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Ambitious Pearl Street renovation planned in Chinatown North

In 2008, after two years of transition and multiple moves to make way for the Convention Center expansion, the Asian Arts Initiative moved into their current home at 1219 Vine Street. Now, nearly five years later, AAI is still looking for ways to make their presence known in "Chinatown North" (an area also referred to as the Loft District, Callowhill or Eraserhood).
AAI’s recent attempts to solidify the neighborhood's identity are rather ambitious -- the community-based arts center is aiming to revitalize four blocks of Pearl Street, an alleyway that runs from Broad to 10th just north of Vine Street. The goal is to turn the street into a public space, outdoor gallery and gathering spot, bringing together the area's diverse communities.
Currently in the early planning stages, the Pearl Street project has been on AAI's radar for a number of years. "Since we moved into this space we’ve been staring at Pearl Street outside our windows," says AAI Executive Director Gayle Isa. "The alleyway is a place you don't want to be right now. It has a reputation as dark and dangerous."
Until recently, the project was little more than an idea. "We were actually approached by a funder who was interested in partnering with us on one of our pet projects," says Isa. "We pitched the Pearl Street renovation and they were on board."
AAI is hiring Oakland-based landscape architect and artist Walter Hood -- he was in town recently collecting feedback from stakeholders along the alley. Hood will be back in Philadelphia this summer to conduct further research. Final designs are expected in the fall.
That group of stakeholders is exceptionally diverse: there's the homeless shelter Sunday Breakfast Mission, folks from the Philly Streets and Planning Departments, the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (the group behind the upcoming Eastern Tower Community Center) and Post Brothers, the developers behind upcoming luxury condos along the alleyway.

"The constituents really reflect the diversity of the neighborhood," says Isa. "The alleyway is a chance to tie them together.... Everyone we've met with has had an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm. There is a lot more openness to working together than I would have expected."
Few details have been worked out, but the overall vision involves improved public space, public art, lighting improvements and multi-sensory programmed activities meant to enliven the street. Green features will also be included, with the hope of eventually connecting Pearl Street to the long-envisioned Reading Viaduct project.
Source: Gayle Isa, Executive Director, Asian Arts Initiative
WriterGreg Meckstroth
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