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Over $8 million from the William Penn Foundation jump-starts region's trails

Creating a new trail is about more than just drawing up an idea and laying down the surface, says Chris Linn, who manages the Office of Environmental Planning at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC). But a grant from the William Penn Foundation -- $7 million over three years -- will enable DVRPC and its partners at the Circuit Coalition, a consortium of almost 70 organizations, including non-profits, foundations and various public agencies in the greater Philadelphia region, to move forward with ambitious plans for local public space.

Launched in 2012, the Circuit Coalition, which has already worked to build 300 miles of multi-use trails connecting urban and suburban centers to nearby parks and waterways, hopes to complete 450 more miles by the year 2040. (For a map of Circuit trails and their status, click here.)

According to a DVRPC statement, $1.6 million over three years from the William Penn Foundation will also go to Circuit partner Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, raising public awareness for the Circuit’s network of trails, which, when completed, will be "the most comprehensive regional trail network in the country," says Conservancy president Keith Laughlin.

Most of the DVRPC William Penn dollars will go toward engineering and design of new trails.

"Before any trail project can be constructed, you have to prepare engineering drawings, and they’re not cheap," says Linn.

They include things like grading, retaining walls and bridges -- and these are just a few of the issues trail designers in our region contend with.

Does the trail meet a road? The Circuit needs to interface with PennDOT on proper signage, crossings and lights. Does it follow a disused railroad or cross a former industrial site? You have to check with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and deal with soil contamination from things like coal, heavy metals, PCBs or other toxins.

And who owns the land?

"You can’t just walk out and build a trail on land that’s owned by a private person or a company or a railroad, so you have to secure the right-of-way," explains Linn.

These are all issues that are anticipated, met and resolved in the design and engineering phase of a trail, which Linn estimates at about 20 percent of the total cost of any given project. So the Penn Foundation grant is no small thing for the Circuit’s vision. With so many miles of Circuit trails throughout nearby counties vying for design or completion, it’s pretty competitive when it comes to funding.

"When we have money in hand, we want to fund projects that we know aren’t going to get hung up on problems, and if a project is designed, we know what we’re dealing with," Linn insists. "[A well-designed trail] basically moves to the front of the pack in terms of being eligible or being desirable for any kind of construction funding."

"Philadelphia is blessed with some great parks," he adds, but it’s "glass half empty" in some ways, because many parts of the city don’t have easy access to large parks or trails.

DVRPC and the Circuit want to change that within 25 years. 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Chris Linn, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission

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

Massive Chinatown development project unites a divided community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Get your hands dirty at the Love Your Park Fall Service Day

When we think of enjoying Philadelphia's parks, we usually think of spring and summer maintenance and activities. But as Fairmount Park Conservancy park stewardship coordinator Erin Engelstad insists, it’s just as important to help "put our park spaces to bed for the winter."

The Conservancy and the Philadelphia Department of Parks & Recreation partner with city-wide volunteers twice a year for Love Your Park service days, one in the spring and one in the fall. The spring service day typically includes as many as 100 parks and 2,000 volunteers, while this year’s fall event, on Saturday, November 15, includes 75 parks so far. Engelstad expects about 1,000 volunteers to turn out across the city.

There’s a lot to do to keep our outdoor treasures looking good once winter looms. The first item of business is clearing out all those fallen leaves. Parks & Rec will be on hand with cleaned-out trash trucks ready to transport all the gathered leaves to the Philadelphia Recycling Center in Fairmount Park, where this year’s autumn color will become next year’s mulch.

If you love spring flowers, you can help plant crocus bulbs; volunteers will also pitch in to plant up to 200 new trees -- according to Engelstad, autumn is a great time to put them in the ground.

Helpers will include school groups -- kids, parents, and teachers from North Philadelphia’s Gesu School who will be working at Smith Memorial Playground.

"They’re excited to have a large group, because they want to make the biggest leaf pile in Fairmount Park," explains Engelstad.

And yes, even though it may make some extra work in the long run, the pile will be open to jumpers of all ages.  

Park organizers, who will manage the schedule and to-do lists at their individual parks, can provide gloves and tools, and no experience is necessary to pitch in. Residents are welcome to just show up, but they can give organizers a hand by signing up in advance online.

"It’s an opportunity for folks to get to know people in their neighborhood," adds Engelstad.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Erin Engelstad, Fairmount Park Conservancy


Germantown's Maplewood Mall Reconstruction Project moves forward with its first public meeting

It's been more than a year since Philadelphia's Department of Commerce announced its intention to spend $2.2 million to redevelop and re-imagine Germantown's Maplewood Mall, a narrow historic retail pathway located near the neighborhood's two main business districts, Germantown Avenue and West Chelten Avenue.
Following months of planning by the design team of Whitman, Requardt & Associates, in partnership with a slew of city agencies ranging from Parks and Recreation to the Streets Department, the very first public meeting to discuss the Mall's reconstruction was held recently at Germantown's First Presbyterian Church.  
Approximately 60 members of the community filled the church's sanctuary. The City Planning Commission's Matt Wysong and 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass expressed their hope that the Mall will look more like a creative placemaking project than a traditional reconstruction of a municipal street.

As a flyer advertising the meeting announced, "The goal is to provide a design that will create a framework for the reinvention of the Mall into a vibrant and successful urban space."
The project is currently in month four of its design and engineering phase, though shovels aren't expected to touch dirt until sometime in early 2016.
In the meantime, Germantown residents are weighing in on the various proposed plans to reengineer the Mall, which could potentially see its roadway slightly lengthened and the small plazas that bookend it significantly redesigned.   
Perhaps the most edifying aspect of the public meeting was the chance for community members to inspect the Mall's three proposed design ideas. A gracefully retro lumberyard theme has already received overwhelming support from business owners and other stakeholders, according to artist Jennie Shanker, who was hired to consult with the project's design and landscape architecture team.    
Click here to view the proposed designs and the meeting's Powerpoint presentation
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Maplewood Mall Reconstruction Project Public Meeting


Dilworth Park at City Hall to open September 4 with a weekend's worth of events

The rebuilding of Dilworth Plaza from a drab, inaccessible concrete slab encircling Philadelphia's City Hall into Dilworth Park, a green public space set to become one of Center City's most exciting outdoor areas, has been one of the most closely watched local development stories for three years now.
Finally, the $55 million project's official opening date has been made public. During an August 19 press conference, Center City District CEO Paul Levy announced that the park will be unveiled Thursday, September 4 at 11 a.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
As Flying Kite reported in late 2010, a 185-foot-wide programmable fountain operating on recycled rain water will be one of the park's centerpieces; it will be transformed into an ice skating rink during the winter months.
And because the 120,000-square-foot project's main mission has always centered on enhancing access to the nucleus of Philly's public transit system, it makes sense that two subway entrances made of glass -- and seemingly inspired by the Louvre Pyramid -- are architectural standouts as well.   
Perhaps the most exciting Dilworth update, though, involves Chef Jose Garces being attached to the cafe that will sit in the Plaza's northwest corner. The breakfast-all-day eatery will be similar to Garces' Rosa Blanca and offer light Cuban-inspired fare.
Although roughly 10 percent of the project's construction won't be complete for another six to eight weeks, an entire weekend's worth of events will celebrate its opening, beginning with an all-day arts and culture festival on September 4.

Click here for a complete list of the weekend's scheduled performances and events.
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Center City District

Architectural renderings courtesy of OLIN and KieranTimberlake


You are cordially invited to a Funeral for a Home

Here's the unfortunate news: Every year in the city of Philadelphia, some 600 homes -- most of them ruined and crumbling beyond repair -- are demolished, never to be brought back to life. It's business as usual in the residential real estate industry.

But when Temple Contemporary started investigating Philadelphia's deteriorating housing stock, the galley's director, Robert Blackson, began thinking differently about the emotional weight carried by the destruction of surplus homes. The poignant memories of a family and its internal life were being bulldozed and turned into so much dust by a demolition crew.  
Blackson eventually discovered the work of local artist Jacob Hellman, who had participated in housing demolition work through Mayor John Street's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative. Hellman had held a memorial service of sorts for the era's destroyed homes.

"That led me to think about making [Hellman's memorial] into a larger occasion," explains Blackson.      
That "larger occasion" soon became Funeral for a Home. Both an acknowledgement of the local community and an art project, the project's intention is to "celebrate the life of a single Philadelphia row house as it is razed," according to a statement on the group's website.  
Beginning at 11 a.m. on May 31, a two-bedroom rowhouse at 3711 Melon Street in Mantua will be laid to rest. This "funeral" will feature speeches from community members, a street procession, a gospel choir and a family-style meal, while helping participants reflect on the challenges of a city overflowing with unused housing.

"I feel [this is] definitely a project that's indicative of our human nature," says Blackson. "To have a kinship with our shelter."
The funeral service is free and open to the public. For more on Funeral for a Home, check out this feature from last November.  
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Robert Blackson, Temple Contemporary


Ambitious Mural Arts project adds color to everyday Amtrak journeys

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

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


Philadelphia Housing Authority seeks funding to renovate aging housing stock

Federal funding cuts are trickling down to Philadelphia -- notably in lack of maintenance for the city's affordable housing stock. To mitigrate the problem, the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) has submitted an application to participate in the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. If approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), PHA will be able to raise funds to rehabilitate aging affordable housing. 

PHA spokesperson Nichole Tillman estimates that PHA now receives 82 cents for every dollar that it needs to operate and maintain public housing. She calls RAD "the Obama Administration's plan to address the defunding of public housing." 

Operating funds for RAD developments will come from the Housing Choice (Section 8) program, which has historically been more stable and less prone to dramatic funding cutbacks. Under RAD, PHA could borrow against its rental income and HUD subsidies, which would generate funding for capital improvements. This would give PHA more funds to rehab properties and expand public housing, while creating an estimated 400 construction jobs.

Though RAD approval would create jobs for small businesses, it does not equal privatization for affordable housing. 

"A for-profit corporation will not own public housing," explains Tillman. "Like current tax credit sites, RAD developments will remain heavily regulated, and tenants will have substantial protections similar to those of public housing residents. PHA is likely to establish affiliated nonprofits, just like those at its existing tax credit sites. A long-term use agreement will guarantee that development rents remain affordable." (RAD requires that rent be set at no more than 30 percent of adjusted household income.)

Tillman said that if PHA gets HUD approval for RAD, the agency will invest the money in rehabbing site infrastructure and major systems, including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and heating and ventilation. Other quality of life improvements would include upgrades to units' interior layouts; updated kitchens and bathrooms; and greening all systems to make them more sustainable.

PHA should hear about approval from HUD by Spring, contingent upon legislative action.

Writer: Nicole Woods
Source: Nichole Tillman, Philadelphia Housing Authority

On the Ground Redux: Newly-completed Camden trails add amenities, connect to larger system

A few weeks ago, leaders from all levels of New Jersey government held a ribbon cutting ceremony in Camden to celebrate the completion of three TIGER-funded trail projects. The paved segments are crucial to completing the long-envisioned regional system of interconnected greenways.
"They're essential projects," says Ian Leonard with Camden County's Department of Public Works. "They allow for the connection of 128 miles of already-completed trails."
That system, dubbed The Circuit, will include 750 miles of trails; more than 250 miles have already been built throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
Planners also hope that the three Camden County projects will boost economic development opportunities and quality of life for local residents.They include new bike lanes, lighting, signage, and extensive street and sidewalk improvements throughout downtown Camden. Located along Martin Luther King Boulevard, Pearl Street and Pine Street in Camden, the trails connect to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, making it easier for Philadelphians to bike or walk into Camden, and then on to Collingswood or Cherry Hill.

"The completion of these projects was a true partnership between federal, state and local leaders," says Leonard. "It's a perfect example of all levels of government working together and being engaged."

Future funding will support Camden's passage of a complete streets policy to promote walkable neighborhoods as well as ongoing efforts to complete The Circuit. 

Source:  Ian Leonard, Camden County
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Five local schools (plus one district) receive national sustainability award

Representatives from five Delaware Valley schools were in Washington, D.C. earlier this month to receive a 2013 Green Ribbon Schools award; one school district also received a District Sustainability Award.
Similar to the Blue Ribbon Awards for educational excellence, the U.S. Department of Education grants the Green Ribbon Awards to schools that work to reduce their environmental footprint; improve the health and wellness of students and faculty; and integrate sustainability education into the curriculum. The region's winners were among 78 schools and districts chosen nationwide.
Notably, all Delaware and Pennsylvania statewide nominees this year were from the Philadelphia region.

"It's clear that there is a lot of local energy and interest for promoting sustainability in our schools," says Lori Braunstein with the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, who helped administer the school's applications.

Each honoree was recognized for different reasons. From newer suburban schools with solar arrays to older city schools boasting unique partnerships with the City of Philadelphia, each worked hard to prove its worth as a leader on sustainablity initiatives. 
The winning local schools are Albert M. Greenfield Elementary School (Philadelphia School District); Broughal Middle School (Bethlehem Area School District, Northampton County); Nazareth Area Middle School (Nazareth Area School District, Northampton County); and Westtown School (Chester County).
Lower Merion School District (Montgomery County) was awarded the first-ever District Sustainability Award.
"It's possible the schools can leverage the award to get additional funding or get to the front of the line for other sustainability initiatives," says Braunstein. "This can just be the beginning."

Source:  Lori Braunstein, Delaware Valley Green Building Council
WriterGreg Meckstroth

City Planning Commission hosts 'Visions for our Metropolitan Center'

On June 17 at the Center for Architecture, representatives from the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) will be joined by the Citizens Planning Institute, local developers and public officials to discuss "Visions for our Metropolitan Center."
A large portion of the conversation will center on the recently completed Central and University Southwest District Plans, which cover the area between the Delaware River and 40th Street, and from Girard Avenue to Washington Avenue. With 335,000 jobs and 120,000 residents, it's the largest job center in the region and the third-largest residential downtown in the country.
With 18 district plans in some stage of development as part of the Philadelphia 2035 comprehensive planning process, planners were looking for a chance to highlight their latest ideas. 

"The [district plan roll-out] process can get a bit repetitive," says Laura Spina, Center City Planner for PCPC. "For the Central and University Southwest District plans, we wanted to make the presentation a little more lively."

The program also includes a talk by Pearl Properties’ Jim Pearlstein and the graduation of another class of Citizens Planning Institute students, the education and outreach entity of the PCPC.
Doors will open at 5:30 p.m.; the program begins at 6 p.m. Click here to secure your ticket.

Source:  Laura Spina, Center City Planner, Philadelphia City Planning Commission
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Community-centric Valley Green Bank comes to South Philly

Valley Green Bank is expanding its regional reach by opening a new branch at Broad and Tasker Streets in South Philly. It will be the bank's first official foray into the area and its third location overall.

The bank opened its first location in Mt. Airy in November 2005, and quickly became known as an alternative to national banks for small businesses and developers looking for loans. For Valley Green Bank, being a "community bank" means small asset holdings, remaining locally owned and operated, retaining an ability to lend to smaller clients and conducting most of its business in Philadelphia. 
The bank is not entirely new to South Philly -- since 2010, a lending team led by Robert Marino has been operating here, leading to a strong collection of small business clients.
"In South Philly, it's apparent that businesses care about community and vise versa," explains Leslie Seitchik, director of marketing for the Valley Green Bank. "We want to be a part of it." 
Community banks also work to have a physical presence in the neighborhoods they serve. Thanks to that established portfolio of South Philly clients, the Broad and Tasker location is the perfect fit. (Valley Green also has commercial loan centers in Center City and Radnor.)
Valley Green promises to hold true to its original business model at the new location. "What has made us successful over the years has been our ability to lend when larger banks haven’t been able to," says Seitchik. "Because we’re small and nimble, we’ve been able to support the small business community."
Valley Green sees a lot of potential to expand its real estate client base in South Philly, along with the retail side of their business. "We want community members to come bank with us, to open up anything from a checking account to money market accounts," says Seitchik.

In keeping with the bank's vision, the design of the new branch opens up the building to the both streets with large windows, welcoming in the neighborhood. Designed by local firm Metcalfe Architecture and Design, the renovation is expected to be complete this June. 

Source:  Leslie Seitchik, Director of Marketing, Valley Green Bank
WriterGreg Meckstroth

City Planning Commission recognized as national leader

In some cities, land use planning and zoning are the last places you’d look for news on cutting edge innovations. Here in Philly, we know better. This April, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) will receive a Best Practice Award from the American Planning Association (APA) for their innovative efforts integrating planning and zoning processes.

PCPC recently coordinated three distinct planning efforts simultaneously: the Citizens Planning Institute, Philadelphia 2035, and a zoning code and map revision.  

"I’m not aware of any other comparable city doing such a comprehensive planning treatment in such a brief period of time," says CPC Executive Director Gary Jastrzab.

Jastrzab and his staff began tackling these projects nearly four years ago. "The last comprehensive plan or major zoning revision was in the 1960s, so it was time for a modernization," he explains.

Four years and countless public meetings, hearings, drafts and re-drafts later, Philadelphia now has a regulatory environment featuring those three profound tools. The Citizens Planning Institute, PCPC’s education and outreach entity, encourages leadership and participation among residents, educating them on urban planning in their communities. Philadelphia 2035, the city’s first comprehensive plan in over 50 years, includes 18 specific district plans either completed, underway or about to get started. Lastly, the city’s zoning reform included both a rewrite of the city’s 50-year-old code and multiple zoning map revisions as recommended in the ongoing Philadelphia 2035 district plans.

"In any city -- let alone one as large and politically complex as Philadelphia -- undertaking either a comprehensive plan, zoning code rewrite, or citizen planner leadership program, would have been a major accomplishment," explains APA Pennsylvania Awards Committee chairman Dennis Puko in a press release. "Philadelphia through 2011 to 2012 did all three, and integrated them to achieve the most positive outcomes."

The Best Practice award for Philadelphia’s Integrated Planning and Zoning Process will be presented at APA’s National Planning Conference in Chicago on Tuesday, April 16.
Source: Gary Jastrzab, Executive Director, City Planning Commission
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Three Down, 15 to go for Philadelphia 2035 as Lower Northeast District Plan adopted

Last week, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission adopted the Lower Northeast District Plan as part of the city’s Philadelphia 2035 Comprehensive Plan.  The Lower Northeast joins West Park and Lower South as having finished and adopted plans, leaving 15 more districts still to come over the coming years.   

The Lower Northeast covers the ever-evolving neighborhoods of Frankford, Lawncrest, Oxford Circle and Northwood and was particularly impactful because of the unique problems the area faces.  A number of these issues culminated in the plan’s focus areas, which include the Frankford Transportation Center, Frankford Gateway and Castor Avenue. 

The Plan indicates that nearly 1 in 5 Lower Northeast residents do not have health insurance and that wait times at health centers across the city are increasingly long.  To remediate this issue, the Plan calls for the creation of three health centers in the neighborhood, with one adjacent to the Frankford Transportation Center. 

This does two things, says Jennifer Barr with the City Planning Commission -- it increases the amount of needed health centers in the immediate area and substantially increases access for residents across the region. 

“Some 680,000 Philadelphians can reach the Frankford Transportation Center without a connection,” says Barr, “this is the ideal place to create a destination for health services because access is so high but also because a large amount of people are already passing through the Center on a daily basis.”   

The Frankford Center focus area was not particularly controversial.  Other areas weren’t so lucky.  The Castor Avenue focus area recommendations caused a bit of controversy, as they call for an upzone of the corridor into a mixed-use, higher density district.  This means allowing buildings to reach heights of 55 feet and encouraging residential uses above storefronts – something that doesn’t exist now.

Barr indicates that despite a small group of citizens who opposed the idea, this provision was actually supported by most of the community, likely because it makes perfect sense from a planning perspective. 

“There is a lot of demand for housing in the area with little room to expand,” says Barr.  “With Castor Avenue struggling as a commercial corridor, encouraging residential density can rejuvenate the corridor while increasing residential housing options.”

The plan’s third focus area is Frankford Gateway along Frankford Avenue, an area full of underutilized industrial buildings but full of potential.  “With the success of nearby Globe Dye Works into a thriving artist community, we have a prime example of utilizing old industrial buildings for modern day needs,” says Barr, “these buildings are an important part of Frankford’s heritage so we want to protect them and encourage their reuse.” 

To this end, the plan recommends changing the zoning along the Avenue from ICMX to a new classification – IRMX - which allows for live/work spaces geared towards these large industrial structures.

With these issues dealt with in meaningful ways and the Plan officially adopted, attention has moved on to the Center City plan, which is currently underway and the University City plan, which will begin shortly.  These districts, too, face a series of unique issues that will be fleshed out and addressed over the coming months.  Center City’s next public meeting will be held on Oct. 22 and University City’s plan is set to begin Nov. 13. 

Source: Jennifer Barr, City Planning Commission
Writer: Greg Meckstroth
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