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Philanthropy : Development News

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Tacony's temporary library builds buzz on Torresdale Avenue

The new South Philadelphia Library is open on Broad Street, but it's only the first of five major renovations planned at libraries across the city. And while work is officially underway on the Tacony Library at Torresdale Avenue and Knorr Street -- it's scheduled to last 18 months -- Tacony isn’t missing a beat in the meantime.
 
"These renovations don’t mean this community should go without a library," explained Sixth District Councilman Bobby Henon at the opening of the Tacony Library and Arts Building (LAB) on June 29. While construction on the new building continues (as part of the Free Library’s Pew-funded Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative), a partnership between the Mural Arts Program (MAP), the Free Library and the Tacony Community Development Corporation has led to this temporary space.
 
Now open at 6918 Torresdale Avenue, LAB occupies a street-level storefront that has been vacant for almost three years. Speakers at the opening included Free Library President and Director Siobhan Reardon and Tacony CDC Director Alex Balloon. They connected the temporary space to the mission of the future library: offering support and resources for small business owners, and spurring the evolution and revitalization of Tacony's commercial corridor.
 
LAB, a "hub for learning, creativity and community engagement," according to the Free Library, will host two MAP artists-in-residence: Nick Cassway (who hopes to develop a solar-powered parklet) and Mariel Capanna (a fresco artist whose residency will focus on the neighborhood’s industrial history). LAB will also play host to public art events, storytime for kids, a computer lab and free WIFI, and a selection of books to borrow.
 
"How we bring art and literature together will be a great experiment at Tacony LAB," said Reardon.

MAP Founder and Executive Director Jane Golden described the space as active and participatory, and hopes that more like it will result from similar partnerships in the future.
 
"It’s an awesome place and something that’s going to be modeled throughout the city of Philadelphia," added Henon.
 
Tacony LAB will open from noon to 8 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays; 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; and Fridays from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Councilman Bobby Henon and other LAB speakers 

On the Ground: Strawberry Mansion is home to PHS's first solar-powered Green Resource Center


Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s (PHS) Strawberry Mansion Green Resource Center became the first PHS Resource Center to operate on solar power thanks to a $40,000 gift from the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club. The Center is across the road from Strawberry Mansion High School in Flying Kite’s current On the Ground neighborhood.

Originally founded through Green Mountain Energy Company in 2002, the Sun Club is now a separate nonprofit.  

"We have been a partner of PHS for a number of years," says Jason Sears, an executive for the organization. "They introduced us to the opportunity out at Strawberry Mansion High School, and we’ve been working with them on that for about a year now."

The new 10-kilowatt solar array will include over 30 panels on top of a shade structure in the site’s community garden. (The greenhouse is still under construction.) The electricity from the panels will power all kinds of appliances for the site’s plant-growing and vegetable-washing stations.

The Sun Club takes a broad view of sustainability -- it doesn’t just mean renewable power or energy efficiency. It includes community-wide factors: access to food, transportation and job-training, all of which the nonprofit wants to support.
Sears appreciates projects like the Strawberry Mansion installation because it’s putting green energy in the hands of local residents. Solar panels are durable, and with little more than a rinse every year or two, they can last for up to 30 years.

"When people understand that renewable energy isn’t this mythical ephemeral idea, it’s very real and very powerful," he says.

PHS Director of Garden Projects Nancy Kohn says power from the new panels will affect up to forty different gardening sites city-wide. PHS currently has four Green Resource Centers besides the one under construction in Strawberry Mansion which propagate seedlings for participating gardeners across Philadelphia (a sixth center is planned for South Philly). About 50,000 seedlings from the newly solar-powered facility in Strawberry Mansion will grow throughout the city each year.

The site includes community garden plots as well as educational beds for Strawberry Mansion High School students -- they grow food there and incorporate the produce into cooking and nutrition classes.

Kohn estimates that construction on the Strawberry Mansion Green Resource Center, a member site of PHS’s City Harvest, will wrap up by August.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Jason Sears, Green Mountain Energy Sun Club; Nancy Kohn, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society


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.

Habitat for Humanity's Rock the Block comes to Pottstown


Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County, which has been holding successful Rock the Block events in Norristown -- in addition to its longtime work of building and rehabbing homes there -- is now setting its sights on Pottstown for a major neighborhood revitalization event.

In partnership with Pottstown CARES Community Cleanup Day on April 15, Habitat will bring an estimated 100 volunteers from 11 different community organizations together to perform a wide range of exterior rehab work for homes in need on six blocks (the 300 and 400 blocks of Beech, Walnut, and Chestnut Streets) in addition to a few other local projects.

The organization has already built nine homes in Pottstown.

"We saw that our homeowners really enjoyed living in the community, but there were challenges within the community that they were frustrated weren’t being addressed," says Marianne Lynch, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County. Problems like vacant or deteriorating buildings and trash drive down home values and quality of life. "We began to look into neighborhood revitalization as a solution not only for our homeowners, but to really help the neighbors find their voice and help them deal with the concerns in the communities where we’ve already built, and would like to continue building."

The event in Pottstown will put volunteers to work on jobs such as gutter cleaning, porch painting, trash pick-up, yard clean-up, putting up house numbers and installing smoke alarms.

The Empire Fire Company building at 76 N. Franklin Street will serve as the event’s home base; check-in for volunteers begins at 7:30 a.m. with welcoming words at 8:30 p.m. Work will start at 9 a.m.; lunch will be served from 11:30 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Ten different local community organizations will set up tables onsite with information on a wide variety of programs for residents. The day’s work will finish around 2 p.m.

According to Lynch, Habitat will continue working actively in Pottstown for at least another two years, with larger-scale repair efforts targeting roofing, HVAC systems, and other issues "that compromise safety, security, or access in the home." Residents will help to identify occupied homes that need the help.

Participants can register on-site day-of, but Habitat recommends e-mailing cara@habitatmontco.org in advance to expedite things.

"We certainly welcome the community to come out and join us that day for volunteering, or for lunch, or both," adds Lynch.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Marianne Lynch, Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County

The Bacon Brothers headline a February benefit for the new Viaduct park

On February 4, Phase 1 construction of the Viaduct Rail Park will get a boost of star power from the Bacon Brothers at a special fundraiser concert at Union TransferCenter City District (CCD) and Friends of the Rail Park (FRP) are teaming up to present the show.

"Aren’t we all separated from Kevin Bacon by just six degrees?" quips FRP leader Sarah McEneaney. "Both FRP and CCD were thinking about how we could get greater visibility for the project, and what better way to do that than engage a home-grown star who had city planning in his DNA and was involved in the realization of the High Line in NYC?"

Nancy Goldenberg, vice president of planning and development at CCD and executive director of the Center City District Foundation, knew a high school friend of Kevin Bacon, and began to network. The outreach resulted in a visit to the Viaduct for Bacon and his sister Hilda -- they were enthusiastic about the site's potential and agreed to headline a fundraiser.

The older of the two brothers, Michael, is a career musician and Emmy-winning composer. Movie fans, of course, know Kevin from roles in films like Apollo 13, Mystic River and many more. The two grew up in Philadelphia, and some of Michael’s first gigs were at the Electric Factory in the 1960s. They formed their band in 1995 and now tour across the country. The Bacon Brothers released their seventh album in fall 2014.

The show will also include a performance by Lititz, Penn., native Robe Grote (of The Districts) and other well-known local musicians.

"Proceeds from the concert will support both construction and stewardship of the first phase of the park," explains McEneaney. "But the concert is much more about raising visibility and engaging an increasing number of new supporters. We’ve had enormous support from the City, State and several foundations for the project, but now we’re turning to the folks who benefit the most: the individuals who will use it."

This all-ages benefit is taking place at Union Transfer on Thursday, February 4 at 8 p.m. (doors at 7:15 p.m.). For tickets ($35-$125), click here.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah McEneaney, Friends of the Rail Park 

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.
 

Big News: In 2016, PHS will pop-up in Callowhill, celebrating the new Viaduct park

To kick off our On the Ground stay in Callowhill, Flying Kite toured the site of the upcoming Philadelphia Rail Park, one of five "Reimagining the Civic Commons" projects launching this year. Now word is out that the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s (PHS) next pop-up and beer garden will appear somewhere in the neighborhood, connecting with the new energy surrounding the Reading Viaduct.

Julianne Schrader Ortega, chief of programs at PHS, says the exact location is to be determined, but they’re currently looking at a few possibilities with strong connections to the site.

PHS has been running its pop-up program since 2011, when it took over a vacant lot at 20th and Market Streets for a vegetable garden that drew 5,000 visitors during the spring and summer season. Since then, partnering organizations and revenue from the Philadelphia Flower Show have supported the program, with 2015 marking the first year with two locations: one at 15th and South Streets, and a second at 9th and Wharton Streets. 

Last year, those gardens drew about 75,000 visitors with programming as diverse as the Bearded LadiesBitter Homes and Gardens performances, concerts, gardening workshops and yoga.

The 2016 Viaduct pop-up will mark another exciting first for PHS: The project is being funded by a single $360,000 grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage

Those dollars will let PHS “blend in horticulture with art and history, and raise awareness and support for the rail park along the Viaduct, and have people connect with this historic rail line," explains Ortega. The Pew-funded pop-up "really has to be an interpretation of the Reading Viaduct, and it’s a different type of pop-up garden experience."

To that end, PHS will be working with artist Abby Sohn, who will create special installations along the rail line that recall the industrial history and culture of the area. In addition, landscape designer Walter Hood is incorporating the Viaduct’s history into plans for the site, which will be constructed in the spring of next year. Friends of the Rail Park and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania are also important partners.

According to Ortega, PHS's pop-ups "inspire people to rethink what our vacant spaces could be in the city, and bring people together in a beautiful garden."

Follow along for news on where the garden will appear and what programming and design elements to expect.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Julianne Schrader Ortega, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society


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.
 

A tour of Callowhill's Reading Viaduct Park as the first phase of construction approaches

Painter Sarah McEneaney -- who has lived in a house on Hamilton street since 1979 -- is a co-founder and current board president of the Callowhill Neighborhood Association (CNA). As Flying Kite heads to Callowhill for our next On the Ground stint, McEneaney offered an insightful introduction to the area.

"This neighborhood that we’re in does not have any green space," she says, noting not only the lack of a formal park, but the fact that most residences don’t even have a yard or garden. That’s one reason the ramp to the old Reading Viaduct, rising between Broad and 11th Streets, already looms large in the neighborhood. Fundraising is still underway for Phase 1 of the new rail park, one of the targets of the Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative (which we’ve seen at work in Parkside’s Centennial Commons).  

The gentle slope of the former two-track quarter-mile stretch rises from ground level about a half-block north of Callowhill Street near Broad and Noble. It was built in the 1890s for locomotives to chug up to the tracks that originally curved north to the Reading Viaduct, and coincidentally, its grade matches that for federally mandated ADA accessibility.

These days, despite a series of chain barriers and gates, it’s clear a lot of people are using the old railway ramp.

"That section is already the de facto neighborhood park," says McEneaney of the area slated for Civic Commons Phase 1 plans (budgeted at $9 million); she took Flying Kite on a walk through the site.

Grasses and wildflowers are thick on either side of the old elevated trail, along with Paulownia trees, which McEneaney explains are common beside old railways in the eastern United States -- the trees’ seeds were used as packing material by Chinese exporters in the early 1800s. When packages burst or leaked along the tracks, the trees sprouted. There’s a weedy path of sharp gray stones down the middle of the planned park.

According to McEneaney, neighborhood volunteers and CNA members already give their time to maintaining the area and picking up trash. The existing trail is littered with plenty of debris, including a welter of smashed beer cans. People stroll here and walk their dogs.

The history of modern efforts around reclaiming this space -- and the owners, groups and funders involved -- gets complicated. The Viaduct Project got started almost 15 years ago, and a similar group, Friends of the Rail Park, got started in 2009, focusing on the old railway where it runs west of Broad Street and up the northeast side of Fairmount Park. In 2013, the two groups merged into one entity: Friends of the Rail Park.

The Phase 1 ramp area is now owned by SEPTA, which will be turning it over to Center City District to manage construction. After buildout, the site will be officially owned by the City of Philadelphia, which will maintain the 25,000-square-foot linear park space with the help of Friends of the Rail Park. Design is underway with Studio Bryan Hanes.

Fundraising efforts, spearheaded by Center City District and aided by $1 million from the Knight and William Penn Foundation Civic Commons dollars, have raised about $5 million. With $4 million to go, McEneaney says stakeholders are waiting to hear how much of that may come from a state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant, and how much will come from grassroots fundraising and additional civic dollars. She hopes to see a groundbreaking in 2016.

Keep up with Flying Kite on the ground for more about plans for the space.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah McEneaney, Friends of the Rail Park and the Callowhill Neighborhood Association

ArtPlace America honors the Fairmount Park Conservancy with $3 million grant

On October 22, leaders and community members gathered at the Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park for a Community Development Investments public forum. The focus was a $3 million grant from ArtPlace America to the Fairmount Park Conservancy, announced in August by President Obama.

The Conservancy is one of just six organizations nationwide to receive this grant, which will disburse $1 million per year for three years for new creative placemaking initiatives in Philly’s parks, incorporating artistic and cultural works into infrastructure and programming (focus sites and projects TBD).

Leading the forum, Conservancy Executive Director Kathryn Ott Lovell said the conversation was at the "nexus of arts, culture, and parks."

"This opportunity comes at a critical juncture" for the Conservancy, she continued. Projects sponsored by the grant will help to make individuals’ experience of Philly’s parks more meaningful.

Mayor Michael Nutter, also on hand to speak, expressed pride that the Conservancy was recognized by the White House. He pointed out that it’s the only city park conservancy in the country that manages not just a single centralized park site, but many across the city. Parks aren’t only about playgrounds, grass and trees, he added, "[They’re] really about equity, really about bringing people together."

Other speakers included Michael DiBerardinis, deputy mayor and commissioner of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.

"We’re doing it right. We’re getting it right," he said of the message the ArtPlace grant sends to Philly’s park system. Upgrading our public spaces with art projects "is not just for a handful of people…but for every single citizen of every neighborhood."

Laura Sparks, executive director of the William Penn Foundation, said the organization was "thrilled, but not surprised" by the Conservancy’s selection. She touted Philadelphia's "incredible public spaces" as the number-one asset that has been raising the city's global profile, from the recent New York Times nod as a top destination to September’s papal visit.

The session concluded with a panel moderated by Knight Foundation Vice President of Community and National Initiatives Carol Coletta, and statements from three national leaders in creative placemaking.

ArtPlace Executive Director Jamie Bennett explained the concept of placemaking as "community development that is local, specific to a place, and is comprehensive," engaging local citizens in its planning. And if you want to understand the "creative" prefix to that, it means bringing artists in on the ground floor of planning for public spaces' infrastructure, design and programming.

Village of Arts and Humanities co-founder and former executive director Lily Yeh (now of Barefoot Artists, which she founded in 2002) gave a short presentation on the history of her work at the North Philly site, which has been a model of repurposed and revitalized spaces for almost 20 years, as well as her work designing a Rugerero memorial to victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

"Through creative actions, we reclaim our lives," she insisted.

Scott Kratz, director of the 11th Street Bridge Park project in D.C. -- which imagines a new public space spanning the Anacostia river; slated to open a mile and a half from Capitol Hill in 2019 -- also spoke about the importance of spaces like those managed by the Conservancy.

"Increasingly, cities are being defined by civic spaces," he said.

Lyz Crane, deputy director of ArtPlace America, explained that the organization is a national consortium of eight federal agencies, six banks and fifteen foundations, including the William Penn and Knight Foundations. "Strategic project development" for the Conservancy grant will get underway this coming winter and spring, she said, and projects may begin to manifest by summer 2016.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Mayor Michael Nutter and Fairmount Park Conservancy panel speakers 

On the Ground: A new life for Philly's Centennial Commons

On March 16, Mayor Michael Nutter and other local officials announced the $11 million Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative. The project is being run by the Fairmount Park Conservancy and partners, with major support from the Knight Foundation and the William Penn Foundation. Since the announcement, we’ve taken a closer look at plans for one of the five major developments: an overhaul of the Bartram’s Mile walkway. And now that Flying Kite has landed in Parkside with On the Ground, it’s the perfect time to take a peek at the new Centennial Commons.

According to Jennifer Mahar, senior director of civic initiatives at the Conservancy, conversations with local leaders and stakeholders began in winter of 2013. It was an eye-opening process. From block associations and block captains to business owners and religious leaders, the community dove into a long series of meetings and planning activities. What did locals really want for the massive historic space, the erstwhile hub of Philly’s famous 1876 Centennial Exhibition?

The first meeting was in West Parkside, and that was a lesson all on its own.

"I didn’t know about the distinction between East and West Parkside," admits Maher. "There was a lot of work that we had to do to spend more time on the East Side." That included connecting with the Parkside Historic District Coalition and the Viola Street Residents Association. Many of those meetings took place at the Christ Community Baptist Church on 41st Street between Parkside and Girard.

"This project is a little bit different than most other ones I’ve had in my time as far as community engagement," explains Mahar. "The project came online and then we reached out the community; usually projects run the other way."

In another surprise, Conservancy staffers and surveyors learned that residents had good reason to be wary of news that a major rehab was coming to the Commons.

"The Parkside community has gone through 26 plans in the last 20 years, and has seen very little implemented," says Mahar. These plans have included everything from healthy eating initiatives to economic corridor boosts, along with traffic and transit upgrades, "but so little has happened that I don’t think people actually believe us that we're building a park."

But a park is coming: The $12 million renovation of an 800-acre space will encompass four main projects in multiple phases. The Conservancy has already raised $6.5 million towards Phase 1.

Those four areas include the "gateway" to the park and the whole neighborhood, where Girard and Parkside Avenues meet. Now, "it’s just a slab of broken concrete where people drive super-fast," explains Mahar. With the help of the Planning Commission, work is afoot to transform this into a welcoming and accessible space that is safer for drivers, pedestrians and trolley-riders alike.

Other phases of the plan -- created in partnership with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation -- will include a new Youth Area near the existing Kelly Pool geared to kids ages 5 to 12, a "B’tweens Area" for teens and the "Parkside Edge," a mellower area that will turn a neglected stretch of Parkside Avenue into an inviting green space boasting seating, shade and gathering spaces.

Stay tuned to Flying Kite for more details as the spring 2016 groundbreaking approaches.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jennifer Mahar, The Fairmount Park Conservancy

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.


 

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

Reading Viaduct Park -- and four other exciting projects -- get green light

"All our childhood memories go back to a park story, a recreation center story, or a library story," argued Mayor Michael Nutter at a March 16 press conference at the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center. It was an appropriate sentiment since he was announcing a $11 million investment in the Fairmount Park Conservancy and its Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.

The Knight Foundation, with a commitment of $5.4 million, and the William Penn Foundation, bringing $5.5 million to the table, are teaming up to provide these funds, which will in turn support five major civic projects, some of which have held the public imagination for decades.

The dollars, Nutter said, would further the city’s goal of making "Philadelphia the number one green city in the United States of America." The common denominator of all the projects, he added, is that they will revitalize and transform underutilized, under-resourced spaces.

Speakers joining Nutter were Fairmount Park Conservancy Executive Director Kathryn Ott Lovell; Michael DiBerardinis, Deputy Mayor for Environmental & Community Resources and Parks and Recreation Commissioner; William Penn Executive Director Laura Sparks; and Carol Coletta, vice president for community and national initiatives at the Knight Foundation.

According to Sparks, the investment will continue to build Philadelphia’s profile as a world-class destination for "shared spaces that a diverse population can enjoy." Partly because of our booming Millennial population, "Philadelphia is the ideal national laboratory" for civic space experiments like these, and foundations with a nationwide lens are recognizing it.

Reimagining the Civic Commons, according to the Conservancy, will "explore whether reinventing and connecting public spaces as a network of civic assets will help cities attract and keep talented workers," boost the economy, help get residents more engaged, and "begin to level the playing field between more affluent communities and those in need."

Instead of competing for funds, organizations involved will be able to collaborate with each other.

The conference included details on the five selected projects.

A collaboration between Audubon Pennsylvania and Outward Bound will help create The Discovery Center in East Fairmount Park to inspire leadership development and environmental stewardship near the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood.

The Conservancy dollars will also finally make the Reading Viaduct Rail Park a reality, repurposing it as a green public space that will rise from ground level to cross three city streets. Center City District and Friends of the Rail Park will join together to make it happen.

The Bartram’s Mile Trail Project along the lower Schuylkill River is part of the region’s planned 750-mile Circuit Trail Network. It will be tackled thanks to a partnership between Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and the Schuylkill River Development Corporation.

The funds will also ensure the completion of Lovett Memorial Library and Park in Mt. Airy, with support from the Free Library and Mt. Airy U.S.A.

Finally, the dollars will transform an underutilized piece of West Fairmount Park into the Centennial Commons, a family-friendly playspace for the Parkside community. The Fairmount Park Conservancy will helm this project.

Stay tuned for more from Flying Kite about the plans for these individual projects.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Mayor Michael Nutter; Kathryn Ott Lovell, the Fairmount Park Conservancy; Laura Sparks, the William Penn Foundation, and Carol Coletta, the Knight Foundation. 

 

CDC earns $40,000 to improve the city's health through its built environment

When this year’s call for applications for the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) IMPACT Awards of Greater Philadelphia came in, staffers at Center City’s Community Design Collaborative (CDC) saw a big opportunity.
 
GSK has been awarding these $40,000 grants annually for about twenty years -- that’s almost $6 million for 150 local nonprofits focused on some aspect of improving community health and quality of life in categories such as Diet and Exercise, Education, and Family and Social Support. In 2014, GSK added a new category: the Built Environment.
 
Collaborative leaders knew they couldn’t pass up the chance to apply, and this fall they learned that they were among eight organizations (out of a pool of about 100 applicants) to win a $40,000 grant. (GSK partnered with United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey for the 2014 round of Philly grants.)
 
"Community health and wellness is definitely one of the themes we could address," says Collaborative Executive Director Beth Miller of pursuing the program. It was the first time the Collaborative had applied, and it was "a super-duper honor" to be chosen, winning alongside organizations such as the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the University City District.
 
The recognition is an important boost for an organization like the Collaborative, explains Miller. While completed blueprints, groundbreakings and openings always grab the most press, the vital legwork behind those milestones can be hard to notice or articulate. The group doesn’t provide finalized architectural plans and it doesn’t assist in the construction of the projects it works on, but its design-related services, including community outreach and discussion, public charrettes, conceptual designs and cost estimates -- all key to luring investors and developers -- serve as a vital bridge from neighborhood needs to actionable plans.
 
The GSK grant will benefit a range of efforts in 2015, including five new community health and wellness projects. These are yet to be determined, but, as Miller puts it, they’ll "bubble up" from the local organizations involved.  
 
The dollars will also aid a revamp of the organization's website; the new site will include a gallery of past projects and a package showcasing the work the organization has done to galvanize new futures for 18 public schoolyards.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Beth Miller, Community Design Collaborative

Turning park users into park supporters at annual GLOW in the Park bash

The Fairmount Park Conservancy, which works to preserve and improve the park system through the city, is certainly no slouch when it comes to fundraising. Its $500-a-head Centennial Celebration, for instance, takes place each May and generally brings in about $500,000, or half the organization's annual operating budget.   
 
Which is all well and good. After all, city parks can't operate without competent management and regular maintenance, neither of which come cheap. But the Conservancy's board wants to engage a broader swath of Philadelphia. Four years ago, they started discussing ways to connect with the next generation of park champions. The result was the development of a more accessible event. 

"Everybody's a park user in the Philadelphia region, and we found that so many people want to support the parks," says Conservancy Executive Director Kathryn Ott Lovell. "So why not offer an alternative opportunity?"
 
That alternative opportunity, known as GLOW in the Park, now happens at the beginning of each fall season.
 
The third installment is scheduled to kick off at dusk on October 9. The Strawberry Mansion Music Pavilion in East Fairmount Park will be aglow with lights and the entertainment will include live music and "unusual performances." (Fire dancers have been featured at previous GLOW in the Park incarnations.)

In a nod to the Music Pavilion's heyday at the start of the 1900s, entertainment with an early twentieth-century theme will also be on offer.     
 
And while the Conservancy expects to raise about $45,000 from this year's GLOW, fundraising is not the event's only goal: it's also about recruiting and engaging people who use Philadelphia parks on a regular basis.

"We see this as an opportunity to turn park users into park supporters," explains Lovell.
 
Tickets are $75 and include a one-year Conservancy membership.
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Kathryn Ott Lovell, Fairmount Park Conservancy

 

Nominations now being accepted for Philly's 2014 Storefront Challenge

As executive director of The Merchants Fund (TMF), a local nonprofit that provides assistance to business owners facing financial hardship, Patricia Blakely is one of a handful of peer reviewers who sit on the judging committee of the Storefront Challenge, a retail design competition that recognizes storefront façade improvement projects throughout the city.

"Your façade is the single most important advertising expense you will ever [absorb] for your company," Blakley explains, echoing the advice she gives to business owners. "It [either] says, 'Come in,' or 'Go away.' A ratty, ugly front window with lots of signs pasted in it and no lighting just doesn't say, 'Come in and spend money with me.'"
 
And that's the Storefront Challenge in a nutshell. The competition, which happens once every two years, is a joint program of the Philadelphia Commerce Department and the Community Design Collaborative.

Although its larger purpose involves local economic development via the beautification of retail spaces, the event was initially launched as an effort to bring wider attention to the Commerce Department's Storefront Improvement Program (SIP), which provides cash grants to help business owners improve their facades.
 
Storefront Challenge winners are chosen via a nomination process, and the rules couldn't be simpler: Through Monday, September 15, anyone can nominate a renovated Philadelphia storefront that was completed between October 2012 and November 2014.

And as Blakely points out, thanks to the Challenge's seven separate categories (Creative Sign; Window Display, etc.), even simple, low-cost improvement projects have a chance to win.

"Literally, paint can be transformative," she explains. "[As] can a simple sign, [or] a great awning with some lighting."
 
The winning façades will be recognized during a special Design Philadelphia event at the Center for Architecture (1 - 3 p.m. Tuesday, October 14). Click here to nominate a business. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Patricia Blakely, The Merchants Fund

 

Restaurant incubator Common Table coming to West Philly

A little over two years ago, the West Philadelphia-based Enterprise Center celebrated the opening of its 13,000-square-foot Center for Culinary Enterprises (CCE), a shared incubator space where retail food entrepreneurs without a commercial kitchen facility of their own could set up shop.
 
The CCE has since become a powerful resource among the city's start-up retail food community; click here and here to read previous Flying Kite reports on the venture.
 
Around the time of the CCE's launch, Bryan Fenstermaker of the Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation (TEC-CDC) began receiving feedback that a different community of culinary entrepreneurs -- would-be restaurant owners -- was also interested in acquiring start-up assistance. So a plan was hatched to create Common Table, a restaurant incubator that will offer technical, financial and managerial assistance.
 
Common Table is currently being constructed inside one of the CCE's three retail spaces at South 48th and Spruce Streets. It will feature a rentable 40-seat pop-up restaurant for amateur or experienced chefs who would like to take their culinary creations public. The restaurant space is scheduled to open this fall.
 
In the meantime, an application process opened two weeks ago for a 6 to 12 month fellowship that will test the brick-and-mortar restaurant concepts of six to nine participants. The selection process will involve a business plan submission and a tasting competition judged by local culinary heavyweights.
 
Applications for the Common Table Fellowship can be accessed at commontablephilly.com.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Allina Yang, TEC-CDC
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