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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

 

Will Germantown's historic YWCA face demolition or redevelopment?

In January, all eyes were on the old YWCA at 5820 Germantown Avenue, bordering Vernon Park in Germantown. Despite a wealth of local affection for the building, whose use as a YWCA facility dates back to 1914, it may face demolition, and residents are anxiously asking what can be done to save it.

Despite its important place in the neighborhood's 20th century history, the building has been left to languish empty for years, damaged by vandalism and fires. The YMCA owned the building until 2006; then Germantown Settlement purchased the site, but no plans materialized. With the structure in steep decline, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) brought the building to sheriff’s sale and acquired it in 2013.

Last fall, a request for proposals for the site drew a plan from just one interested developer: the Philly-based Mission First Housing Group, which would partner with Philly Office Retail to convert the building into 50 independent senior-living units, pending a state-administered federal tax subsidy (Mission First would retain sole ownership of the site.) But the PRA rejected the proposal last month.

"This issue is something that’s really important to people, so it brings out a lot of passions," said Germantown United CDC Board President Garlen Capita at a January 22 community meeting on the issue, held at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown.

The meeting drew a large crowd of concerned locals, and featured PRA Executive Director Brian Abernathy, Mission First Housing Group Director of Business Development Mark Deitcher, 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass and Philly Office Retail president Ken Weinstein as speakers.

By all counts, the condition of the building now means that it will cost more money to rehabilitate and re-use than it would to demolish and rebuild. Abernathy estimated the cost of stabilizing the structure at $3 million, and according to Deitcher, a Mission First assessment found that the 50,000-square-foot facility would cost $200 per square foot to restore.

Several speakers, including Bass and community members who took the microphone for a question-and-answer session, emphasized the importance of not rushing to take the first proposal to materialize for the site.

But Weinstein came out strongly in support of the Mission First proposal: "This project does not represent settling for what’s in front of us," he insisted.

For her part, the Councilwoman said two other developers had approached her with interest in the site after word of its possible demolition got out, but she declined to give any specifics.

GUCDC Executive Director Andy Trackman tells Flying Kite that they're still awaiting word on next steps for the old YWCA: nothing can move forward until the city’s Office of Licenses and Inspections surveys the site and makes its report.

Elliot Griffin, a spokesperson for Bass, says the councilwoman has scheduled meetings with stakeholders from City agencies about the structural soundness of the building.

So, when can the community expect the critical L&I report? Griffin can’t comment on the timing of a public announcement, but confirms that Bass expects to hear from L&I soon.

Community activist and W. Rockland Street Project leader Emaleigh Doley, who also spoke up at last month’s meeting, tells Flying Kite that the lack of discussion about the site prior to the news of its possible demolition bothered her.

"There should be conversation, but the manner in which this issue was raised exploited the threat of demolition…and takes full advantage of the neighborhood’s vulnerabilities," she says. "Even after leaving the meeting, I was left asking, what is really going on here?"

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Andy Trackman, GUCDC; Elliot Griffin, Councilwoman Cindy Bass; Emaleigh Doley, W. Rockland Street Project

 

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
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