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Flying Kite Launches 'On the Ground' Neighborhood Engagement Program in West Philly

When Flying Kite celebrated its first birthday party last November at the former Beyond the Wall store on South Street, we were surprised by how many people were curious about what we were up to. As we frantically went about cleaning and decorating the long-vacant space, tourists and locals alike asked if we were re-opening the store.

We did – for one night at least. While the party was a great success, we left wondering what would happen at 415 South Street after the music stopped. Turns out there has been renewed interest in the space. This past winter, Arts on South coordinated an awesome window display there called "Everyone Has Their Own Arrow," a collaboration from Fleisher Memorial, Yis Goodwin and Joe Boruchow that closed in late March.

The space is alive again, and while we wouldn’t dare take even a sliver of credit for that, we recognize the power of breathing life into a space – whether it be a storefront or an entire neighborhood.

That is largely the idea behind On the Ground, a pilot program that will embed Flying Kite in four neighborhoods a year. This ongoing initiative will have us take up office space in a vacant or underutilized storefront or building for a period of 90 days, taking a deep dive into a changing neighborhood and uncovering the people, places and businesses that are transforming it and moving it forward. In addition to our regular, region-wide coverage, Flying Kite will provide weekly On the Ground coverage from its temporary digs, engaging with the community through compelling narratives and events.

After three months, it’s on to the next neighborhood. Think of it as editorial barnstorming.

We are especially excited about this because we have been planning this since late last year and have assembled an awesome lineup of neighborhoods. We launch On the Ground today in the Mantua section of West Philadelphia at 4017 Lancaster Ave. The storefront is part of Fattah Homes, a mixed-use development named for local US Congressman Chakah Fattah. The building, completed in 2010, features 1,650 square feet of first-floor space ideal for retail or restaurant. It is LEED Silver-certified and has an ADA accessible storefront. It is currently being considered as a restaurant, but plans are not yet firm. 

"If it is turned into high end commercial use, whether it be retail or restaurant, it could be real catalyst," says James Wright, the commercial corridor manager for People’s Emergency Center (PEC), which is hosting Flying Kite’s entry to the neighborhood.

"It’s the first new construction on that section of the avenue in a long time. It has a modern storefront and can help draw a lot of new shoppers to the area, and achieve the ultimate goal of increasing foot traffic."

The development’s other goal is to provide dignified, appropriate housing for chronically homeless families with special needs. Most people know PEC as a leader in combating family homelessness in West Philadelphia and beyond. Under the leadership of new president Farah Jimenez and vice president of community and economic development Kira Strong, PEC is making a huge impact on the neighborhoods it serves (also includes Belmont, Mill Creek, Saunders Park, and West Powelton) through its Community Development Corporation. Fattah Homes also includes living units around the corner at 612-14 N. 40th Street.

During our time at 4017 Lancaster we will use Flying Kite, social media and events to engage with and report on transformation in Mantua and surrounding West Philadelphia communities. The hope is to connect with locals, but also introduce non-locals to a neighborhood they might not otherwise have a reason to visit. 
The hope is that On the Ground eventually touches each and every neighborhood in the city. In a place like Philadelphia, that could take awhile.

We’ve got the time, if you’ve got the space. All we need are four walls and an internet connection.

JOE PETRUCCI is managing editor of Flying Kite. Send feedback here.

Interested in bringing On the Ground to your neighborhood? Please contact Flying Kite publisher Michelle Freeman.

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