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Save Jewelers Row petition gains quick support in the face of proposed development

What would Jeweler’s Row look like with a brand-new 16-story mixed-use residential tower plopped onto the 700 block of Sansom Street? Philly citizens are grappling with the prospect ever since The Inquirer broke the news about the proposed Toll Brothers development. The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia acted quickly.

To unify the voices who believe that demolishing five properties from 702-710 Sansom Street would be a loss to Philly’s historic urban fabric, the Preservation Alliance launched a Save Jewelers Row! petition, addressed to City of Philadelphia Director of Planning and Development Anne Fadullon.

Less than a week after its launch on August 11, the petition had garnered almost 3,500 signatures and many comments from concerned locals.

"It was a tool available to give the many people out there who find this proposal shocking and upsetting a voice -- to say to City officials and the developer that we, Philadelphians, don’t want this to happen on Jewelers Row," explains Paul Steinke, executive director at the Preservation Alliance.

He says that the targeted buildings on the brick-paved street are typical of the original Jewelers Row built environment: "small-scale buildings of different sizes, shapes and styles," many dating from the mid-19th century.

"Jewelers Row is the oldest diamond district or jewelry district in the U.S., and the second-largest after New York," adds Steinke, calling it "one of the most iconic retail districts in the city."

The petition’s immediate goal is saving the buildings in question, and maybe with a strong enough response from preservationists and area residents, the developer could be persuaded to build on vacant land or a parking lot.

"Gouging out these six buildings will forever alter Jewelers Row and ruin one of our city’s most iconic destinations," the petition reads.

But Steinke also hopes the petition will help bring attention to larger issues, including the neighborhood’s CMX-5 zoning code, which enabled the project in the first place. That zoning -- which is the same zoning as for buildings like the Comcast Center or Liberty Place -- is "too dense for a street like Jewelers Row," he insists.

Another issue is that Jewelers Row is not a designated local historic district. It’s recognized as "contributing to a national historic district," but is not itself protected. The trouble lies with Philly’s Historical Commission, which, according to Steinke, has not designated any new historic districts since 2010.

"I think the interest in [the petition] is really prodigious," he adds. "It sends a strong signal that Philadelphians care about their city’s historic fabric and are concerned about its potential loss at the hands of developers."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Paul Steinke, Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia

PARK(ing) Day 2016 celebrates nine years of pop-up parklets in Philly

For the ninth straight year, an international event celebrating the transformation of public space is coming to Philadelphia. PARK(ing) Day, held worldwide on the third Friday of September, invites individuals and groups to temporarily repurpose a city parking space for relaxation, play and education. The 2016 incarnation is happening citywide on Friday, September 16 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Founded by the San Francisco-based Rebar Group in 2005, PARK(ing) Day came to Philly in 2008. The next year, the local Center for Architecture and Design (CAD) took the event under its umbrella.

"It’s certainly grown," says CAD Associate Director David Bender. In 2015, there were approximately 60 participating teams, up from about 25 in 2008. A wide variety of groups create spaces with themes from local history to stormwater management to neighborhood revitalization. Some simply repurpose what is usually a parking space into a miniature day-long oasis for anyone passing by.

CAD has even instituted a special prize: the Golden Cone Award. The five categories vary by year based on what participants dream up. Last year one of the winners was a parklet created by the North 5th Street Revitalization Project -- it won for being the site furthest from Center City: about 57 blocks north.

"We’ll see if anyone gets even further than that [this] year," says Bender. "What’s great about Philadelphia in particular is that the Parking Authority has really come on board full force, and they encourage us to do this. Philadelphia sees the value in public spaces and we’ve got leadership that can see beyond their narrow mandate."

According to Bender, the major goals for the day are for the public to have fun, ro see the value of public space, and to "begin to question the way that our environment is designed, and if it’s designed in a way that best serves our community today."

PARK(ing) Day Philadelphia is presented by the CAD in partnership with the Philadelphia Parking Authority, AIA Philadelphia, the Community Design Collaborative and the Charter High School for Architecture and Design. To celebrate, there will be food and music at a PARK(ing) Day after-party and awards ceremony from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Center for Architecture and Design (1218 Arch Street).

The deadline to register is Wednesday, August 31. More info and the required forms are available online.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: David Bender, The Center for Architecture and Design
 

TourPHL is an exciting new resource for lovers of the built environment

Before this year, locals and tourists who were interested in the stories of the Philadelphia's built environment had limited options. But thanks to a brainstorm from Center for Architecture and Design Associate Director David Bender, there’s a new resource in town for those who want to go beyond Independence Hall and Elfreth's Alley.

A team of partners -- including the Center for Architecture, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and Hidden City Philadelphia--  have joined forces for a new collaborative resource that pools listings of various tours: TourPHL.org.

"There’s an appetite out there to explore other parts of Philadelphia, but it is less economically viable," explains Hidden City Project Director Peter Woodall, comparing the offerings of an organization like Hidden City against major for-profit tourist draws like Ride the Ducks. "[This is] why you see most of the tours that are outside that Colonial center being run by nonprofits."

TourPHL partners and their offerings represent what Woodall calls areas "that the market doesn’t really service, but are really important and are valuable.”

The project was sparked by Bender in spring 2015. The partners began to bat around ideas about how they could better cooperate -- a website where all the organizations could list their tours was the top idea that emerged.

A few months ago, TourPHL launched. It’s still in its early stages and Woodall has been working to build and maintain it.

He hopes that as the site attracts more traffic, it will gain visibility for locals and tourists who want to "find all of these in-depth tours that go way beyond the Colonial Philadelphia," he says.

Hidden City (coming up on its fifth anniversary this September) is already good at reaching local fans through published stories and social media, "but if you’re just rolling into Philly for a visit, that’s a completely different marketing situation that requires a lot of work," explains Woodall. Now all the information is in one place.

Woodall points to popular Hidden City tours like one of Mt. Moriah Cemetery (which actually spans the Philadelphia city line into Yeadon); one focused on Philly’s industrial history; a bike tour with SPOKE Magazine; and a tour from Center City up into Northern Liberties and Kensington, inviting participants to "understand how you might read certain cues in the urban landscape, and extrapolate from there certain things about how the city developed."

While TourPHL.org grows, folks can follow along on Facebook for information on events like Hidden City’s August 13 Forgotten North Broad Street Tour.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Peter Woodall, Hidden City Philadelphia 

LEED certification meets affordable housing in Fishtown

A new row of homes in Fishtown may represent the future of sustainable development, from both an environmental perspective and a community one. Local developer Postgreen HomesAwesometown (14 units on the 400 block of Thompson Street) is the result of a unique longterm collaboration between the company and the New Kensington CDC.

The project, which features super-insulated walls and roofs, triple pane windows, Energy Star HVAC, green roofs and roof terraces, was certified LEED Platinum in June. The three- and four-bedroom two-bath units boast 1750 to 2100 square feet, with parking for up to two cars. Postgreen Development Manager Brian Ledder says the $420,000 base price aims to be within reach for those making 90 to 110 percent of the median income for the area.

Currently, eight homes are finished and six are still under construction. They’re all sold (four with the help of financing through NKCDC). Philadelphia’s Interface Studio Architects designed the project to achieve the LEED standard; eco-friendly specialist Hybrid Construction is the builder.

According to Ledder, NKCDC held the land, but the site’s history as the former home of Pathan Chemical and a fire after the business was vacated, meant there were challenging environmental issues to resolve. NKCDC wanted to partner with a developer that could handle the remediation (including soil replacement) and that "was interested in being sympathetic to the neighborhood as it was existing...as well as keeping the income levels where they were."

Postgreen launched in 2008, "just after the economy tanked," Ledder recalls, but it turned out to be the right decision: land was cheap, subcontractors needed work and it was a good time to lay groundwork with vendors. The company began by building about three homes per year -- now it’s building 30, with its own construction arm and a sales team.

The next homes available from Postgreen will be the nine-unit Arbor House at the corner of York and Memphis Streets, built to the same green standards as Awesometown. Ledder estimates they’ll be done by early 2017, with sales opening soon.

Postgreen launched the Awesometown development with NKCDC "to prove that you could [achieve LEED certification] at the same time as maintaining affordable units," he concludes. "It didn’t have to be a compromise."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Brian Ledder, Postgreen Homes

Tacony's temporary library builds buzz on Torresdale Avenue

The new South Philadelphia Library is open on Broad Street, but it's only the first of five major renovations planned at libraries across the city. And while work is officially underway on the Tacony Library at Torresdale Avenue and Knorr Street -- it's scheduled to last 18 months -- Tacony isn’t missing a beat in the meantime.
 
"These renovations don’t mean this community should go without a library," explained Sixth District Councilman Bobby Henon at the opening of the Tacony Library and Arts Building (LAB) on June 29. While construction on the new building continues (as part of the Free Library’s Pew-funded Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative), a partnership between the Mural Arts Program (MAP), the Free Library and the Tacony Community Development Corporation has led to this temporary space.
 
Now open at 6918 Torresdale Avenue, LAB occupies a street-level storefront that has been vacant for almost three years. Speakers at the opening included Free Library President and Director Siobhan Reardon and Tacony CDC Director Alex Balloon. They connected the temporary space to the mission of the future library: offering support and resources for small business owners, and spurring the evolution and revitalization of Tacony's commercial corridor.
 
LAB, a "hub for learning, creativity and community engagement," according to the Free Library, will host two MAP artists-in-residence: Nick Cassway (who hopes to develop a solar-powered parklet) and Mariel Capanna (a fresco artist whose residency will focus on the neighborhood’s industrial history). LAB will also play host to public art events, storytime for kids, a computer lab and free WIFI, and a selection of books to borrow.
 
"How we bring art and literature together will be a great experiment at Tacony LAB," said Reardon.

MAP Founder and Executive Director Jane Golden described the space as active and participatory, and hopes that more like it will result from similar partnerships in the future.
 
"It’s an awesome place and something that’s going to be modeled throughout the city of Philadelphia," added Henon.
 
Tacony LAB will open from noon to 8 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays; 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; and Fridays from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Councilman Bobby Henon and other LAB speakers 

Parks on Tap now open through September

We've been watching the progress of an exciting new summer program: Parks on Tap, a mobile beer garden that will pop up in 14 different city parks for one week each through October 2. On June 29, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell and other partners cut the Parks on Tap ribbon just south of the Walnut Street Bridge. Schuylkill Banks was the first stop (through July 4).

"It’s probably going to start here in Philadelphia and then be stolen and replicated across the country," said Ott Lovell of the program, which offers gourmet food, snacks and drinks, family-friendly games and activities, and seating for up to 200 people in chairs and hammocks.

Parks on Tap is a partnership of Parks & Rec, the Fairmount Park Conservancy, and FCM Hospitality (the company behind Philly hot spots Morgan’s Pier and Union Transfer, and the annual Waterfront Winterfest at Penn's Landing).

"When you say you want to serve beer in a public park, the first thing most people say is, 'Hell no,'" said FCM Hospitality owner Avram Hornik of the program’s innovative bent. He pointed to the family-friendly atmosphere of the pop-ups and the chance to connect with neighbors in new ways.

Unlike the suburbs, where green space is usually privately owned, parks in the city "are common space. They belong to all of us," he continued.

Interim Conservancy Executive Director Tim Clair praised Elizabeth Moselle, Conservancy Associate Director of Business Development (who spoke with Flying Kite in March about the Parks on Tap plans) for her work on making the program a reality.

Each Parks on Tap pop-up will have two concession trucks: one with regional craft beers, wine and non-alcoholic drinks, and one serving a menu developed by local chef Mitch Prensky (owner of Scratch Biscuits and Global Dish Caterers). Food on offer includes a wide variety of hot sliders, vegan and vegetarian noodles and salads, and a range of snacks and desserts.

The program will ride throughout the city for the next few months: stops include Aviator Park on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (July 20-25), West Philly’s Clark Park (July 27-31), FDR Park at 1500 Pattison Avenue (September 1-5) and many others. (Check out Parks on Tap online for the full schedule and special events.)

Ott Lovell believes the program will be an effective way of "bringing people out to park spaces that they might not otherwise visit." She hopes Parks on Tap will endure and expand in future summer seasons.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Kathryn Ott Lovell, Fairmount Park Conservancy, and other speakers

New life for vacant lots in Southwest Philadelphia

Reclaiming a vacant lot for the health and enjoyment of a community -- as well as native wildlife -- doesn’t happen overnight, but a partnership between Audubon Pennsylvania and the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge promises to make it happen by the end of this year.
 
As Flying Kite lands in Kingsessing for our summer On the Ground residency, these two organizations are continuing a partnership with landscape architecture students at Philadelphia University focused on underutilized land throughout Southwest Philadelphia
 
Audubon and John Heinz have been collaborating for a long time; the partnership was formalized over the last 18 months.
 
"We’ve been working very closely, starting with the southwest portion of the city because of its proximity to John Heinz Wildlife Refuge," say Audubon Community Stewardship Program Manager Ryhan Grech. "[The Cobb’s Creek watershed] is also one of Audubon’s priorities. Both of us are looking to dive in with community engagement and work on the pocket park notion."

That means extensive community engagement (aided by leadership from groups like Southwest CDC, Empowered CDC and Philadelphia More Beautiful) on which lots to target for improvements and what sort of designs meet local needs.
 
A "secondary motive" for the work, adds Grech, is increasing the amount of quality habitat for the Philly area’s native birds and pollinators.
 
For their spring semester, 11 landscape architecture students from Philadelphia University participated in community meetings and surveys targeting about 30 vacant lots in southwest Philly. They learned that residents want more safe spaces for kids to play and learn, more educational areas, and more opportunities to grow food or participate in community gardens. Stormwater management was also key.
 
In March, the students presented preliminary ideas at an open community meeting, and then applied that feedback to seven designs presented at a second meeting in late April. Following that, an online survey has continued to narrow down the locations and customize the plans. By the end of the summer, they hope to have decided on a single site and distilled one tailored design reflecting community needs.
 
Which space they’ll have a right to revamp is part of the picture, too: With help from the city’s new Land Bank and support from City Councilmembers Kenyatta Johnson and Jannie Blackwell, project partners hope a local CDC will take on a lease for the chosen lot, allowing the transformation to move forward.
 
This is not just another semester-long student survey project with no action, Grech insists -- with their proximity to Philly’s major educational institutions, Southwest Philly residents have had enough surveys.
 
"In the fall, Heinz and Audubon are bringing the resources to the table to implement," she says. "We’ll start working with contractors at that point."
 
"Our intention is not to stop with one site," she adds. "We intend to keep going."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ryhan Grech, Audubon Pennsylvania

 
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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The K&T Trail is officially underway on the Delaware

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Viaduct Rail Park will be open through September 30.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Leigh Ann Campbell, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society 

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


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

UArts brings a Philadelphia EcoDistrict Oasis to Spring Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Ground: Strawberry Mansion defines its boundaries

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Habitat for Humanity's Rock the Block comes to Pottstown


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

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

The organization has already built nine homes in Pottstown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gentrification was another major theme of the conversation.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Camden tax credits spur ambitious renovation of the Ruby Match Factory


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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