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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.

Before Market Street Bridge is rebuilt, it gets a makeover for pedestrians

Thanks to a partnership between the Schuylkill River Development Corporation (SRDC), University City District (UCD), Center City District (CCD) and Groundswell Design, the Market Street Bridge over the Schuylkill River -- connecting Center City with the eastern edge of University City -- has gotten a quick but important revamp.

The makeover for the century-old bridge took just ten weeks. According to UCD Director of Planning and Design Nate Hommel, UCD got the go-ahead in mid-July thanks to funding from the William Penn Foundation and the Joanna McNeil Trust. Initially, the goal was completing improvements in time for next summer’s Democratic National Convention, but then the idea came up: "How about the Pope?"

Things began to move quickly.

SRDC helped to gain the cooperation of PennDOT, owner of the bridge. Groundswell, the team behind recent improvements to The Porch at 30th Street Station, worked speedily to design improvements including new greenery in 120 custom-made planters, bleacher seating for great Schuylkill views, and four large gateway pergolas at the bridge's eastern and western edges.

For the fabrication of the new temporary elements, Groundswell and UCD turned to a local Kensington shop called Frank’s Kitchen, which began making the planters on its assembly line in early August.

"It was pretty impressive to see the fabrication process," recalls Hommel. "It’s good to see the local maker economy in Philly able to handle something like this."

Once the planters and other elements were finished, they took about four days to install. The improved pedestrian experience on the bridge (which over 6,000 people cross each day on foot) was ready a week before Pope Francis arrived.

Groundswell faced some challenges due to the age and structure of the bridge. PennDOT stipulated that the "dead load" of the bridge’s pedestrian redesign could not exceed 100 pounds per square foot. (The weight bridges bear is split into live loads, meaning the traffic that moves across it, and dead loads, meaning objects or infrastructure that sit on it permanently.)

"Groundswell was really great in figuring out ways to do that," says Hommel. The planters were specially designed with soft wood to reduce their weight, as well as false bottoms. And while they’re about three feet high, they contain only about a foot of soil.

The idea of "reversible elements," in the parlance of civil infrastructure, is important. Agencies that own major assets like bridges -- particularly aging ones -- are much less leery of improvement projects whose pieces can be easily removed, without any permanent alteration or compromise of the structure. The Market Street Bridge itself is due for an overhaul within the next few years, so the redone walkways will be in place at least through the end of next summer. After that, UCD hopes that better awareness of pedestrian needs will be an integral part of the new span's overall planning.

CCD is performing maintenance such as cleaning and graffiti removal, while UCD manages the horticulture side through a staff from its West Philadelphia Skills Initiative.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nate Hommel, University City District

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   


On the Ground: What about the kids? New play spaces in Centennial Commons

Last week, we got the latest news on the Parkside Edge component of the Centennial Commons upgrades in Parkside, a space geared toward quiet recreation for grown-up locals. But space for the kids is coming, too, slated for groundbreaking shortly after Parkside Edge gets underway in spring 2016.

A name for the new play spaces hasn’t yet been finalized, but Fairmount Park Conservancy staffers and designers from partnering firm Studio Bryan Hanes have been calling it the "Tweens" or "Youth" Area for now. It will offer fun and exercise for toddlers up to early-to-mid teens.

According to Conservancy Project Manager Chris Dougherty, the versatile area will be constructed in the region between the Please Touch Museum, Smith Memorial Arch and the Avenue of the Republic.

"There’s going to be a whole series of interesting topographical features," he explains. The ground will be built up into a series of rises and falls -- "modulation of the landscape" that encourages activity and play. Wet and dry meadows will offer natural features with an educational ecology component.

Conservancy Senior Director of Civic Initiatives Jennifer Mahar says there are plans for a hot-weather sprayground as well as "unique climbing structures." Instead of "primary-color plastic-coated stuff you see everywhere, we really wanted to have unique play that you have to use your body and your mind [for]," she explains. Parks like this shouldn’t be limited to Center City. "They should be out in the community as well.”

And this won't be only a three-season space: The engineering is still in the works, but designers hope to include a skating "ribbon" as opposed to a traditional rink. On a winding path that could be a walkway in fair weather, the icy track would wend through existing trees and create an exciting outdoor experience.

As Mahar notes, Kelly Pool is already a summertime fixture for locals. A planned concession building in that area is long overdue, and will help extend seasonal use of the space beyond the weeks that the pool is open.

"There is no public restroom in 800 acres of park, so we know we have to do that," she says. The new structure will offer those basic amenities such as bathrooms and drinking fountains. And while there aren’t plans for a full-blown café, she hopes there will be a vendor selling pre-packaged snacks and drinks. Along with the new bathrooms, this will be a huge boon for anyone planning a long afternoon in the park.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Jennifer Mahar and Chris Dougherty, the Fairmount Park Conservancy 

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.

Biking just got a lot better in Camden thanks to a new greenway

With the installation of Indego bike share stations across the city and a growing network of bike lanes and trails, Philadelphia’s cycling culture is firmly established, but just across the river in Camden, a brand-new 4.3-mile greenway is big news for the city’s burgeoning two-wheeled community.

On September 24 at the Salvation Army’s Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd and Freeholder Jeff Nash officially cut the ribbon on Camden’s own portion of the planned 750-mile Circuit of southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey (about 300 miles of the trails have already been completed). The new greenway was funded by the William Penn Foundation.

John Boyle, research director for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, says that though there are plenty of cyclists in Camden, "they don’t have an organized movement on the local level like Philadelphia does. It really hasn’t caught on to the degree it has in Center City Philadelphia, but I also think it’s a lack of infrastructure. This is a great start to reverse that."

Boyle and Camden collaborators -- such as Coopers Ferry Partnership -- hope that new space for bikes on north Camden roadways will increase the accessibility of sites like the Kroc Center, as well as local green spaces that have been the target of recent upgrades, including Pyne Poynt Park and Von Nieda Park.

The main spine of the new bike lanes is a buffered zone parallel to the waterfront on Jersey Joe Walcott Avenue, which then curves into the newly revitalized Erie Street, and heads across the historic State Street Bridge over the Cooper River.

Here, bikers and pedestrians have a choice: There’s a new bridge for cars from the New Jersey Department of Transportation (which boasts bike lanes), and next to it, the old bridge, which is now reserved exclusively for walkers and cyclists. The greenway's lanes then travel along Harrison Avenue past the Kroc Center.

Now that there’s a new artery from below the Ben Franklin Bridge up to the Kroc Center, will Camden keep adding bike lanes? Boyle hopes so.

"I think it really has to, because you need a complete network to provide true access to people," he says. "There’s still a lot of neighborhoods that don’t have bike lanes in Camden, and they’re going to have to fill those gaps."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: John Boyle, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

On the Ground: Parkside Edge caters to those who want quiet and good company just steps from home

The Centennial Commons project is so large that even its first part is broken into Phase 1A and 1B. And while there are a lot of exciting things on tap for local youth in Phase 1B, 1A will focus on a new recreational space geared towards adults who want a peaceful place to watch the world go by.

Final plans for the area dubbed "Parkside Edge" are still undergoing some work, but residents can expect to see rectangular "outdoor rooms" fashioned from benches, low walls and maybe even some wooden flooring that will add to the inviting feel. 

The Fairmount Park Conservancy estimates that they'll break ground on the space this coming spring. Conservancy Senior Director of Civic Initiatives Jennifer Mahar says that this piece of the project has required some extra groundwork, leading to a partnership with the Philadelphia Water Department for new Green Stormwater Infrastructure.

Managing stormwater at Parkside Edge “requires a lot more engineering that we didn’t anticipate, but is the right thing to do,” explains Mahar, even if it set the timeline back a little.

"I think we were conscious that this was going to be a zone that we wanted to be a natural extension of the neighborhood," adds Conservancy Project Manager Chris Dougherty. Some might term it a "passive space," but that’s just to distinguish it from areas like a playground or a baseball field that invite noisy play.

"One thing we’re trying to do in a lot of our parks, or should be thinking of more, is this idea of age-friendliness," he continues. The whole point of Parkside Edge is a relaxing space "that isn’t very far from the neighborhood and isn’t very deep into the park, but also gives you a sense of seclusion."

Fostering friendly interactions with neighbors is another piece, which is why the plans for "rooms" in the Parkside Edge design will reflect the look of the residential porches across the street. Special swings will add to the welcoming feel.

"You can imagine taking your shoes off; having that sort of interior experience," says Dougherty. Designers are also playing with the idea of special outdoor floor-lamps to light the spaces.

The area will also benefit from a natural kind of security: Thanks to the raised porches across the street -- where neighbors already congregate -- there will be a clear line of sight into the park. Dougherty calls it a form of "informal surveillance that I think makes great spaces."

Once Parkside Edge is complete, it will provide room for activities like quiet reflection, reading, chatting with neighbors, or portable leisure activities such as sewing, knitting, crocheting or other types of arts.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Chris Dougherty, Fairmount Park Conservancy 

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.

Three local sites announced for Play Space design competition

This summer, Flying Kite took a look at the kick-off of the Community Design Collaborative's Infill Philadelphia Play Space program, a special exhibition of innovative play space concepts (running through September 25). Now the organization has launched the second major piece of its 18-month Play Space Initiative (funded by the William Penn Foundation): a design competition focusing on three city sites that were announced on September 9.

Registration for the design teams will open on September 30, and their work on the three spaces will further the Infill mission to "find solutions to key community development challenges in Philadelphia and other cities." The results of an extensive community engagement process will be shared with registered designers once the competition opens.
Participating teams will be able to pick which site they want to focus on for the competition, which will run through March of next year. The trio of projects selected by the Collaborative are the Blanch A. Nixon Cobbs Creek Library branch at 5800 Cobbs Creek Parkway in West Philly; the Waterloo Recreation Center at 2501 Waterloo Avenue in North Philadelphia; and Mantua’s Haverford Center Comprehensive Day School at 4600 Haverford Avenue.

According to Alexa Bosse, program manager for the Play Space Design Initiative, choosing the sites happened with the help of geospacial software and analysis firm Azavea. In identifying spaces to target for the competition, they looked at factors such as high concentrations of kids and low-to-moderate income families, vacancy rates and geographical diversity.

The resulting map highlighted 100 likely sites, which the Collaborative narrowed down to fifteen, then six, each of which Play Space organizers visited: two schools, two libraries and two parks.

"We wanted them all to be different from one another," says Bosse of the final cut.

The school site -- which is nearly two acres -- is notable because it’s a large grassy area without any existing play infrastructure. By contrast, the Waterloo site is completely paved, though it does have some equipment. And the library is interesting because it’s a triangular patch of ground with three bordering streets.

"All designers love a challenge, and that’ll be great," enthuses Bosse. "It’ll cause invention.”

She hopes the competition’s winning design and the groundwork laid through the Collaborative’s program will ultimately help line up the funding to make the new plans a reality.

"Another real benefit to this is that the sites are different enough that they can act as prototypes for more sites across the city," she adds. "And they’ll raise awareness that this is something we should be investing in for our children."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alexa Bosse, Community Design Collaborative

On the Ground: Restoring the Centennial Commons' History, Papal Edition

As Philly gears up for a 21st century turn on the international stage with September’s papal visit, it’s worth looking back. The new Reimagining the Civic Commons is making efforts to preserve and revitalize the Centennial Commons' history while reimagining the area for new generations.
"One of the most important things that we’re trying to do as we make these investments is to be very conscious of the existing cultural and historic fabric of the places," explains Fairmount Park Conservancy Project Manager Christopher Dougherty.
That means honoring the new Centennial Commons as site of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, which celebrated the United States’ 100th birthday with a massive event that lasted from May to November of that year.
Post-Civil War America had "its first foray into being on the international stage, and that’s not an unimportant moment in the history of the country," insists Dougherty. The Centennial Exhibition, which boasted about 200 buildings at the time, was formally named the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine. It was an exploration of everything from arts to horticulture to the latest technology, and even boasted the first international exhibition dedicated to the work and inventions of women.
“We want to be cognizant and respectful of that, and wherever possible, elevate some of the resources that are there, and make them more legible and understandable,” says Dougherty.
That means focusing part of the Centennial Commons upgrade on improvements to the few remaining structures from the 1876 event, and an important piece of the site's early 20th-century landscape: the Smith Memorial Arch, built in 1912, on the Avenue of the Republic, just west of where it meets Lansdowne Drive and 41st Street in a traffic circle. Cleaning, repointing, landscaping and new lighting could all be on the agenda for the monument to Civil War soldiers.
Though the Centennial was a massive event in its time -- drawing about 10 million people to Philadelphia during the months it was open -- many locals aren’t aware of its significance.

"There was a temporary quality to the exhibition that made it kind of ephemeral," explains Dougherty. "It’s very difficult for people [today] to envision this space."
Outside of remaining buildings like Memorial Hall (which housed the Centennial’s art exhibition, was the original seed of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and now hosts the Please Touch Museum) or the Ohio House, the event featured temporary pavilions and wooden and glass structures that weren’t meant to stand the test of time; they were repurposed and then demolished within a decade or two. One of the longest-lasting -- the original Horticultural Hall -- was demolished in the 1950s. All we have now are pictures and other documents to help us imagine the scene.
Is there a parallel today as we gear up for the pope? According to Dougherty, yes.
"On the front of it, there was a certain degree of civic booster[ism] that preceded the Centennial," he says of the intensive fundraising and Congressional lobbying that brought the event to Philly. "It resembles some of the efforts of the Nutter administration to try and show that we’re ready for the world stage."
While the Centennial drew a much wider, larger swath of the American and international public than Pope Francis will, Dougherty believes "the objectives are somewhat similar in the sense that the city is [experiencing] a Renaissance of sorts."
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Christopher Dougherty, 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.


On the Ground: All eyes on the Centennial Commons gateway in Parkside

In August, we began our look at plans for the new park at Philly's historic Centennial Commons, part of the Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.

Jennifer Mahar, senior director of civic initiatives at the Conservancy, says that with so much community outreach going on --including door-to-door questionnaires and months of pre-construction in-park surveys for neighbors -- "lots of components to the project are changing by the day and by the week."

One of the most important components is a fresh approach to the park's long-neglected entrance near the School of the Future.

According to Mahar, right now "the most critical [element] design-wise is the gateway right where Parkside Avenue and Girard meet." Envisioned as the "Centennial district gateway," it’s currently a triangular piece of concrete opposite a vacant lot below an iconic mural; neighbors insist that any design for the gateway not obscure the mural.

"Eventually we’d like to put a piece of artwork or a sign, something interesting that welcomes people to the neighborhood and to the park," adds Maher.

According to a roundup of feedback from Callowhill-based design partner Studio|Bryan Hanes, this is in line with neighbors' hopes for interpretative signage to celebrate the area's history.

The spot is a bit of a high-speed transit hub year-round -- it boasts a Girard Avenue trolley stop frequented by kids riding to Kelly Pool -- and lacks proper traffic safeguards. That’s why the Planning Commission has been in the the loop on this project from the start. A fix to the area's traffic dangers will also incorporate an extension of the Mantua Greenway, a bike lane into West Fairmount Park.
Keep an eye out here for details on another piece of Centennial Commons’ Phase I: Parkside Edge, a relaxing new recreational space slated to border Parkside Avenue.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jennifer Mahar, 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.


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.


Innovation Plaza slated to open this fall in University City

In June, the University City Science Center broke ground on an inviting new public space. The Innovation Plaza, under construction right next to International House at 37th and Chestnut, will run between Market and Chestnut Streets.

Recently, Flying Kite took a look at the Science Center’s second call for nominees for its Innovators Walk of Fame, a key piece of the plaza that will feature specially designed concrete blocks with metal plaques honoring science visionaries. The first call for nominees went out when the project was first announced in 2013; this second "class" of nominees focused on women in the sciences. According to Science Center spokesperson Jeanne Mell, this call -- which closed in June -- drew 68 suggestions. In July, a selection committee finalized a group of five honorees; they will be announced at the Center’s Nucleus 2015 event on October 15.

"We realized that just putting them on this pretty pedestrian-looking walkway wasn’t going to do them justice," says Mell says of the plan to develop the whole plaza space, which will be open to the public by this fall.

In addition to the Walk of Fame, the plaza will feature a café seating area where people can meet, collaborate, eat and work; there’ll be free public WIFI -- the Science Center hopes visitors will use it for more than just a place to have lunch. With plenty of food offerings already in the neighborhood, there aren’t any plans for a permanent café, but with the help of ex;it design firm, the spot will be very food-truck friendly.

There will also be a versatile space sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania with seating 150 to 200 people that could be used for all kinds of outdoor entertainment, from movie screenings to concerts to theatrical performances. Landscape design firm Andropogon will create attractive green elements. 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Jeanne Mell and Monica Cawvey, the Science Center


Beer, Zumba, art, science and more transform The Oval this summer

As discussion builds around a 2012-13 PennPraxis plan titled "More Park, Less Way: An Action Plan for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway," part of that initiative’s goal is already being realized: a freshly activated summer park space at the foot of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

"It envisioned some long-term permanent capital improvements, but also ways to activate spaces," explains Parks & Recreation First Deputy Commissioner Mark Focht of the 2013 shift that transformed the eight-acre space at 2451 Benjamin Franklin Parkway from Eakins Oval into "The Oval."

Long host to special events such as Fourth of July celebrations, the Oval is getting even more attention in terms of services and programming in summer 2015.

"We wanted to see how we could do a multi-week engagement that changed people’s perceptions of that space, and got folks engaged with it," says Focht.

Four weeks of programming in summer 2013 drew 35,000 visitors, and that number jumped to 80,000 last year. With Labor Day pushed to September 7 this year, that allows for an extra week of Oval fun -- the installation will run from July 15 through August 23. Based on the last two years, Focht projects even bigger attendance numbers for this summer.

Run through Parks & Rec and the Fairmount Park Conservancy, this year’s incarnation will boast over twenty programming partners, with free activities ranging from Zumba to bike safety sessions, storytelling, and art and science activities courtesy of nearby institutions such as the Art Museum and the Free Library.

The Trocadero will also bring back its beer garden, and up to four different food trucks will be on hand each day. Even the parking lot will get a makeover: In partnership with the Mural Arts Program, Baltimore-based artists Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn will paint the surface with designs that will carry over into all of the Oval’s visual branding for 2015.

And before the Oval’s 2015 programming launches, it will host something "unlike anything anyone’s seen on the Parkway," enthuses Focht. Saint-Gobain’s "Future Sensations," a collection of five fantastical pavilions will be free and open to the public from May 30 through June 6.

Four pavilions from the exhibition have already traveled to Shanghai and Sao Paolo, and one never-before-seen pavilion will be added for the Philly stop. The show is off to Paris next.

The Conservancy and Parks & Rec call it "a sensory journey in science, storytelling and art that celebrates the past three-and-a-half centuries and offers glimpses into future innovations that will transform the world."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Mark Focht, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation


Beautiful Bartram's Mile kicks off Philly's Civic Commons projects

The nice thing about a walk along the water isn’t just the pretty views, argues Schuylkill River Development Corporation (SRDC) spokesperson Danielle Gray of Bartram's Mile, recently announced as one of five projects in the city-wide Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.

"The beautiful thing about a riverfront greenway is it’s a lot of different things to a lot of different people," she explains.

And of all the Civic Commons projects, Bartram's Mile's groundbreaking is first on the docket.

The new Southwest Philadelphia stretch of the existing Schuylkill Banks riverfront trail and greenway will reach from Grays Ferry Avenue to 58th Street. It’ll be one more link in the Schuylkill River Trail, the East Coast Greenway and the Circuit trail network, leading right to Bartram's Garden.

Though this venerable Philly site is a National Historic Landmark, it doesn’t get nearly the traffic it could.

"Bartram's is such a beautiful, unique historic location, and [SRDC’s] interim goal has always been to connect Bartram’s Garden to the rest of Philadelphia," says Gray. "For a lot of people it’s just completely off their radar."

This project also addresses a hot topic in Fairmount Park studies and initiatives: providing access to the river for residents who have been barred from this beautiful natural resource by everything from highways to industrial development.

"For over a century, the river has been cut off from the adjacent neighborhoods," explains Gray. "We’re really happy to be opening up new stretches of riverfront that have been cut off for so long."

And that riverfront trail isn’t just about getting from point A to point B. There will be space for activities such as fishing, outdoor yoga or tai chi, reading, playing and biking -- plus kayaking and riverboat tours, and plans for movie screenings at Bartram’s Garden.

The rehabbed stretch of land will also be good for the environment, with attention paid to stormwater management, wildlife habitat preservation and restoration, and new trees and meadows.

And it will be good for business.

"After the Center City section opened, we definitely saw an increase in commercial and residential development," adds Gray.

Once the trail is complete and offering a convenient new artery for walkers and bikers from across the city, brownfield sites north and south of Bartram’s Garden will be "more attractive to developers, which will help pave the way for future commercial and light industrial development in Southwest Philadelphia," argues a factsheet from the Fairmount Park Conservancy.

Project partners include Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, the non-profit SRDC, the John Bartram Association and other City agencies. The dollars are coming from the City of Philadelphia, the William Penn Foundation, PennDOT, the Pew Foundation, the Lenfest Foundation, Councilwoman Blackwell's office and the Knight Foundation.

"We’re getting closer to an exact timeline every day," Gray says of construction details. For now, the final design for the space is expected by late spring or early summer of this year, with a groundbreaking expected this summer. Gray projects a 2016 opening for the new trail.  

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Danielle Gray, Schuylkill River Development Corporation


Mt. Airy USA and partners get $100,000 for neighborhood planning

This month, Mt. Airy USA announced that they had won a competitive $100,000 neighborhood planning grant, beating out applicants from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
The dollars from the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation will kickstart a year-long study and planning process in the northwest Philly neighborhood, scrutinizing everything from early childhood education and vacant buildings to commercial corridors and senior living opportunities.
"We have taken a very collaborative approach in the application process to get this grant," explains Mt. Airy USA executive director Anuj Gupta; stakeholders include East & West Mt. Airy Neighbors, the Mt. Airy Business Improvement District, Weavers Way Co-op and more.
Now that they’ve got the grant, the dollars will be administered through Mt. Airy USA, which means "even more collaboration" with a "true cross-section of stakeholders," he adds. Gupta feels that the neighborhood's cooperative, community-driven legacy helped the organization stand out among other applicants.
A neighborhood plan was completed in 2004, but it has now become irrelevant. That’s because of progress that has already been made, but also challenges no one foresaw, such as the foreclosure crisis. A new comprehensive look at the neighborhood’s structure, recreational demand and opportunities, and commercial development was needed, and now, the money is there to do it, with the help of a professional team of evaluators and planners including Urban Partners.
Beginning this spring, the process will include "a comprehensive evaluation of Mt. Airy’s physical environment," explains Gupta, including "the way residents view their neighborhood as is, and also what they want to see it become over the coming years."
That means a property-by-property survey (including questions on resident satisfaction), widely accessible community forums, focus groups and stakeholder interviews.
The results will reveal the true extent of Mt. Airy's blight and vacancy, while identifying new opportunities for housing rehabilitation. There will also be a market-driven analysis of opportunities for growth on the commercial corridors.
The process will culminate in a comprehensive 10-year plan for Mt. Airy, and, yes, Gupta laughs, that means more fundraising. But the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation does offer a grant program for implementation, so the organizations may set their sights on that next.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Anuj Gupta, Mt. Airy USA

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