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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


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. 


Stinger Square in Grays Ferry is getting a $500,000 upgrade

The March 20 groundbreaking for Germantown’s Vernon Park upgrade, part of a city-wide initiative called Green 2015, had to be rescheduled when the first day of spring brought an all-day snowstorm. But Stinger Square Park in the Grays Ferry section of the city had better luck with its own Green 2015 groundbreaking in late February. According to Parks and Rec First Deputy Commissioner for Parks and Facilities Mark Focht, everything is on track.

Green 2015 is happening in collaboration with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Water Department and the Fairmount Park Conservancy.

"We want to complete the improvements at Stinger prior to opening the pool around July 1," Focht says of the estimated $505,000 upgrade. "The pool brings a lot of kids in, so we want the park done prior to that."

The Water Department is funding part of the project, spending $220,000 for two rain gardens that will go in on the northeast and northwest corners of the square. They will also contribute to some new landscaping.

"This is about managing stormwater from the adjacent streets," explains Focht. "So it’s pulling stormwater from the streets into the rain garden and it’s using the plantings at the entrance of the park to treat the stormwater."

The rest of the dollars are coming from Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s office, which is providing $150,000; Parks and Rec has committed $110,000 and will cover any extra costs up to the project's full estimated budget.

The renovations will also include concrete replacement, refurbished seating, new picnic tables, and square game tables marked with grids so they’re ready for chess, checkers, backgammon or whatever neighbors might want to play. In addition, the work will remove existing dead trees and plant new ones to provide shade for park users.

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


Constitution Health Plaza adds medical care to Passyunk revitalization

A "dinosaur" of a hospital on the corner of Broad Street and Passyunk Avenue is getting a new life as part of the ongoing revitalization of the area. Purchased three years ago by St. Agnes MOB LLC., a small investment firm, the former St. Agnes Hospital (a 150-year-old building) is now Constitution Health Plaza. According to leasing and marketing director Elizabeth Daly, 18 tenants are already installed in the four-building complex and the site's occupancy is ahead of schedule.

Constitution Plaza is part of a larger trend in healthcare. Over twenty hospitals closed last year in New Jersey alone, but complexes like this one -- that offer a variety of independent practitioners in one rehabbed space -- are beginning to take the floundering hospitals' place.

"The idea is one-stop shopping for the community, for any of your medical needs," explains Daly. "Somebody will be able to come to one building and go to different practitioners."

Constitution Health Plaza takes facilities management, security, utilities, real estate concerns, and other operations off its tenants' plates, with the aim of providing more cost-efficient medical care just in time for the influx of patients newly insured under the Affordable Care Act.

Plaza residents include a location of the Children’s Hospital of PhiladelphiaKindred Hospital, and specialists practicing dermatology to nephrology to psychiatry. And the facility is joint-commission certified, notes Daley -- the Kindred location has acute care inpatient capabilities, so a critically ill person can stay longer than 24 hours. While there are a lot of targeted options and the building is currently at about 75 percent occupancy, the complex doesn’t yet offer adult primary-care services. It’s a provider the plaza would definitely like to attract, along with dental care and an orthodontist.

The renovation plans kept some of the building’s original marble, but included modern upgrades such as an atrium with plenty of natural light, a fresh lobby and a security desk. The different floors are color-coded for ease of navigation, especially important for patients who might not speak English; the facility also boasts an attached 425-car parking garage.

A multi-million dollar exterior upgrade added outdoor security cameras, extensive new lighting, and a large high-definition video signage board advertising the health plaza's services as well as other community happenings.

"On the exterior we really want it to be a landmark along Broad Street," says Daly. "South Philadelphia is very unique neighborhood, and it’s pretty exciting for us to be right in the middle of where the revitalization is taking place…it’s complemented each other: [the]] investment in the building and people’s enthusiasm for the East Passyunk corridor."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Elizabeth Daly, Constitution Health Plaza

Vernon Park breaks ground on a $1.2 million upgrade

A major upgrade is coming for Germantown Avenue's Vernon Park -- and it should be completed by this summer. On Friday, March 20, 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass will join Deputy Major Michael Diberardinis and representatives from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Water Department, and the Fairmount Park Conservancy to break ground on the renovations.

Green 2015 (which launched in 2012), the project’s umbrella, is "an initiative to upgrade the quality of the public environment at our smaller neighborhood parks and recreation centers," explains Mark Focht, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation’s first deputy commissioner for parks and facilities. "We’ve worked really closely with members of [City] Council to have them select sites in their districts that have great citizen involvement, but needed some help or support."

Improvements to Vernon Park will include better walkways, new play equipment and the addition of adult fitness equipment so parents or grandparents can work out while the youngsters play. The make-over will also feature new benches and picnic tables.

"The other significant thing is we’re completely upgrading the lighting in the entire park, so all the paths will be re-lit with very high-quality lighting," says Focht. And compared to other Green 2015 participants (including Grays Ferry’s Stinger Square Park, another renovation currently underway), "Vernon is a little unique because we have these three major monuments in it…they’re great architectural and sculptural features in the park."

The current upgrade will include cleaning and new lighting for these landmarks.

The $1.2 million dollars for the project came mostly from the 8th District council office, to the tune of $850,000, with Parks and Recreation furnishing the remaining $350,000. The work will take place throughout April, May and June, and will not restrict access to Center in the Park or Vernon House. Only about half of the park will need to be closed completely, around the northern and western edges where the current playground is.

"We’ve committed to the Councilwoman and the neighbors that it’ll be done in time for their jazz concert series" in July, Focht insists.

The Vernon Park groundbreaking ceremony will take place on Friday, March 20 from 2 - 3 p.m.

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

Is a convenience store makeover in Bella Vista a missed opportunity?

On February 10, a large crowd gathered at the Palumbo Recreation Center for a Bella Vista Neighbors Association (BVNA) zoning meeting. On the docket: a potential make-over for the convenience store at Eighth and Bainbridge Streets. The "contemplated application," according to BVNA, would turn the current store into a "Foodery-style eat-in, sit-down restaurant with artisan beer, which would retain some of the current retail use.”

The potential developer didn’t respond to a request for comment, but BVNA Zoning Committee member Jason Lempieri, who was on hand for the meeting, spoke with Flying Kite about the plans, and their limitations.

In short, when he looks at the stone-and-siding mock-up of the new store and its proposed business plan -- which wouldn’t alter the existing one much except for the addition of "artisan beer" to the shelves -- "I yawn," he says. With a surfeit of nearby stores and restaurants where locals can grab a beer, "How are you competing? What makes you different?" he asks.

That might be the case, but the neighborhood does have a dearth of craft-centric bottle shops. Lempieri emphasizes that neighbors do appreciate the store’s current proprietor and the customer service he provides -- many came out to explicitly support the upgrade -- but argues that the surface-level parking lot (very convenient to the business-owner, who wants people to pull in easily for sandwiches and coffee) has been a hazard for a long time.

"Parents say, 'I’m walking my kids and the cars are backing up and it’s really unnerving,' and this is true," he explains. Without a raised curb and sidewalk between the street and the parking lot, "You can pull up wherever you want," and it’s not safe for pedestrians.

There’s no word on whether the proposed redevelopment would remedy this issue, but Lempieri has his own dream for the site, if the proprietor was willing to step a little further from the current business model.

The property is desirable because of that parking lot area, but "you can do more than just parking," he insists. In a perfect world, a new business offering artisan beers alongside the usual food and snack items could convert that space into a beer garden with relatively little up-front investment. That would really be something new for the neighborhood.

Lempieri wishes Philly businesses were in the habit of thinking bigger. Will the ultimate redevelopment of the store result in a new beer garden or something else unique and desirable for the neighborhood?

"I highly doubt it," he admits. "But the neighborhood should demand it."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jason Lempieri, Bella Vista Neighbors Association


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

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