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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

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
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