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Norris Square Civic Association fights misconceptions with action

The renovation at 178 West Huntingdon Avenue in Kensington is a compelling story: A large former manufacturing plant in a neighborhood that’s seen better days, transformed into high-end apartments for the upwardly mobile.

But, while our recent story on the ambitious development project described the site as lacking a civic asssociation, Candace McKinley and the folks at the Norris Square Civic Association (NSCA) respectfully disagree. The property at West Huntingdon actually falls under NSCA’s jurisdiction, and McKinley says they are quite active in the community and have been for some time. In fact, they are currently undertaking their largest project to date: developing a community-centric complex near the neighborhood's namesake park.
"Norris Square Civic Association has been active in the greater Norris Square community for over 30 years," says McKinley. "We started as a grass roots organization that brought together a group of neighborhood mothers who wanted to work to make their community safe for their children."
Through their early efforts, they were able to reclaim Norris Square Park, once known as "Needle Park," as a safe space for their kids to play.
Since 1994, NSCA has developed 147 units of affordable housing for both rent and sale while also rehabbing vacant homes. NSCA is currently building and rehabilitating another 30 single-family homes throughout the neighborhood.
Now they are tackling the massive rehabilitation and renovation of the former St. Boniface Catholic Church complex adjacent to Norris Square Park. Currently under construction, the project is set to include a school, office space, off-street parking, green space and seven units of mixed-income housing.
A brand new community center is also in the works for the site. Once complete, the center will feature sports facilities, a culinary incubator for local residents, vocational training classes, and arts and workshop training.
"The [community center] project is the result of a $5 million grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development for the structure’s rehabilitation," says McKinley. NSCA is now fundraising in order to outfit the space with the necessary equipment.
The ribbon cutting ceremony for the St. Boniface Project will take place on June 15, during the annual Norris Square neighborhood festival in Norris Square Park.
So yes, this part of Kensington might be a far cry from buzz-generating Northern Liberties and Fishtown, but there is good work being done. “Norris Square and the surrounding community are so much more than ‘the badlands,'" says McKinley. "It is a community of neighbors who are organizing their blocks and working to make their community safer."

Source:  Candace McKinley, Norris Square Civic Association
WriterGreg Meckstroth
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