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Chester Charter School for the Arts breaks ground on new $25 million campus

The nonprofit Chester Charter School for the Arts (CCSA) has been renting space in Aston, PA, since its inception in 2012. But in June, the school broke ground on a brand-new $25 million, 11-acre campus; it should be open by fall 2017.

"There isn’t much in the way of this kind of development happening in Chester," says Keren White, executive director of the Chester Fund for Education and the Arts, CCSA’s precursor and now its development and marketing arm. "A new school hasn’t been built in Chester for several decades."

When CCSA opened, it offered kindergarten through sixth grade, and the school has expanded by one grade each year. Currently, this non-selective public school serving the Chester Upland School District has almost 500 K-9 students. For the 2017-18 school year, they will welcome 11th graders, and then 12th graders in fall 2018. At that point, the school will maintain an enrollment of about 650 students, with a maximum of 25 students per class.

"Arts Integration" is key at the school, combining rigorous core academics with dance, music, theater and visual arts classes. The model works, according to CCSA: In 2014, the school achieved the third-highest year to year improvement among 800 Philly-area public schools; it currently boasts a 96 percent attendance rate.

CCSA isn’t Chester's only charter school: there’s also the K-8 Chester Community Charter School, which currently serves around half the kids in the district (about 3,500 students). CCSA will ultimately have the capacity to serve about 10 percent of the district’s kids.

"If we can really educate 10 percent of the kids to a high standard, then potentially we’ll have a huge impact on this population," says White.

The new CCSA campus at 1200 Highland Avenue -- a three-story, 90,000-square-foot building -- will feature a gymnasium, a multi-purpose cafeteria/auditorium, music space, art studios and a kiln, science and media labs, and dance studios. Outside, there will be athletic fields, a new playground, and ample parking alongside new landscaping and trees. In a later phase of construction, which could be as early as 2018, the campus will add a 350-seat performing arts center with its own costume and set design workshops.

White says the Fund is raising $7 million of the total $25 construction budget ($3.825 million is already in place) and will finance the rest.

"We just really believe in Chester," says White. "The people in Chester are great people…and they haven’t had the opportunities that other people have had. We’ve really invested for the long term."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Keren White, The Chester Fund for Education and the Arts 

The K&T Trail is officially underway on the Delaware

The latest segment of The Circuit Trails network to break ground is the first stretch of the trail to directly connect two parks, says Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC) Executive Director Tom Branigan.

Phase One of the new K&T trail (so named because it will follow the path of the former Kensington and Tacony railroad) will be a 1.15-mile stretch connecting the Frankford Boat Launch to Lardner’s Point Park, serving visitors as well as residents of Wissinoming to the south and Tacony to the north.

Phase One of the K&T -- a 12-foot-wide asphalt trail -- has a $2.9 million budget. Directing partners Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and DRCC broke ground on June 9 and anticipate completion in 2017. The trail is part of a much bigger regional picture: It’s one more piece of the 750-mile Circuit and the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway.

Under design since 2008, the trail will move through a riverside right-of-way owned by the City of Philadelphia. The whole length of it will have riverfront views, although the strips of land touching the river are still in the hands of adjacent property owners. And since it’s a heavily industrial area, there will be fencing installed alongside the trail.

"We’re working with the property owners to make sure everything moves smoothly," says Branigan.

Partners hope efforts to acquire the riverfront land will boost the project in the long term.

"We’ll engage various property owners and see about acquiring that small strip of land between the trail and river," he adds.
"And then [we'll] make appropriate improvements."

The trail will also span a small inlet of the river, requiring a bridge.

Currently, landscaping and other amenities include benches, interpretive signage on the wildlife and history of the area, 80 trees, 1,000 shrubs, and thousands more beautifying grasses and perennial plants.

Phase Two of K&T will launch next year, taking the trail up as far as Princeton Avenue; another piece, currently in design and slated for construction in 2018, will go as far north as Rhawn Street.

"We’ll have a good stretch of trail by the end of 2018 or early 2019 that will go from the Frankford Boat Launch all the way up to Pleasantville Park on Linden Avenue," concludes Branigan.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tom Branigan, Delaware River City Corporation 

Development News: PHS pop-up garden is a preview of partners' hopes for upcoming Viaduct Rail Park

This year, a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society pop-up is offering a preview of the upcoming Viaduct Rail Park. Last December, we reported on PHS' plans for an installation somewhere along the planned promenade in the Callowhill neighborhood (our recent On the Ground home) and now a new summer beer garden is open at 10th and Hamilton Streets on the north side of Viaduct.

"What’s exciting about this is it gives you a snapshot of what this will be ultimately," said Mayor Jim Kenney at an opening night party on June 10.

Walter Hood of Hood Design is behind the new space. A former gravel parking lot in the shadow of the Viaduct, the site "merges the post-industrial overhead structure with the green urban space," explains PHS Associate Director of Landscape Design Leigh Ann Campbell.

The beer garden features large, colorful boxes reminiscent of shipping containers and a performance area with metal framework repurposed from Hood's recent exhibit at the PHS Flower Show. The plants in the garden itself are those that "naturally emerged on the Viaduct after it was decommissioned," explains Campbell; these include Paulownia trees, sumacs, ferns and milkweed.

On Saturday, June 18 at 5 p.m., the pop-up will host a special opening event for a site-specific sound installation from artist Abby Sohn, which will "make use of the iron structure to create a sonic experience that explores the cultural heritage and the rail site’s creative potential," according to PHS.

The food comes from chefs Jason Chichonski (of ELA and Gaslight) and Sylva Senat (of Dos Tacos and Maison). Six taps, canned beer, wine, cocktails, sangria and more will round out the beverage offerings.

There will also be a variety of programming throughout the summer, including special themed dinners, acoustic music performances, garden workshops for containers and window-boxes, and even lessons on mixing drinks made with home-grown herbs. The Philadelphia Public History Truck will also make appearances thanks to support from the Mural Arts Program. (Here’s the full line-up of happenings.)

A variety of funders, partners and supporters made the site possible, including property owner Arts & Crafts Holdings, the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, the Friends of the Rail Park, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Viaduct owner Reading International, Victory Brewing Company, the Callowhill Neighborhood Association and the Land Health Institute. All proceeds from the garden will support PHS’s City Harvest.

Campbell said the pop-up isn’t just a good place to get dinner and drinks and enjoy a new slice of green in the city. The service berry bushes planted all around the park’s perimeter draw all kinds of birds to feast right along with the human city-dwellers.

"If you’ve never heard a catbird sing," she adds, come over and listen.

The Viaduct Rail Park will be open through September 30.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Leigh Ann Campbell, the 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.

UArts brings a Philadelphia EcoDistrict Oasis to Spring Garden

"We’ve been taking from nature for 200-plus years at a rate that’s not sustainable," says Christopher Zelov, Philadelphia eco-activist, filmmaker and author. The founder of the Philadelphia EcoDistrict (the local chapter of a nationwide urban sustainable living movement based in Portland, Oregon), Zelov has spent the last six months teaming with University of the Arts Associate Professor Tony Guido and a group of seven undergrads on The Philadelphia EcoDistrict Oasis.

According to Zelov, the ultimate goal is "building a regenerative culture." That means not just "technologies that give back more than they take" (green roofs, cisterns, aquaponic gardens and solar arrays), but also building a social culture that supports these technologies.

For the past semester, UArts industrial design students have been collaborating with the Spring Garden Community Development Corporation to fashion portable working prototypes of their EcoDistrict Oasis concepts as a case study for future development here in Philadelphia.

On May 5, after an extensive research and engagement process, students presented their prototypes at a community barbecue at The Spring Gardens Community Garden. Their concepts included a small-scale aquaponic garden for the kitchen wall, modular ramps that easily make buildings accessible to all, sustainable composting pails, super-insulation, modular green surfaces, and more.

Green surfaces aid stormwater management while also mitigating a cycle of urban heat that leads to more pollution. Aquaponics offer an accessible closed-loop water-saving system for growing veggies. Composting pails made for city kitchens reduce waste and nourish gardens. Super-insulation uses a variety of techniques to vastly reduce a building’s energy usage, effectively sealing everything from electrical outlets to windows, and using specially fabricated walls filled with cellulose -- rather than fiberglass -- to keep temperatures comfortable without extra heating or cooling.

"What we’re trying to do is bring it into the community" and make it a regular practice, explains Zelov. He’s one of the filmmakers behind Ecological Design: Inventing the Future and City21: Multiple Perspectives on Urban Futures, and their companion books. He’s working on another film, this one about the UArts EcoDistrict project titled EcoDistricts Emerging.

Guido, who’s been teaching in UArts’ Industrial Design department for 21 years, says the program takes pride in "doing great work and doing it with conscience." He hopes the prototypes will get future public showcases, perhaps during 2016's PARK(ing) Day.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Christopher Zelov, Philadelphia EcoDistrict; Tony Guido and Guiseppe Sciumbata, University of the Arts

On the Ground: Strawberry Mansion defines its boundaries

Strawberry Mansion, Flying Kite’s current On the Ground home, somehow manages to be both well-known and anonymous to most Philadelphians: On the one hand, "Strawberry Mansion" is one of the city's most distinctive and evocative monikers, but the neighborhood itself often lacks recognition. Now leaders of the Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Center (NAC) and Community Development Corporation are launching a project -- in partnership with Flying Kite -- to help put their neighborhood on the map.
 
"Our neighborhood boundaries are pretty well set," said Strawberry Mansion CDC Board President Tonnetta Graham at an April meeting with Flying Kite. The region is north of Brewerytown and just east of East Fairmount Park, bounded by Ridge Avenue and 33rd Street to the west and W. Lehigh Avenue to the north, with a long diagonal piece of Glenwood Avenue completing the triangle.
 
For a long time, NAC and CDC members have wanted to launch a gateway project that welcomes residents and visitors to the neighborhood. (The CDC is actually housed out of the NAC facility on Diamond Street.)
 
"We’ve been trying to tie it all together so we could market it to developers," explains Graham. The organizations have been pushing to create and mount banners that would beautify Strawberry Mansion’s bordering streets and create a sense of pride and identity for the neighborhood. Graham and other local leaders hope that sponsorship dollars from local businesses or developers could help make the initiative possible.
 
Graham and NAC leader Lenora Evans-Jackson noted that besides having such clear boundaries, Strawberry Mansion has many ideal places for a welcoming touch, notably the numerous bridges that cross into the neighborhood. There are also big changes coming to nearby East Fairmount Park, where the Knight Foundation’s Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative will create the Discovery Center, remaking the site of an abandoned reservoir.

"It’s an ideal time to have something in place," insists Graham, who likes the idea of teaming with Fairmount Park or other partners for Strawberry Mansion banners bordering the park, or some other type of 33rd Street gateway.

Potential designs for the banners could include a slogan informally adopted by the CDC after a contest a few years ago: "Preserving our past, investing in our future," along with a Strawberry Mansion logo and a logo from the sponsoring organization, business, or agency.

With design and other practical support from Flying Kite, the Strawberry Mansion CDC and NAC brainstormed different phases and sponsorship packages for the project, which they hope could lead to 20 to 40 flags along the neighborhood’s iconic corridors.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Strawberry Mansion NAC and CDC leaders


Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Habitat for Humanity's Rock the Block comes to Pottstown


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

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

The organization has already built nine homes in Pottstown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proposed low-income housing development on Wister Street sparks debate in Germantown


How does a community navigate development without the displacement and disruption of gentrification?

This was a major theme on April 6, as Germantowners convened at the Germantown Life Enrichment Center (just a few blocks north of Flying Kite’s former On the Ground digs near Chelten and Pulaski Avenues) to hear from Fishtown's Women’s Community Revitalization Project (WCRP).

A developer of rental properties primarily for low-income women and families, WCRP held the community meeting to discuss affordable housing in Germantown. Their Nicole Hines Townhouse Development -- featuring 35 new "affordable family townhomes" -- has been proposed for 417 Wister Street in East Germantown. WCRP lead organizer Christi Clark led the discussion along with WCRP community organizer Ariel Morales; a long roster of partnering groups also sponsored the gathering.

About fifty attendees broke into groups and then shared their conclusions on two key questions: “What do you love about Germantown that you want to see preserved?” and "What is the need for affordable housing in Germantown [and] parks and green space?"

Talk about Germantown’s attributes raised a wide range of praise, from its historic properties to its cultural diversity, transit hubs, and thriving artist population.

Clark offered some current statistics on the neighborhood to feed the discussion on housing: 45,000 people live in Germantown, comprising 17,500 households. The area has seen a 24 percent drop in median household income since 2000, with almost half of local households spending 30 percent or more of their budget on housing, which leads to widespread economic difficulty, as there aren’t dollars left to flow elsewhere. Germantown used to have a majority of homeowners versus renters, but now the number of renters is on the rise.

True to form, attendees -- most of them longtime residents of the neighborhood -- spoke frankly about their concerns and didn’t shy away from lobbing questions about the Wister Street project (Clark said the units would have a 15-year lifespan as rental properties, after which tenants would have the option to buy) and housing in Germantown in general.

Many participants pointed out that it’s not so easy to define "affordable" -- it means different things to different people, and can be subsidized in a variety of ways. WRCP’s target population is families who make 30 percent of the area median income. In Germantown, that means about $20,000 to $22,000 annually.

Gentrification was another major theme of the conversation.

"Sooner or later gentrification is coming," said Yvonne Haskins, a board member at Germantown United CDC. "We need to think about affordability now...You know [gentrification] after it’s happened. Germantown is very attractive."

Many attendees expressed their frustration with a seemingly endless circuit of community meetings that yield few tangible outcomes for the neighborhood, and a lack of transparency around investments that are made.

WCRP is in its second round of funding applications for the Wister Street development, and will know in June whether the necessary dollars are available. In the meantime, there will be two more meetings in Germantown on April 27 and May 25 from 6 - 8 p,m, locations TBD.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Christi Clark, Women’s Community Revitalization Project

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.
 

Camden tax credits spur ambitious renovation of the Ruby Match Factory


Camden, a former Flying Kite On the Ground neighborhood, is "a pretty spectacular site, in basic real estate terms," enthuses developer Jackie Buhn, principal and CEO of the Philly-based AthenianRazak LLC. Camden's burgeoning business and cultural sectors have Philadelphia right across the bridge, gorgeous views, coveted waterfront space and steep tax credits designed to anchor a range of industries there.

All those factors have led to the Ruby Match Factory project. This 1899 waterfront warehouse has been getting buzz recently with the announcement of plans to renovate it into an airy mixed-use loft-style retail and office space -- the first of its kind in contemporary Camden. When completed, the 74,500 square-foot building (with a total of 71,000 square feet of offices and a planned 3,500 square-foot restaurant and art gallery) will have a newly added second level offering views of the entire space.

"It’ll be pretty dramatic," says Buhn.

The basic design of the building's interior is complete; it features open trusses and high ceilings, and room to accommodate eventual tenants' needs.

Part of the draw for those future tenants is the Camden GROW NJ State Tax Credit Program, an element of the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013. According to the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, these credits "provide unprecedented incentives for businesses to bring jobs to Camden – or keep them there."

Businesses with at least 35 employees (and companies in "targeted industries" with as few as 10 workers) leasing space in the city are eligible for these credits -- they can apply for them based on the number of jobs they’ll create in the fifteen years following their application. The credits can be applied to nonprofit and for-profit ventures alike.

According to Cooper’s Ferry, the credits can be worth between $10,000 and $15,000 per employee annually for 10 years. These aren’t given in cash, but awarded against New Jersey taxes owed. In the case of a business whose tax credit exceeds their tax obligation (Buhn points to nonprofits, which may not be aware of their eligibility for the program), the credits can be sold for cash, coming to about 90 percent of the credits' value. 

So how does this factor into the price per square foot for companies paying rent in Camden? Cooper’s Ferry posits that a company with 100 employees is awarded an annual tax credit that averages to $12,500 per employee. If the profit from the sale of those credits is treated and taxed as capital gains (nonprofits are not subject to tax on the credits), that could amount to a net of $900,000 per year for 10 years -- or $9 million total. In light of that credit, if the building you’re leasing has about 175 square feet per worker, 17,500 square feet of space in Camden could mean paying just $51 per square foot in rent for 10 years.

In the case of the Ruby Match Factory's future tenants, Buhn argues that "because of the tax credits, it’s essentially free." They’ve run many different scenarios, and one came to just $4 per square foot per year for the life of the program.

"It’s a good deal, it’s a great location, and it’s a beautiful space," she adds.

Companies who want help determining their eligibility for the credits should call Cooper’s Ferry Partnership at 856-757-9154.

AthenianRazak can’t currently announce more details about the design or the tenants -- which are still being secured -- but once everything is in place, a "conservative" timeline for construction is just ten months.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Jackie Buhn,
AthenianRazak; the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership

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.

The new yard at West Philly's Lea School has a lot to offer students and the community

Last week, we took a look at how city-wide cooperation between several groups and agencies laid the groundwork for a much-needed new schoolyard at West Philly’s Henry C. Lea School.

Thanks to grants from PECO and the Philadelphia Water Department Stormwater Management Incentive Program (SMIP), design was underway in spring of 2014. Then lead project designer Sara Pevaroff Schuh of SALT Design Studio learned that, in addition to Lea’s older existing play structure, the space would be getting a brand-new setup -- the School District planned to relocate one from the recently closed Alexander Wilson School.

"Since we had this SMIP grant, they were [only] going to put the new rubber surface right under the new play structure," says Julie Scott, co-chair of the Green Lea project spearheaded by the West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools. "[But] we really wanted it to be a green project and be cohesive,” 

With Schuh’s help, the relocated addition was placed next to the old one, which rested on an aged and impermeable tiled surface. Funds raised by the Coalition paid for the removal of the asphalt under both sites, and new continuous permeable rubber surfacing went everywhere.

"The kids had no idea it would be like a tumbling mat for them outside," enthuses Schuh. "It’s purple, red, and blue," with a design reminiscent of ripples from a raindrop.

Other beautification and stormwater management measures include three additional rain gardens on the site along 47th Street and 19 new trees. The yard also got a new entrance on the corner of 47th and Spruce.

During one community planting day last fall, volunteers put in 1200 plants (another workday is planned for April of this year). The Philadelphia Orchard Project has gotten involved as well, adding edible plants to the yard including chokeberries and blueberries.

"It’s pretty dramatic," says Schuh. "It basically went from being a one-acre asphalt schoolyard to…[having] a little urban forest on it now -- and it’s the kind of urban forest that works in a schoolyard."

Input from the community informed the design. 

"They wanted a place for neighborhood folks to gather," she says. "For parents to be able to have a social space while they waited for their kids [or] when they came to meet with teachers."

Meanwhile, school staffers needed unobstructed sight-lines and a flexible space.

"As designers, we wanted to really create room for different sorts of activities in the landscape…that would be educational tools for teachers throughout the school day," adds Schuh.

There’s already been a major uptick in community use of the yard outside of school hours.

A few minor projects remain -- painting the basketball court, additional planting and dumpster enclosures -- but Lea’s new schoolyard is largely complete as of 2016. Scott estimates the cost of the project at $850,000, including the original design grant and volunteers' time.

"We felt like the yard was a very large signal," she says, "a way of saying to the community that this is a really great place to send your kids."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Julie Scott, West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools; Sara Pevaroff Schuh, SALT Design Studio

Lights up on the next phase for Fabric Row

Last summer, we looked at the transformations taking place on South 4th Street’s Fabric Row, and now a big piece of those plans is complete. On February 8, representatives from the South Street Headhouse District (SSHD), the Commerce Department, the Streets Department and First District Councilman Mark Squilla officially brought up the lights on a major new streetscape improvement.

The corridor now has 38 LED pedestrian lights and 12 LED overhead lights between Lombard and Christian Streets. The project also includes the planting of 20 new trees, fixes for deteriorating curbs and sidewalks, and new decorative crosswalks. Made possible by NTI Commerce Department funds secured through SSHD, the renovations extend to several nearby blocks of South Street, with 130 existing lights on South between Front and 11th Streets being upgraded to LEDs.

Philly is "considered one of the best walkable cities in this country," said Streets Department Commissioner Donald Carlton at the lighting ceremony at 4th and Bainbridge Streets. This improvement was a long-needed upgrade to one of the region’s most historic commercial corridors.

SSHD Executive Director Michael Harris added that the project would have "transformative impact" on the area. Elena Brennan, SSHD Board Chair and owner of the nearby Bus Stop Boutique, agreed.

"It’s really near and dear to my heart," she said of the lighting improvement. Nine years ago when she first opened her store the lack of adequate lighting was a big problem for nighttime shoppers and shop-owners. "This street now is going to be brilliant."

"Lighting is the key to safety," explained Councilman Squilla in his remarks -- it increases visitors' comfort and foot traffic, and boosts business on a corridor.

He acknowledged some of the project's challenges, including its winter construction timeline (which may have impacted holiday sales). But with years to come of attractive well-lit walkways in good repair, the temporary inconvenience of construction will pay off for shoppers and business owners alike.

As we discovered back in summer 2015, the roster of businesses on the corridor is evolving: shifting to include a range of eclectic upscale boutiques and restaurants alongside the traditional textile stores. Councilman Squilla lauded the burgeoning intergenerational feel of Fabric Row, where legacy businesses are increasingly joined by new ones.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: 4th Street Lighting and South Street Lighting Celebration speakers 

 

West Powelton welcomes an exciting new live/work space for artists

On February 9, the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) and an enthusiastic crowd of supporters braved a snowy forecast to break ground on a new West Philadelphia housing development that has been years in the making. 4050 Apartments -- named for its location at 4050 Haverford Avenue in West Powelton -- will help lower-income artists who are longtime residents stay in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood full of university and commercial expansion.

Kira Strong, vice president of community and economic development at PEC, says the movement behind 4050 goes back more than 10 years. Friends of 40th Street sparked the original conversation in response to concerns from residents, artists and local cultural groups that the University of Pennsylvania’s expansion north would push them out of West Powelton.

PEC got directly involved in 2006 with a study funded by the William Penn Foundation to examine the needs of locals. What emerged from the study, according to Strong, is that, "people who are already here -- who are drawn to the area for its great proximity to transit, to Center City, to the universities -- were really nervous about not being able to afford live/work space anymore."

That kicked off the planning and conceptualization process for 4050 Apartments.

All in all, the project represents a total of $7.2 million in investment from a wide variety of funders including PHFA, the Commerce Department, LISC, the PRA, and other local and state-wide banks and agencies. (This will be the sixth housing development PEC has opened since 2011, with previous developments totaling 39 new residential units.)

The three-story structure will total 24,350 square feet and include 20 rental apartments (10 one-bedrooms, five two-bedrooms and five three-bedroom units). It was designed by PZS Architects and will be built by Allied Construction.

According to PEC, Philly’s second-largest community of artist calls the neighborhood home and the construction "aims to preserve an important part of what defines the Lower Lancaster Avenue community" with affordable live/work space. The apartments will feature high ceilings, open layouts and plenty of natural light. There will also be a street-facing community room designed for workshops and exhibitions.

"We heard that from residents," says Strong of the shared space. "[They said], 'We don’t want you guys to build an enclave that’s shut off from the community…We want it to be something that the community really can have as a resource and have access to and engage with."

Strong adds that last week's groundbreaking was no ceremonial event: construction is underway and is projected for completion by this December, with residents arriving in early 2017.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Kira Strong, People’s Emergency Center

 

New funds move Germantown closer to creating a master plan

Germantown United CDC (GUCDC) is one step closer to the comprehensive neighborhood plan it’s been eyeing for years thanks to a new $25,000 civic engagement grant from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.

The one-year grant will be split between GUCDC and a local theater-based nonprofit known as Just Act, which uses trained actor-facilitators (in teams of both youths and adults) to help spark community dialogues.

According to the two groups, the dollars will help them "map both the formal and informal networks currently contributing to community improvement efforts in Germantown." The work supported by the grant will be a "community network analysis" that ensures all of the neighborhood’s voices are "well-represented and prepared for their role as stakeholder in the larger effort to revitalize greater Germantown and the neighborhood’s shopping district and commercial sector."

"One thing we’d like to do is have a lot of these groups that may not be talking to each other right now start talking to each other," explains GUDCD Executive Director Andy Trackman.

Just Act Executive Director Lisa Jo Epstein -- who is partnering with GUCDC Corridor Manager Emaleigh Doley to spearhead the civic engagement project -- is on the same page as Trackman. The more people who participate the better, she says. "Then, when a developer comes in, there’s already going to be a new informal network that can say, 'If you’re coming in, you have to also respond to us. You have to do something for us, not for people from the outside.'"

"What I would like for this grant to do…[is] show that Germantown United is really committed to talking to all the voices in Germantown, especially as it relates to our planning of the neighborhood," adds Trackman. "I also would like to see this as a building block, as an attention-getter to get more resources into the neighborhood for this planning process."

Doley and Epstein are currently developing a series of community storytelling events; dates and locations TBA.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Andy Trackman, Germantown United CDC; Lisa Jo Epstein, Just Act

On the Ground: Melding art and sound in the shadow of the Reading Viaduct


The Reading Viaduct Rail Park is entering a transitional stage, and Dave Kyu's latest work is set to take full advantage. An artist with a socially conscious, literary bent, Kyu has been working on interviews and projects with Asian Arts Initiative’s Social Practice Lab for the last few years, including "Write Sky" and "Sign of the Times." (Asian Arts served as Flying Kite's On the Ground home through the end of January.) The former Mural Arts (MAP) project manager of the inaugural Neighborhood Time Exchange project in West Philly, he is still involved with the organization on a freelance basis.

Now Kyu is spearheading a new collaboration between the Friends of the Rail Park (FRP), MAP and the American Composers Forum. According to him, MAP is stepping outside of their usual arts purview to work on unique temporary installations of music, light and projections on the existing urban environment of the neighborhood.

Project details are still being finalized. Ultimately, the initiative will encompass a study from sound engineers as well as commissioned historical research on the neighborhood’s post-industrial history -- those elements will inspire the participating artists.

Kyu explains that this project -- a pilot for something more permanent in conjunction with Phase 1 of the Viaduct -- has its roots in MAP’s first partnership with the Composers Forum in 2014. That project paired four composers with three murals; they performed original music at the murals inspired by their visual/artistic qualities and the neighborhood history they depicted.

"What is the intersection of sound and visual art?" Kyu wonders of the current project, launching this spring. He also notes that people experiencing this work will be witnessing the current state of the Viaduct for the last time -- even though the park itself may not open until 2017, the associated construction will bring big changes before that.

Kyu likes taking advantage of what he calls a major "creative opportunity" in the "mental shift" that’s happening around the Viaduct: Philadelphians have gone from wondering if it’ll ever happen to wondering when it’ll happen, and he wants to explore the space through interdisciplinary arts in the meantime. He is also interested to see the audience for the work. Will it be mostly locals? People from greater Philadelphia? Or will the installations draw out-of-towners, as well? This is all information that will play into developing future Viaduct programming.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Dave Kyu, Mural Arts Project

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.
 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).


On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.
 

Working to curb illegal dumping on Philly streets

On January 20, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) continued its push to produce the city’s first unified front on the issue of litter with a convening of officials and community stakeholders at the Municipal Services Building’s 16th floor Innovation Lab.  

Attendees were from groups as diverse as the Streets Department, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), the Tookany Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, the Aramingo Business Association, the People's Emergency Center, the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, the North Fifth Street Revitalization Project, the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), the Schuylkill Navy of Philadelphia and the South of South Neighborhood Association.

"How do we do this as a city, and how do the smaller groups work together?" asked Marian Horowitz, an environmental engineer at PWD.

Alan Robinson of the Schuylkill Navy said that when it comes to the city environment, he wishes people would get as excited about reducing and eliminating litter as they are about pop-up parks, pools and gardens.

One of four specialized break-out sessions focused specifically on the problem of illegal dumping. PCDC Deputy Director Rachel Mak led the discussion.

While litter in the streets, sidewalks and waterways is a problem in Philly, illegal dumping is a problem on a larger and much more noticeable scale. People unwilling to dispose of their household or construction trash properly leave bags and piles on public corners or strewn around City trash cans.

Mak highlighted a few sites in the Chinatown neighborhood that research has pinpointed as hot-spots for illegal dumping, including the corners at 10th and Race Streets, 10th and Cherry Streets, and 11th and Wood Streets.

One reason tracking the dumping sites is important, Mak said, is that the installation of cameras can capture illegal dumpers in the act. Printouts of the images can also be distributed throughout the neighborhood.

PCDC also partners with the Streets Department’s Streets and Walkways Education and Enforcement Program (SWEEP) to check illegally dumped material for identifying information that can be used to track down and fine the perpetrators.

Stopping illegal dumping takes a lot of groundwork, persistence, education, and "getting your hands dirty," explains Mak.

"People get used to seeing trash, so they let it go when it happens," adds Horowitz. "People think they aren’t doing anything wrong or no-one will notice.

Later, we’ll take a look at how the new KPB consortium is hoping to mobilize business owners on the issue.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Rachel Mak, PCDC; and KPB litter convening participants
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