, creative entrepreneurs and civic-minded businesses.

Some highlights of this year’s report include an explosion of multi-family residential development, an unprecedented 96 percent office occupancy rate, a growing interest in transportation and transit, investment by the University of Pennsylvania in both research facilities and community placemaking destinations, and significant growth in Drexel’s innovation neighborhood near 30th Street Station.

The report also expands on the development plans for the 40th Street Trolley Portal, including the success of UCD fundraising efforts to create a pedestrian-friendly park there.

To create the document, policy and research manager Seth Budick compiles vast amounts of data from UCD’s institutional and business partners, alongside its own in-depth studies and analysis of pedestrian counts, retail occupancy and public space usage.

"What we’re really seeing is a flocking of people and businesses who recognize the value of being close to the density of innovation that’s going on in University City," he explains.

As in previous years, printed reports will be distributed to institutional partners, real estate professionals, local organizations, government representatives and residents, who, according to UCD's Lori Brennan, "use [it] as a recruitment tool for filling office vacancies, and attracting retailers and restaurateurs to open up spaces [in University City]."

The report will be available online on October 16.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Sources: Seth Budick and Lori Klein Brennan, University City District


As the Science Center expands, plans emerge to upgrade the campus' livability

On September 12, the 51-year-old University City Science Center celebrated the latest addition to its ever-expanding West Philadelphia campus, now home to more than two million square feet of lab and office space.
Known as 3737 Science Center and located at 3737 Market Street, the 13-story glass tower was developed jointly by the Science Center and Wexford Science & Technology. The $115 million building is already at 82 percent capacity.
Indeed, interest in the space from potential life-science and healthcare tenants was so consistently strong throughout construction that an extra two floors (over the originally-planned 11) were added to the plan.
Spark Therapeutics, a gene therapy startup, is occupying the building's top floor. With Penn Medicine as the anchor tenant, other residents include the Penn Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine and, in the tower's ground-floor retail space, the Corner Bakery Cafe, which is expected to open by the end of this year.
3737 Science Center is the campus' 16th building. At nearby 3601 Market Street, the Science Center is currently constructing a 20-story, $110 million residential tower, which broke ground last year. That high-rise, according to President and CEO Stephen Tang, is part of the campus' current philosophy "to be a place to live, work and play," he says. "Not just work, which is quite frankly what we've been doing for most of our 51-year history."  
"We're trying to become a world-class innovation center across University City and not just across the Science Center's campus," he adds. "We really want to be a vibrant center. And that includes attracting smart, creative and innovative people to our campus to live, as well as to work."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Stephen Tang, University City Science Center

The University City Science Center
 has partnered with Flying Kite to showcase innovation in Greater Philadelphia.

Ambitious Mural Arts project adds color to everyday Amtrak journeys

Philadelphia's extraordinary Mural Arts Program, currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, is known citywide for its colorful work. More than 3,600 murals have been produced since Mayor Wilson Goode hired artist Jane Golden to head the program in 1984.  
According to Golden, over the past five years the organization has become especially interested in "gateway projects" -- artworks situated at exit and entrance destinations, such as airports, interstates or major intersections.

"I just think it's so important that we think about what people see when they're leaving and entering Philadelphia," she explains.
It was that idea that led Golden and her staff to begin a three-year courtship with Katharina Grosse, the celebrated Berlin-based contemporary painter responsible for Mural Arts' latest large-scale gateway project, psychylustro, which was recently constructed along a stretch of Amtrak's Northeast Rail Corridor between 30th Street Station and North Philadelphia Station.     
Reminiscent of the grand outdoor projects that have turned artists like Christo and Jeanne-Claude into household names, psychylustro (pronounced psyche-LUSTRO) consists of a three-mile series of seven different color-drenched installations. There are warehouse walls, building façades and random stretches of green space, all meant to be viewed from the window of a moving train.
"We really want people to see what we see," says Golden, referring to the industrial, ruined, stunning sites that have been transformed by pops of Grosse's color. "We see the deterioration but we also see the beauty; we see the history; we see Philadelphia’s past."
Visit the Mural Arts website for a project map, details about viewing the works from various city bridges, and information about the mobile audio component that accompanies psychylustro.
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Jane Golden, Mural Arts Project


Former Governor Ed Rendell wins Ed Bacon Prize for his promotion of smart transportation

The late Edmund Bacon, born in Philadelphia during the summer of 1910, is a man whose name is synoymous with local architecture and urban planning. Former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell will speak on that very subject on February 18 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where he'll also be awarded with the 8th annual Edmund N. Bacon Prize from the Philadelphia Center for Architecture.
According to David Bender, associate director of the Center, the annual Ed Bacon Prize is awarded to a professional who has achieved a significant amount of success in urban planning, development and design. (Paul Goldberger, an architecture critic for The New Yorker, and Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, are both past recipients.)
Rendell's achievements, Bender explains, were largely transportation-related, such as his proposal to add tolls to the Pennsylvania-wide Interstate 80. Investment in transportation infrastructure, Rendell once said, is vital to America's economic competitiveness, and is "the best job creator we have for well-paying jobs and also to help American manufacturing."
The student winners of the annual Better Philadelphia Challenge will also be honored during the event. This year's Challenge, which is held in honor of Bacon, asked design and architecture students worldwide to imagine a future Philadelphia landscape populated with the sort of self-driving vehicles currently being designed by Google. A $5,000 award will go to the first prize winner. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: David Bender, AIA Philadelphia 

Diggerland USA comes to South Jersey, local construction-loving kids (and adults) rejoice

At a press conference hosted last week at Sahara Sam's Oasis in West Berlin, N.J., representatives of the five-year-old water park announced an upcoming project that will be followed as closely by the area's elementary school set as it will by their parents. A construction-themed adventure park known as Diggerland USA will be built on a 14-acre footprint directly behind Sahara Sam's. 

Though there are currently four locations in the United Kingdom, Diggerland USA will be the first park of its kind in this country. Sahara Sam's, which is overseeing the construction, is projecting an opening date in early-summer 2014. The project received approval at a late-November planning and zoning board meeting in Berlin Township. The Girlya family, which owns both Sahara Sam’s and South Jersey’s Sambe Construction Company, will build the park; they have already broken ground.

"The Township of West Berlin -- the City Council, the Council members -- have been very supportive [of the project]," says Sahara Sam Director of Marketing Chris Peters. "West Berlin itself is not necessarily a very dense area," he adds, though because the park will be located roughly 90 minutes from Manhattan and across the bridge from Philadelphia, "this has been looked at as a great location for an expansion of an entertainment venue [of this sort]."

Twenty-three separate rides and attractions (most of them made of "modified JCB heavy construction pieces," according to a release) will be on offer when Diggerland USA opens its South Jersey gates. Faux construction machinery designed for child and adult use alike will range from small excavators and dumpers to backhoes and tractors. The park will also sport a ropes course and rock-climbing area. 

Source: Chris Peters, Sahara Sam's Oasis 
Writer: Dan Eldridge

Food and craft vendors, Drexel musicians, take over Second Friday on Lancaster Ave. on Aug. 10

Second Friday on Lancaster Avenue continues its revitalization this week, with a variety of vendors, led by Little Baby's Ice Cream and Jimmies Cupcakes, a Drexel Music Showcase, and your last chance to experience Flying Kite's Transformation 19104 exhibit at its On the Ground headquarters at 4017 Lancaster Ave.

Little Baby's Ice Cream, fresh off its Fishtown storefront launch last week, and Jimmie's, a gourmet cupcake van that will be at Mt. Airy Night Market on Aug. 16, will be set up near the 3800-3900 block of Lancaster Ave. They'll be accompanied by a variety of arts and crafts vendors, selling jewelry, clothes, artwork and a variety of other products. 

The People's Emergency Center's Make Your Mark building at 3861 Lancaster Ave. will host the Drexel Music Showcase, which feature the rap stylings of Quags, IHateYourDad(PA) and other acts. Also, see the work of emerging visual artist Jasmine Roper. She will display works in pencil, acrylic paint, and oil paint. Her most recent show was on display at Wired Beans Café in Germantown.

Up and down Lancaster Ave., from the 3500 block through 4300 block, more than 30 businesses will be participating. Flying Kite will host Chinese musicians from the neighborhood, as well as more puppetry for children. Festvities run from 5-8 p.m., and here's a block-by-block look at some of what's planned:

3500 block
Community Education Center (3500): Garden Party Summer Series open mic, performances, displays, closing reception
Savas Brick Oven Pizza (3505): Outdoor dining
Ed's Buffalo Wings & Pizza (3513): Food & drink specials
Mad Greeks Restaurant (3517): Food & drink specials
Fencing Academy (3519): Demonstrations
Power Yoga Works (3527): Demonstrations
3600 block
LA Vista Hair Salon (3616): Walk-in specials and sidewalk sale
Redcap Games (3617): New game launch
Polish (3624): Student discounts and manicure/pedicure specials
Lemon Grass Thai (3630): Dinner specials
Coco Jazz Salon (3631): Discounts
Powelton Pizza (3635): $1 slices and bass clarinet player
Paratha Roll (3651): Outdoor dining and discounts
3700 block
Fresh Food Truck (area of 3700)
3800 block
Jollie's West (3800): Bar specials with DJ Corey “Baby DST”
Reed's Coffee and Tea House (3802): Open mic and art display
Art on the Avenue (3808): jazz music and art by Emil Baumann
A Part of Me (3834): Sidewalk sale, free refreshments and music by jazz artist Alfie Pollitt
La Pearl Beauty Emporium (3857): Discounts
People's Emergency Center's Make Your Mark Building (3861): Drexel Music Showcase - IHateMyDad(PA), Quags and art by Jasmine Roper.
3900 block
New Angle Lounge (3901): Bar specials
Resellers Central Market (3939): Sidewalk sale
Chic Afrique (3943): Extended hours

4000 block
Corner of 40th and Lancaster (4000/outside): Voter registration tent and a Condom Nation, a national condom giveaway program administered locally by Metropolitan Community Church.
Flying Kite On the Ground (4017): Second Friday HQ with Transformation 19104 art exhibit, new Budd St. photo exhibit celebration and live music
Villa (4034): Sidewalk sale, food drive, and in-store event with Thor Take Over Records
Miss Prissy (4058): Sidwalk sale

4100 block
Vintage Villa Antiques (4167): A sidewalk sale with several vendors also serves as a pre-opening event for Vintage Villa, which will be reopening this summer. The shop also features artist Will Conyers and his original, limited edition framed works.

4200 block
King's Grill: Food specials
Bottom of the Sea (4142): Food specials
4300 block
Wolf Cycle (4311): 10% off all items not already on sale from 5-8 p.m.
Dwight's Southern Bar-B-Que (4345): Food specials

Source: James Wright, People's Emergency Center
Writer: Joe Petrucci

ANALSYIS: How new Eastern Tower Community Center can be a modern symbol of immigration in Philly

There’s no question about it, these days there are a lot of hot ‘hoods in Philly’s residential real estate market.  And over the past decade, none have been hotter or healthier than Center City’s Chinatown.  According to the 2010 Census results, the area more than doubled in population and added almost 1,000 market rate housing units.  And now, Chinatown is about to get vertical with its growth spurt as the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC) plans to build the 23-story Eastern Tower Community Center.  
The Center, to be located in the northern reaches of Chinatown at 10th and Vine Streets, is an urban planner’s dream.  The building defines the meaning of mixed-use: retail and recreational space will be utilized on the first two floors, a two-story flexible community center, office space, a possible charter school, and 144 affordable housing units on floors six and up. To top it off, the tower will include a green roof, dwelling units will have operable windows, and silver LEED certification will be sought. Zoning is good to go, approvals have been met, and the PCDC plans to start construction early next year. 

To many, this building is seen as a culmination of the economic growth and overall progress made in Chinatown over the last decade. And it’s true; the Center will no doubt strengthen community values and bring people together in a facility not currently available in the neighborhood.  But on a broader level, Chinatown’s recent progress and the building of the Center is proof positive that ethnic enclaves and immigration are important assets to urban areas and prove to be economic boons for cities.    

Places like New York and San Francisco are intrinsically linked to their own Chinatowns, Italian Villages, and Koreatowns, and have long understood the relationship between them and how they promote economic growth.  Philadelphia, too, knows a thing or two about this phenomenon.  In South Philly, the famous Fabric Row along 4th Street was the commercial center of Philly’s early 20th- century Jewish community.  Originally known for its predominance of fabric and garment-related products, the area has diversified in use over the years yet remains a viable commercial corridor because of its ethnic roots, unique offerings, and associated sense of place characteristics.  

In the same era, a different wave of immigrants, this time Italian, formed an ethnic enclave of their own centered on nearby 9th Street.  Although this area wasn’t called The Italian Market until the 1970s, it earned its name from the start.  The street market featured Italian butchers, cheese shops, and other vendors that catered to the new Italian community in the area and offered niche products and experiences not found anywhere else.  Over the years, the district’s attitude towards immigrants has not changed and thus continued to thrive, more recently seeing an influx of Mexican, Vietnamese, Jewish, and Chinese vendors.    

Up in Chinatown, the same pattern seems to be occurring.  Spurred by the existence of a community banded together by their ethnic heritage, the area has done a bit of asset building and is diversifying.  According to Center City District, Chinatown has become significantly more economically diverse, showcased by a huge influx of ownership housing in an area known for its rental-tilt. 
While these successes showcase Philly’s historic and modern acceptance of immigrant populations and their unique cultural heritage, there is cause for concern that these attitudes are not prevailing.  Based on recent United States Office of Immigration statistics, Philly sits in the middle of the greatest immigrant destination in the United States: the Bos-Wash corridor.  And yet, Philly fails to crack the top 10 regions with the most naturalized citizens.  Meanwhile, New York, Boston, and Washington continue soaking up all the foreign awesomeness and associated economic growth. 

With their entrepreneurial spirit and zeal to succeed, immigrants have proven themselves to be economic initiators and jumpstarters for city economies.  Research has proven this trend time and time again and Philly has the historical examples to back it up.  And when the Eastern Tower Community Center is complete in 2015, a more modern, significantly taller, example of Philly’s history-in-the-making acceptance of immigrant populations will take shape.  Now if only the City can find a way to crack those top 10 lists and steal some of New York’s immigrant appeal, perhaps the tide will turn for other urban neighborhoods looking for a new niche all their own.        

Writer: Greg Meckstroth

ThinkBike Workshop enlists Dutch experts to reimagine bicycling around Temple University

There's been a steady and significant increase in the number of cyclists in Philadelphia, which has been ranked first among the 10 largest American cities for bicycle commuters, according to The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey.
The area around Temple University lags behind other neighborhoods. Last week, Temple hosted ThinkBike, a cycling workshop in collaboration with the Dutch Cycling Embassy, which promotes innovation worldwide.
The Royal Netherlands Embassy, in cooperation with Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, Temple University, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Philadelphia Streets Department and the Dutch Cycling Embassy held the two-day ThinkBike Workshops last week.
At the closing session, Bradley Flamm, PhD, Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Planning at Temple  University, said, "There's a lot of potential to increase safety, comfort and convenience for the people of this city." At Temple, only 8% of students, faculty and staff regularly cycle to and from campus. the majority now drive alone. 
The ThinkBike team picked key routes: Broad Street, 12th and 13th Streets, Berks, Spring Garden and Fairmount Avenue, making recommendations based on street width and international precedent. One suggestion was to create a bike lane on the other side of parked cars, adjacent to the sidewalk. This setup is now in place in Holland, and it changes the dynamic considerably, allowing cyclists to traverse streets without fear of being sideswiped or flipping over car doors that open unexpectedly. The team looked into landscaping that would add green space between the bike lane and parked cars.
North 13th Street was viewed as a major opportunity for north-south commuters, given the huge amount of vehicular traffic already on Broad Street. An estimated 32,000 vehicles travel on the city's main north-south arterial daily. The team's suggestion was to create a two-way bike lane system. Another suggestion that would dramaticlly alter the cityscape is to cordon off an entire lane around City Hall for bikes only, and extend lanes on 15th, 16th, and create a two way cycle track on JFK Boulevard.
If undertaken as a pilot program, no new legislation would need to be enacted to make the cyclist friendly changes, according to the team. ThinkBike Workshops move on to Washington, DC, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Source: Bradley Flamm, Temple University
Writer: Sue Spolan

ON THE GROUND: Chic Afrique moves natural cosmetics store west to expanded shop on Lancaster Ave.

Chic Afrique has moved to a location that's double in size, but what customers see is only the tip of the company's business. "Ninety percent of our sales are online," reports Victoria Onwuchekwa, founder/chief cook and bottle filler at the natural cosmetics store now located at 3943 Lancaster Avenue.
Now offering over 30 products in its cosmetics line, Chic Afrique began as a kiosk at the Echelon Mall nearly three decades ago. Onwuchekwa had just completed her Master's degree in pharmacology at Long Island University, where she became fascinated by the chemistry of cosmetics. While in search of a dissertation topic, Onwuchekwa's mother, who is a pharmacist, suggested she pick a topic near home, and Onwuchekwa embarked on a study of shea butter, a common ointment in Africa that's been growing in popularity here in the US.

"Science, chemistry and pharmacology came easy to me," says Onwuchekwa. "I decided to do something extra on the side." Combining art and science, she developed simple emulsions that are still the basis for an extensive offering that includes body butter, souffle, lotion, soap, hair oil and butter, shampoo, conditioner and even candles.
Onwuchekwa's philosophy in developing products comes from the life cycle. Watoto has ingredients gentle enough for a baby; Karite is meant for a growing child's scrapes and rashes; Okuma is for a young girl who wants to smell nice; Saronia has a potent scent meant to attract suitors, and Ife, which means love, contains turai, a Senegalese aphrodisiac. Onwuchekwa counts all ethnicities among her loyal patrons, and also offers custom labeling for business to business sales locally, nationally and internationally.
Chic Afrique moved from the Echelon Mall to The Gallery at Market East, first in a kiosk and then in a retail shop. Onwuchekwa then expanded to 7th and Walnut streets for a decade; after a brief period doing only wholesale, she opened up another retail spot at 3874 Lancaster just last year. 
Less than two months ago, Onwuchekwa's landlord called to offer the much more spacious storefront a block west. It allows shoppers a peek into Onwuchekwa's open kitchen/laboratory, which occupies the entire back half of the expansive space. The business also has three employees.
The building was previously occupied by Grace Church and Community Center, as evidenced by the sign that still hangs above the door. Business hours are Monday through Saturday from noon to 7 p.m.

Source: Victoria Onwuchekwa, Chic Afrique
Writer: Sue Spolan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 
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