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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

A new community green space in Frankford embraces the atmosphere of city life

According to Ellie Devyatkin, commercial corridor manager at the Frankford Community Development Corporation, the name for Frankford Pause -- a new park coming this spring to a piece of land at Frankford Avenue and Paul Street -- came about because whenever the el rumbles by, locals know to pause their conversation.
 
It’s going to be a unique and much-needed green space for the Frankford Avenue corridor: the result of dollars from an ArtPlace America grant via the City Planning Commission, and subsequent partnerships between Frankford CDC, the Community Design Collaborative and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS).  
 
In the process of pursuing designs for what was originally envisioned as a temporary park, Frankford CDC quickly realized that to secure the necessary funding, they had to think beyond a pop-up.
 
“We realized that we would need to actually build the park," recalls Devyatkin. "With all the effort that was going into it, it made a lot more sense for it to be a permanent park than a temporary pop-up."
 
That meant going back to the drawing board, but the work has been worth it. A design grant from the Collaborative made the initial concepts possible, while Locus Partners ultimately drafted the final construction documents. Remaining ArtPlace America dollars will fund the construction --  estimated at about $240,000 -- with additional support from Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez’s office.
 
The CDC calls the planned park "a new hub of community activity" and a "flexible open space" that can host a variety of gatherings and events. The design features open lawn, flexible seating, a performance stage, plantings and raised vegetable gardens.
 
The latter will be made possible through $25,000 from PHS, and Devyatkin hopes that maintenance of the plantings and gardens will continue with help from the neighborhood’s many active gardening groups.
 
Seating will consist of benches made from repurposed plastic milk crates and pressure-treated wood, and wire mesh gabion structures (pressure-treated wood, lacing wire, mesh and rocks).
 
A distinctive aspect of the space will be bright pink "loops" that surround the space with stripes painted up the sides of the adjacent building and extend over the top of the park in the form of long, durable shade cloths that can be removed in bad weather. There will also be sound-activated lighting triggered by the passing train and other city noises, bringing new awareness to the urban acoustic landscape.
 
Devyatkin predicts that the park will break ground this spring, with an official opening in June or July.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ellie Devyatkin, Frankford CDC

What will Bridesburg's new park offer the neighborhood?

Last week, we told you about a new 10-acre park slated for the North Delaware riverfront at Orthodox Street in Bridesburg. The project is still in its early planning phase, but ideas for the exciting green space are already taking shape. The Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC) and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation are spearheading the effort, with the help from community stakeholders.

“We’re really excited about the project because it provides that neighborhood access to the river that they haven’t had before,” enthuses Stephanie K. Craighead, director of planning, preservation and property management at Parks & Rec. Bridesburg Recreation Center is nearby, so locals don’t lack for certain recreation facilities -- including a ball field, a pool, basketball and tennis courts -- "but what they don’t have is this wonderful resource at the river."

The new park will focus on more passive recreation with meadows and stormwater management, walking and biking trails, a boardwalk, places to sit quietly, and a healthy waterfront habitat that planners hope will draw birdwatchers.

"Spaces that are contemplative," is how Craighead puts it, along with an area for kids to ride bikes without worrying about car and truck traffic -- a first for the neighborhood. The park will also have raised benches offering river views or amphitheater-style seating for a performance area, along with a plaza for events like a farmers' market. Restroom facilities and parking will be included.

"We hope that a friends group will develop around this park as friends groups have developed around our other parks," she says, "and that we could work with them to schedule special events, and have the park be a very active place that supports the community."

A re-vamp of Orthodox Street will also be included in the designs -- the thoroughfate will welcome pedestrians to the park with benches, shade trees, a safe place to stroll and traffic-calming measures.

"Our North Delaware Riverfront Greenway trail is going to run right along that location," adds DRCC Executive Director Tom Branigan. "This will become a trailhead park for the Greenway."

Now that an official concept has been developed with community input, Branigan says DRCC will pursue funding for design and construction from sources like the William Penn Foundation, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the City of Philadelphia.

Without hard plans, the final cost is hard to estimate, but organizations estimate it at up to $7 million, with an additional $1.5 to $2 million needed for the Orthodox Street upgrades. If all goes well, official design on the park could begin this year, and Branigan estimates that construction could launch within two to three years.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Stephanie K. Craighead, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation; and Tom Branigan, Delaware River City Corporation

 

A new park for Bridesburg on the banks of the Delaware

The first phase of the new Delaware Avenue extension officially opened in December, and it isn’t the only change coming to Bridesburg. The sole Philadelphia neighborhood that lies east of I-95, the community has long been divided from the Delaware River by the historic industrial center there. Now a proposed 10-acre riverfront park could change all that.

Over the last several months, the Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC) and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation have been engaging residents in a planning process (aided by dollars from the William Penn Foundation). Those meetings culminated in the presentation of a final concept and master plan on December 16 at American Legion Post 821.

According to land owner Parks & Rec and DRCC, the proposed space for the park is a "blighted and unused tract of former industrial land" at the end of Orthodox Street.

Stephanie K. Craighead, director of planning, preservation and property management for Parks & Rec, argues that the site has been underutilized for years.

"There are some limitations to how close to the river you could get, because of how the site was used prior to our acquiring it," she says. In particular, a lot of concrete has been dumped at the river’s edge there, which rendered it unstable for major development.

Tom Branigan, executive director of DRCC, has become very familiar with Bridesburg residents and businesses over the last five years. Throughout many community and civic meetings, "they were always frustrated that things were happening all around them, but nothing was happening in Bridesburg," he recalls.

The momentum behind the park project really began when Taucony-headquartered Dietz & Watson lost a New Jersey distribution center to fire a few years ago. The City of Philadelphia and the State of Pennsylvania worked to incentivize the company to locate its new distribution center near its headquarters across the Delaware in Philadelphia.

During that process, PIDC purchased a piece of the former Frankford Arsenal property adjacent to the Dietz & Watson headquarters. Known as the Frankford Arsenal Boat Launch, it had been scheduled for development as a shopping center, and was made available to the company to buy for its new distribution center. But that particular spot had been targeted by federal dollars for use as a recreational area, not a commercial one.

PIDC had an answer: Let Dietz & Watson develop the former Frankford Arsenal land, and transform a comparable piece of nearby riverfront into a recreation space. PIDC owned the land at the end of Bridesburg’s Orthodox Street, and transferred it to the City of Philadelphia for development as a new recreation site.

And so the groundwork for Bridesburg’s new park was ready. Next, we’ll take a look at what DRCC and Parks & Rec are planning for the space.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Stephanie K. Craighead, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation; and Tom Branigan, Delaware River City Corporation

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Neighborhood Placemaker Grants are back

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) is gearing up for its second round of Neighborhood Placemaker Grants. PHS Associate Director of Civic Landscapes Tammy Leigh DeMent says the organizations expects them to be even more popular than last year’s awards, which drew about 150 entrants.

The call for proposals (released on December 22) asks applicants how they plan to make their "neighborhood uniquely beautiful through horticulture."

The 2016 program has a total budget of $75,000, half of which is funded through the Philadelphia Department of Commerce, with the other half coming from PHS. Ultimately, this will be divided into two or three separate awards. PHS is hosting an information session at 5 p.m. on January 6 at its Center City headquarters (100 N. 20th Street), but attendance is not required to apply -- a summary of the Q&A will be posted on the PHS website.

The initial application process is simple in its goals but broad in scope. Because of the competitive nature of the program, PHS is not asking for full applications right out of the gate. Instead, interested groups (which could range from schools and churches to Community Development Corporations, garden clubs, park groups and more) should submit Letters of Intent that answer five short questions. According to DeMent, these include basic info on the concept, how it will impact the neighborhood and how the project aligns with the PHS mission.

"There should be some longevity within the project itself," she adds, explaining that the initiatives should not be temporary in nature, a requirement of the Commerce Department dollars. "It has to have at least a five-year lifespan."

"It’s really focused on any neighborhood in the city that has an idea for creating a new place, a green space for communities to gather,” she adds. It could be a garden, a park, a schoolyard, a neighborhood gateway or even a traffic triangle, like one developed into a new community space honoring U.S. veterans in Feltonville thanks to 2015 grantee Esperanza.

Another of last year’s grantees, the Somerset Neighbors for Better Living, launched a grassroots community planters program to beautify and unify the neighborhood. The planters and materials, offered free to residents, became a trademark of homes there, drawing interested neighbors into more conversations with each other and creating engagement with local happenings.

PHS will be accepting Letters of Intent for its Neighborhood Placemaker Grants through February 12.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tammy Leigh DeMent, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

 

Neighborhood Time Exchange challenges plans for Lancaster Avenue storefront

In March, Flying Kite took you to an innovative new part of the local creative economy. Lancaster Avenue’s Neighborhood Time Exchange (NTE) paired three different cohorts of artists with studio space, a stipend and a roster of community-driven improvement projects in nearby Belmont, Mantua, West Powelton, Mill Creek and Saunders Park. In April, we checked back in with program and its projects, which included a revamped classroom for special-needs kids, a civil rights documentary and new cultural and historical explorations of the area.

NTE is a partnership of the Mural Arts Program (MAP), the Ontario-based Broken City Lab, the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) and the City’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy.

The inaugural cycles of NTE residencies wrapped up in September, and in November Flying Kite stopped by the storefront at 4017 Lancaster Avenue -- also our former On the Ground home -- where an exhibition of participating artists' work is on display. (There’s still time to check it out before a free closing reception on Friday, December 11 from 6 - 9 p.m.)

Dave Kyu, a MAP project manager for the initiative, has plenty to say about the ways NTE has affected the future of the formerly vacant storefront.

After the program had been running for a while, he noticed something shift. When they first launched, he recognized everyone coming in the door at open studio hours: an arts crowd familiar with the project and the artists. But about halfway through, he saw new faces. Word about the project had gotten out, and curious members of the community were coming to see for themselves.

PEC owns the building and offers longterm low-income transitional housing above the street-level storefront. The influx of people into the space is opening up some new lines of thinking about the fate of the commercial space.

"They’ve been trying to figure out what to do with this storefront," says Kyu. (He’s seeing the first NTE through, but recently left MAP to pursue a long-simmering book about the communities of our national parks that will be published by Head and the Hand Press.)

For a long time, there was hope of attracting a place for residents to get dinner. There’s not too many sit-down restaurants on that stretch of Lancaster and with the right tenant, the space could become a social and economic anchor for the neighborhood.

But NTE’s success in drawing new crowds in connection with the artist residencies has organizers thinking: Could it have a life as an arts space instead? Already, the Black Quantum Futurism Collective, an NTE cohort, has scheduled a performance there for December 17, which will be a fundraiser for victims of domestic abuse.

Moving forward, Kyu says PEC would like to continue an incarnation of NTE in the area, while MAP also wants to expand. Look out for new cohorts of NTE coming to Taucony and the Southeast by Southeast project, a formerly vacant property at 8th and Snyder Streets offering a full roster of programs for refugees from Bhutan, Burma and Nepal living in South Philly.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Dave Kyu, Neighborhood Time Exchange

Big News: In 2016, PHS will pop-up in Callowhill, celebrating the new Viaduct park

To kick off our On the Ground stay in Callowhill, Flying Kite toured the site of the upcoming Philadelphia Rail Park, one of five "Reimagining the Civic Commons" projects launching this year. Now word is out that the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s (PHS) next pop-up and beer garden will appear somewhere in the neighborhood, connecting with the new energy surrounding the Reading Viaduct.

Julianne Schrader Ortega, chief of programs at PHS, says the exact location is to be determined, but they’re currently looking at a few possibilities with strong connections to the site.

PHS has been running its pop-up program since 2011, when it took over a vacant lot at 20th and Market Streets for a vegetable garden that drew 5,000 visitors during the spring and summer season. Since then, partnering organizations and revenue from the Philadelphia Flower Show have supported the program, with 2015 marking the first year with two locations: one at 15th and South Streets, and a second at 9th and Wharton Streets. 

Last year, those gardens drew about 75,000 visitors with programming as diverse as the Bearded LadiesBitter Homes and Gardens performances, concerts, gardening workshops and yoga.

The 2016 Viaduct pop-up will mark another exciting first for PHS: The project is being funded by a single $360,000 grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage

Those dollars will let PHS “blend in horticulture with art and history, and raise awareness and support for the rail park along the Viaduct, and have people connect with this historic rail line," explains Ortega. The Pew-funded pop-up "really has to be an interpretation of the Reading Viaduct, and it’s a different type of pop-up garden experience."

To that end, PHS will be working with artist Abby Sohn, who will create special installations along the rail line that recall the industrial history and culture of the area. In addition, landscape designer Walter Hood is incorporating the Viaduct’s history into plans for the site, which will be constructed in the spring of next year. Friends of the Rail Park and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania are also important partners.

According to Ortega, PHS's pop-ups "inspire people to rethink what our vacant spaces could be in the city, and bring people together in a beautiful garden."

Follow along for news on where the garden will appear and what programming and design elements to expect.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Julianne Schrader Ortega, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society


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

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

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

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

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

Things began to move quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An extra year of fundraising has Chinatown's Eastern Tower poised for construction

About a year ago, we looked in on Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation’s (PCDC) planned Eastern Tower, a 20-story mixed-use residential/retail/community services building at the northwest corner of 10th and Vine Streets. (Yup, that's in the heart of our next On the Ground neighborhood.) This was just after the organization had nabbed a $3.7 million Pennsylvania Economic Initiative grant, which PCDC Capacity and Projects Manager Sarah Yeung says helped to kick off some excellent financial and community momentum for the development.

"We had initially thought that we wanted to break ground in the beginning of [2015], but we actually spent the bulk of this year strengthening our position financially," explains Yeung. The last several months have brought significant contributions from PECO and Comcast, as major public and private funders took notice of the project’s traction.

After funding from the William Penn Foundation allowed the nonprofit PCDC to set up a regional center for project investors, the foundation gave an additional grant of $700,000 towards outfitting the community center portion of the building, which brought foundation gifts to a total of $900,000 in just the last quarter. The Philadelphia Suns -- who will be the primary users of the Eastern Tower community center -- raised $15,000 at their latest banquet. The CDC also received a $500,000 grant from the Commerce Department late last year.

All in all, the projected budget for the new center now stands at $77 million.

Eastern Tower has been a long time coming. The vision for the massive new Vine Street hub got started in 2004. Fundraising started in earnest in 2011. The complex (from the architects at Studio Agoos Lovera) aims to house the city’s most diverse range of community offerings under one roof: residential units, a daycare center, a community center, a pharmacy, a restaurant, a doctor’s office and more.

"From an outsider’s perspective, it looks like we threw the kitchen sink in, but this is a very strategic project for us," says Yeung of targeting much-needed services in the area. "It’s about equitable development in Chinatown North/Callowhill," a neighborhood with plenty of private development bumping up against ongoing issues of poverty, blight and lack of services for the local immigrant community.

Yeung says final closing on all the project’s financing will be accomplished by next month, and the contract for construction manager Hunter Roberts is ready to go. Funding is at 100 percent and construction should commence early next year.

"We’re as ready as can be," she enthuses. "We can’t be more ready. It’s a really exciting time for us. It’s been a long process and a huge team effort...on a city level, it’s going to be quite a significant project."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah Leung, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation

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


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

An ambitious Block Build helps eight homeowners in a single day

A day-long project to repair and weatherproof eight homes on one block of North Philly’s Eastern North neighborhood might seem simple, but the benefits reach deep and wide.

Rebuilding Together Philadelphia (RTP), the organizer of October 16's Block Build, is one of 150 local independent affiliates of a national program. According to Executive Director Stefanie Seldin, RTP staffers and volunteers -- who have helped to rehabilitate 1,369 homes since the group's 1988 creation by Wharton grad students -- are based out of an office in Frankford but work all over the city.

RTP usually does a few Block Builds per year, often in West Philly.

"We rely on community-based groups to say, ‘This is the block that really could use some TLC,'" says Seldin. "They go and recruit the homeowners for us, too."

The latest build relied on a partnership with Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, a local community development corporation.

About 100 volunteers pitched in for the October 16 event, including a mix of professional trade and corporate volunteers, and students from nearby schools with vocational programs such as A. Philip Randolph Career & Technical High School and Thomas Alva Edison High School and John C. Fariera Skills Center. Workers also included students from Project WOW, an organization that offers construction training to young adults without high school diplomas.

The homeowners were mostly elderly, low-income, longtime residents feeling the squeeze of property values that have doubled since 2010. Repairs included drywall and plaster repair, the installation of new vinyl flooring and front door locksets, cleaning, HVAC maintenance, caulking, painting and window replacement to better insulate homes and reduce energy costs.

Seldin appreciates the chance to lower utility bills for Block Build homeowners, many of whom "have so much counting on their very limited income. Our homeowners are often forced to choose between repairing their homes, medical treatment or food."

According to RTP, older adults make up almost 18 percent of the city’s population -- the largest percentage of older adults in America’s 10 largest cities -- and one in five of these elderly Philadelphians live in poverty. Combine that with the fact that 90 percent of Philly’s homes were built before 1980, and the need for work like this is clear.

In addition to the cosmetic and structural upgrades, RTP works with a dedicated occupational therapist who evaluates the' homes and recommends improvements for health and safety: things like grab bars, proper lighting, level flooring and extensions for light-bulb switches (so homeowners don’t have to climb stools).

But it’s not just about the safety and comfort of individuals. As housing values have risen in the last few years, the percentage of homeowners in Philly has dropped from over 59 percent in 2000 to 51 percent.

RTP's work, especially in the 19122 zip code of North Philly where developers are circling on the outskirts of Temple University, "is helping to stop that decline in homeownership," adds Seldin. "[We help] longterm lower-income homeowners stay in a neighborhood where more and more of those homeowners are forced out."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Stefanie Seldin, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia   

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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