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Philadelphia to get its very own e-waste recycling center

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, used and unwanted electronics are by far the fastest growing segment of solid waste in the United States. In fact, e-waste, as it's known, has become such a serious issue domestically that President Barack Obama recently created a task force that will be charged with combating the growing problem, which generally begins when electronics end up in landfills, or in developing nations that lack the capacity to dispose of them safely.

And yet in the Greater Philadelphia region, at least, the e-waste situation is about to become a little less dire. That's because the Minnesota-based Materials Processing Company is currently in the midst of constructing an e-waste recycling center on approximately 110,000 square feet of land near the Northeast Airport.

Unfortunately, the facility won't be structured to regularly accept donations from individuals, although according to Alan Yousha, VP of Business Development and Marketing for MPC, residents certainly won't be turned away if they show up with old computer monitors or cell phones.

"It's not so much a residential drop-off site as it is a location that residential drop-off sites will bring material to," explains Yousha, who also claims that Mayor Nutter's Greenworks initiative was a major determining factor in MPC's decision to locate its facility in Philadelphia, as opposed to, say, South Jersey or Central Pennsylvania. "It's clear that they actually want to make this (Greenworks Initiative) happen," Yousha adds. "So that makes it a little easier to function."

MPC, which is an ISO certified company as well as a 100-percent zero landfill company, plans to have its local facility up and running by mid-February at the latest.

Source: Alan Yousha, Materials Processing Company
Writer: Dan Eldridge

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Just how filthy is Philly? Soil Kitchen will help us find out

As a former manufacturing hub so productive that it was once referred to as the "Workshop of the World," it shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that some areas of modern-day Philadelphia are unfortunately rich in brownfield sites, those former industrial areas that are oftentimes contaminated by hazardous wastes. In an effort to illuminate the issue, a temporary public art project--Soil Kitchen--will be installed atop a brownfield site in Northern Liberties during the first week of April, where it will remain for roughly one week. The installation is being scheduled to coincide with the EPA's National Brownfields Conference, which is being held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center from April 3-5.

Commissioned by the city's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, the Soil Kitchen installation, as its name suggests, will actually operate as a working kitchen, serving locally-sourced soup. What's more, soil samples from area neighborhoods will be the only accepted form of currency. The public will be invited to trade their soil for soup, according to the OACCE's Gary Steuer, after which the samples will be tested by soil contamination experts, and the results posted on a map of the city. "It's a really interesting, multi-layered project that involves an educational component," says Steuer.

There's no telling, of course, just how much soil contamination will actually be discovered during the project's brief run, although Steuer hopes that Soil Kitchen's efforts will continue to facilitate conversations about Philadelphia brownfields, even after it closes up shop. "The fact that our soil may be contaminated is something we really need to be thinking about," he says. "I also hope that (Soil Kitchen) will help people understand that art can be a vehicle through which we better understand these issues."

Source: Gary Steuer, Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy
Writer: Dan Eldridge

Donít believe the (negative) hype--good news is brewing at the Navy Yard

While it's true that the financial travails of the Tasty Baking Company have been hogging the local financial headlines this past week, there's also a fair bit of good news brewing at the Navy Yard in South Philly. During the first week of January, the Liberty Property Trust development company along with Synterra Partners, a small minority-owned landscaping firm, broke ground on two new flex buildings located just north of the two-year-old Tasty Baking factory. And there's a good chance that a third flex building will eventually be added to the mix. Together, the new buildings and the factory will comprise a 40 acre mini-campus known as the Navy Yard Commerce Center.

The project signifies not only good things for the Navy Yard's commercial real estate situation, but also a financial sea change for Liberty, which hadn't broken ground on a previous project since May 2009. And as for whether or not the two new flex buildings will prove to be successful enterprises, that's practically a given, according to Brian Cohen, Liberty Property Trust's VP of Development & Leasing. "Demand has been extremely robust, especially since the ground-breaking," he says. "And we're very hopeful that we'll be able to make more lease announcements in the coming months."

Potentially interested companies will certainly want to act soon, however, as a whopping 21 percent of the space has already been leased by The Fretz Corp., a wholesaler of high-end kitchen appliances that plans to use part of their new space for manufacturing.

"This is what we hope is the start of the flex product within the city of Philadelphia," says Cohen. "We hope it'll help attract and retain those growing companies that otherwise--for lab space or light manufacturing or assembly--needed to go to the suburbs to find the right type of real estate."

Source: Brian Cohen, Liberty Property Trust
Writer: Dan Eldridge

Postgreen Homes comes to South Philly with its most ambitious project yet

It's hardly a stretch to refer to Philadelphia's Postgreen Homes as one of the most eco-conscious developers in the city, not to mention the most design-literate. After all, this is the group that executed the legendary 100k House in Fishtown, which in 2010 won the LEED for Homes Award from the U.S. Green Building Council.

And although the Postgreen group is now working on two equally impressive minimalist home projects--the Two point Five beta house in East Kensington and the incredibly cool Avant Garage rowhomes in Fishtown--the company is also prepping the details for what may very well be its largest and most ambitious development yet. Currently being referred to as the reNewbold project, it'll feature not only 16 rowhomes and two condos near the intersection of 16th and Moore--that's in the Newbold neighborhood, naturally--but also a corner retail space.

"Of all of South Philly, (Newbold was) one of the areas we were most interested in," says Postgreen's Nic Darling. "It's adjacent to a pretty vibrant and growing neighborhood in the Passyunk Square area, and at the same time, it still has the price point we want to get our stuff in at."

As of now, reNewbold is still a speculative project, and as Darling says, groundbreaking may not happen until early summer due to zoning and permitting issues. In the meantime, potentially interested rowhome and condo buyers can follow reNewbold's progress on the company's website and its 100k House Blog.

Not so interested in South Philly development? Not a problem. Postgreen's next project in the development pipeline is the much-ballyhooed, 14-house Awesome Town, which will be breaking ground this April or May along Fishtown's Moyer Street.

Source: Nic Darling, Postgreen Homes
Writer: Dan Eldridge

For coffee geeks, a brand-new option in South Philly

For quite some time now, hardcore coffee lovers living in certain reaches of South Philly have had to suffer the indignity of traveling slightly outside the neighborhood--to Bodhi Coffee, for instance, or to Ultimo Coffee or Spruce Street Espresso--to score a high-quality, fair trade Americano. But that all changed about three weeks ago, when Shot Tower Coffee opened for business inside a beautifully refurbished space near the corner of South 6th and Christian streets.

The shop's two owners, Mariel Freeman and Matthew Derago, met while working at Rojo's Roastery, a small batch artisan coffee roaster located in Lambertville, N.J. "And after working there, we kind of had an idea about what we wanted in a cafe," says Derago, a trained biologist who previously co-owned the South Street-area sneaker and street-wear shop Afficial.

Without a doubt, Shot Tower is a coffee obsessive's paradise. (Portland's Stumptown Coffee Roasters, for instance, is currently its main supplier.) And as Freeman is quick to point out, the ethical considerations that go into the shop's purchasing decisions extended to its architecture, as well. "Everything is recycled and reused," she says. "Everything."

Which is pretty much true: The backsplash tiles came from a 1920s Trenton subway station. The white pine holding up the front counter is recycled barn wood from Lancaster. And the table frames were snatched up from the old Tastykake factory.

"Our coffee is mostly certified direct trade," says Freeman, when asked to describe what makes her cafe special. "It's all about encouraging sustainability and transparency, on every step of the path that coffee makes, from seed to cup."

Source: Mariel Freeman and Matthew Derago, Shot Tower Coffee
Writer: Dan Eldridge

Photo Courtesy of Drew Lazor

Better access to fresh produce coming to Walnut Hill thanks to USDA grant

The Enterprise Center's community development corporation has long played an important role in the lives of the 8,634 residents who live in the West Philly neighborhood it serves, Walnut Hill. And thanks to a recently awarded grant from the U.S Department of Agriculture's Farmers Market Promotion Program, it will soon be doing even more important work in the neighborhood--namely, promoting the regular consumption of fruits and veggies in a part of town where fresh produce isn't always easy to come by.

The $89,613 grant will allow the CDC to complete the construction of a quarter-acre community farm that sits between Market and Ludlow streets in Walnut Hill. It will also allow the group to build its own farm stand on the site, where the youth growers involved with the program can sell their produce--everything from kale, broccoli and Swiss chard to spinach, eggplant and collard greens--to the community. (Last season, the group sold its produce primarily at the Clark Park Farmers' Market.)

The money will also be used to start a CSA (community supported agriculture) program this spring in Walnut Hill, which will allow local residents to buy seasonal produce directly from the youth farmers by buying into a membership or "subscription" program. And it'll even allow the CDC to provide EBT access, allowing locals to buy the produce with their food stamp cards.

"We're a lot better off here than a lot of neighborhoods," says Managing Director Greg Heller, referring to Walnut Hill's proximity to supermarkets and green grocers. "But a lot of people do still rely on corner stores and bodegas, so we see a pretty big need for this project. We think the impact locally is going to be pretty huge."

Source: Greg Heller, The Enterprise Center CDC
Writer: Dan Eldridge

Photographs courtesy of: The Enterprise Center CDC

Water Departmentís new solar power plant is a first for Philly

When it was announced in 2008 that Philadelphia would be selected as one of the country's 25 Solar America Cities, the mission was relatively straightforward. It involved the city and the U.S. Department of Energy working together in an effort to "rapidly increase the use and integration of solar energy," according to the program's website.

Last month, the city took a major step towards that goal when it broke ground on its very first municipal-owned solar power plant, a project that was the result of an $850,000 grant from the Department of Energy. The solar photovoltaic system is currently under construction at the Philadelphia Water Department's Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant, where it will be ground-mounted on a little more than an acre of formerly unused land. Its construction is expected to be complete sometime this spring.

According to Paul Kohl, the Philadelphia Water Department's Energy Champion, the plant will produce roughly 300,000 kilowatt hours of energy each year, which is enough to power somewhere between 28 and 30 homes in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

And what of the relatively small size of the plant?

"To give a very pedestrian answer," says Kohl, "the amount of money that we were willing to spend--and that the Mayor's Office of Sustainability was willing to give us--was about the size of the site."

According to Kohl, the city does plan to continue moving forward with the installation of other solar plants at sites much larger than that of the Water Department's. Those installations, however, will be operated through what's known as a Solar Power Purchase Agreement (SPPA) model, in which a developer would design, build and run a solar plant, and the city would then promise to purchase the plant's energy for a specified length of time, usually somewhere between 15 and 20 years.

Source: Paul Kohl, Philadelphia Water Department
Writer: Dan Eldridge

Eat @Joe's: New sustainable cafe opens to the public at UPenn

When the University of Pennsylvania launched its ambitious Climate Action Plan in September 2009, President Amy Gutmann spelled out the program's basic goals: First, reduce the university's carbon footprint. And second, enhance the school's overall environmental sustainability. Last month, a new retail cafe opened for business inside Penn's Wharton School that seems perfectly poised to attack both of those enterprising goals head-on.

Known as Joe's Cafe--it's named after Joseph Wharton, of course, the business school's founder--and located on the ground floor of Steinberg-Dietrich Hall, the ultra-green cafe is truly nothing less than a gleaming environmental-sustainability showpiece.

For starters, Joe's plans to either recycle or compost 50 percent of its waste, including food scraps, utensils and fryer oil. (Food waste goes to the Wilmington Organic Recycling Facility.) And what's more, the food and drink served at Joe's will be environmentally-gentle: The meat and dairy will be both hormone- and antibiotic-free. The beef will be vegetarian-fed. Even the fish will be sourced according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guidelines. And thanks to the efforts of the sustainable food services company Bon Appetit, the remainder of the food at Joe's will be produced seasonally, and sourced within 150 miles of the school. Caffeine addicts will no doubt be pleased to learn that the Souderton, Bucks County-based One Village Coffee, a certified B Corporated, has created a special "Wharton Blend" for the cafe.

According to Laurie Cousart, the Sustainability Coordinator for Business Services at Penn, there will even be an ongoing educational program based on sustainable food practices taking place at the cafe. "It really engages students with other students about teaching sustainable behavior," Cousart says, "so we think [Joe's Cafe] will be a great forum for meetings and events."

Perhaps most telling of all, however, are the overwhelmingly positive reactions the new cafe has received from students, faculty and cafe employees alike. "The first day it was open," Cousart says, "people walked in and basically stood at the front door and said, 'Wow!' That was the most common reaction. It's just a beautiful space, filled with light."

Joe's Cafe is open Mondays through Fridays, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Source: Laurie Cousart, University of Pennsylvania
Writer: Dan Eldridge

YouthBuild Philly students to transform a Germantown eyesore

Even in a down economy, workers with solid construction skills can generally find decent paying jobs. And if those workers have been trained in environmentally-sustainable green building techniques, they're even more employable still. That's the general idea, at any rate, behind the YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School in North Philly, where for the past 17 years, high school dropouts and at-risk youth have been earning diplomas and picking up valuable green construction skills while building affordable homes in their communities.

YouthBuild Philadelphia's current project kicked off recently at 4620 Greene Street in Germantown, where a dilapidated and crumbling house that has sat vacant for the past two decades will soon be rehabbed by a rotating group of 40 YouthBuild students. After completion of the project, which will be energy efficient and supplied with sustainable appliances, the group plans to apply for LEED Gold or Silver Certification for the house.

Germantown residents can thank Philadelphia Neighborhood Housing Services, a local community development corporation, for the environmentally conscious changes taking place on Greene Street. "I live in the area, and that's how I first became aware of (the house)," says PNHS Executive Director Bernard Hawkins. "The property was in abandoned condition, and it looked to me like it might be a potential site for a renovation project, so we began the process of acquiring the title to the property. That was several years ago now."

And yet if all goes according to plan, Germantown will soon have bragging rights to what will almost certainly be one of the greenest and most sustainable rehabbed homes in the city. The construction efforts, which will cost roughly $210,000, according to Hawkins, are expected to take just under a year to finish. And once the two-unit duplex is in livable condition, PNHS will "sell it to a qualified, low-income, first-time home buyer," says Hawkins. "And they'll even have the option of renting out the second unit."

Thanks to a combination of government subsidies and private funding, the house, which will eventually be listed on the MLS, will be sold for roughly $77,000. 

Source: Bernard Hawkins, Philadelphia Neighborhood Housing Services
Writer: Dan Eldridge

Preservation Alliance releases endangered properties list

Being a perennial favorite on an annual top 10 list is usually a point of pride. But for the Divine Lorraine, the historic hotel at 699 N. Broad Street, the distinction of being atop the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia's Endangered Properties List is nothing to cheer about--yet. With several development projects beginning and then falling through, this historic hotel is in danger of becoming extinct along with nine others on the Preservation Alliance's eighth annual list. Still, while the list may look like a rebuke of Philadelphia developers, the Preservation Alliance looks at the list as a shining example of the historic assets our city holds and the potential for amazing future projects.

"There are examples in the tony Old City and in more impoverished areas," says PAGP Director of Advocacy Ben Leech. "But what ties them all together is that they all are or could be important neighborhood landmarks."

With three new additions to the list, the Preservation Alliance decided to focus this year on buildings like the Divine Lorraine, featuring seven properties that have appeared in the past but still remain underdeveloped. Luckily, most of the buildings that have been featured have since been developed and the Preservation Alliance is working with developers to continue that trend.

"The spirit of the list tries to balance between the optimistic view that these are our future landmarks, our future neighborhood assets," says Leech, "and the view that there is no reason for these structures to be in the condition they are in. We are so used to seeing them in the condition they are in that it blinds us to the critical risks facing them if they remain in this state. Let's celebrate what we have and also let's do something to make sure they remain."

Others on the list are: Dilworth House, Germantown Town Hall, Henry Pierce House, Burk Mansion, Provident Mutual, Lynewood Hall, Laverock Hill Estate, Cruiser Olympia, and 109 Elfreth's Alley.

Source: Ben Leech, Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia
Writer: John Steele

Energy Works helps local home and business owners understand energy efficiency

In November, Mayor Michael Nutter and members of the Metropolitan Caucus representing Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties launched a new initiative to help business and home owners save energy. EnergyWorks is an informational program and website that helps explain energy rebate programs, tax incentives and home energy audits. One month this 5-county program, it has received hundreds of requests for information. As the program refines its message, EnergyWorks officials hope to create educational programs, outreach efforts and online campaigns  to bring new building management solutions and development projects to the region.

"We realized we had to make this a one-stop shop like when you take your car to a mechanic and he fixes the tire and the brake pad and the axle so the whole system runs right," says Philadelphia Deputy Chief of Staff for Economic Development Andy Rachlin. "Building management is very complicated and oftentimes people won't know what is wrong. They know that they are cold in the winter, hot in the summer and their energy bills are sky high. So we help them improve energy usage from start to finish."

The process begins with a complete energy assessment to determine the energy leaks where simple solutions like insulation may do the trick. Program instructors also recommend switching to energy efficient light bulbs and setting thermostat timers. If you own a business and you want to go bigger, EnergyWorks can help you find rebates for everything from energy efficient appliances to six- and seven-figure loan financing for construction projects designed to expand your business in a sustainable way. But the most important thing, says Rachlin, is that people understand the importance of energy.

"At a local level, these things help lower people's bills and make them more comfortable," says Rachlin. "But this is more than just a local issue. Climate change is something that won't be affected without everyone working together."

Source: Andy Rachlin, EnergyWorks
Writer: John Steele

West Chester University receives $4.7M to add geothermal across campus

In 2006, West Chester University was gearing up for a major renovation of campus residence halls. But when the conversation came to a new heating and cooling system, it seemed foolish to only replace the central steam system in residence hall buildings without looking at the rest of campus. Replacing a historic campus' entire heating and cooling system would not be easy. But last week, West Chester announced a new grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for $4.7 million that will get the ball rolling on making it Greater Philadelphia's first completely geothermal campus.

"Our renovation plan gave us the opportunity to ask the question 'what is the most efficient way to heat and cool our buildings,'" says WCU Executive Director of Facilities Management Greg Cuprak. "We realized that, over a 10 year period of time, we had planned to renovate over 65 percent of our campus so we had to take it all the way."

Never one to miss a teachable moment, West Chester's Geology Department will be doing experiments as the digging of geothermal wells begins this spring. Students will be researching the differences between the WCU geoexchange system and other types of energy systems to ensure the campus is as efficient as it can be going forward.

"We expect to see a reduction in heating costs by 40 percent and a reduction in cooling by 20 percent," says Cuprak. "Before we started this thing, we were spending $2.6 million heating our campus and around $600,000 a year cooling our campus. So while this is not a short-term process but many years from now, when the last building is no longer being heated with fossil fuels, that is the type of savings you can expect."

Source: Greg Cuprak, West Chester University
Writer: John Steele

Art Museum's underground expansion gets underway

Architect Frank Gehry is known for his shiny, curvaceous designs like the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. His latest project is decidedly less glamorous but still adds his name to a piece of architectural history. Gehry is working with the Philadelphia Museum of Art to add an underground wing complete with loading dock and art handling facility. After hiring Gehry in 2006, the Museum has secured his services for a 10-year master plan, which will add underground gallery spaces for the museum's Contemporary American Art and Asian art sections, as well as rotating exhibitions. The project will add 80,000 sq. ft. of space to the historic Philadelphia landmark.

"Some may see this first phase of the project as simply practical, yet it is a critical component to the entire design, which really will transform the museum," says Museum President and COO Gail Harrity.

For architecture buffs, the more important feature of Gehry's design may not come from where he is building but where he is not. The new loading dock and art handling area will return the old loading zone--a vaulted walkway that runs through the length of the museum and has been used for shipping and receiving since the 1970s--to its original purpose as a street-level visitor entrance, adding yet another touchstone to Philadelphia's most famous architectural landmark.

"By creating a new art handling facility, we are not only bringing our museum up to state-of-the-art, best-practice standards, we also free up this historic space that will be reopened and restored as another entrance to the museum," says Harrity.

Source: Gail Harrity, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Writer: John Steele

PHA cuts the ribbon on $31 million in stimulus-funded housing around the city

When the Obama administration announced the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act two years ago, Philadelphia Housing Authority General Manager of Community Development and Design Michael Johns set to work getting applications in for as many projects as he could. From fixing blight in Mill Creek to the construction of the Mantua Square development in West Philadelphia, many of PHA's wishes have since been answered. This week, PHA cut the ribbon on 340 rehabbed housing units scattered across the city. The development is PHA's largest stimulus-funded project to date and provides homes for people once living in shelters or on the street.

"PHA has over 1000 vacant properties so in terms of that inventory, this is a significant step forward in addressing our scattered sites portfolio," says Johns. "In addition to that, this project makes a statement to the city and to the communities that we are in that we are committed to addressing their concerns about public housing."

Not only were the homes substantially rehabbed, 71 of the homes were made handicap-accessible, complete with ramped entrances and chair-lifts, allowing handicapped residents the opportunity to live on their own. In accordance with the Stimulus funding they received, PHA brought all homes to greater energy efficiency through sustainable improvements including improved insulation, energy efficient air and water heaters, doors, windows and Energy Star appliances and fixtures.

"In these older homes, energy is always a concern and we were ready to meet the energy criteria outlined in the stimulus funding," says Johns. "We worked with caulking, insulation, and weather stripping to seal those leaks and reduce the amount of energy lost in these new units."

Source: Michael Johns, Philadelphia Housing Authority
Writer: John Steele

Penn Praxis takes its Green 2015 plan to the people

When the planners of Penn Praxis designed the Civic Vision for the Central Delaware, they envisioned a bustling commercial waterfront loaded with restaurants, shopping, and, above all, green space. As development plans have begun, projects like the Race Street Pier and Pier 53 have brought parks to areas previously disconnected from green space, raising property values and public health in the process. Penn Praxis returns this week with its latest plan, Green 2015, an action plan designed to add 500 acres of open space to Philadelphia by 2015.

Green 2015 is a response to the Greenworks Sustainability Plan, issued by the Nutter Administration, to add 500 acres to the equity of the city, giving special focus to those areas without proper park access. Penn Praxis unveils this plan at the today's Urban Sustainability Forum at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

"In the report, we try to address people who might ask why we would invest in something like this during such tough economic times," says Penn Praxis Executive Director Harris Steinberg. "How do we serve those areas who are underserved? By adding those economic as well as social, environmental and public health benefits of green space."

Even with these considerations, cost is a concern. So the plan focuses first on using city-owned land to reduce acquisition costs, focusing on school yards, rec centers and vacant lands in under-greened neighborhoods, giving planners more than 1,000 acres to work with. The plan also examines storm water management goals set forth by the EPA, adding funding to these initiatives. Mayor Nutter and Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis will be on hand Tuesday to mark the official start of this action plan.

"There is a lot of collaboration across many different agencies, which I think bodes very well," says Steinberg. "It is always hard during tough economic times because you have to strike a balance between existing resources and getting the most out of your work but we expect a positive response overall."

Source: Harris Steinberg, Penn Praxis
Writer: John Steele
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