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The sushi burrito comes to University City and beyond

One of Philly’s freshest restaurants is on the cusp of a major expansion, and hopes to use our city as a launching pad to spread nationwide.

Hai Street Kitchen and Co., a unique Japanese-inspired food spot, opened its first eatery at 18th and Chestnut Streets in May. Now company spokesperson Patrick Hughes confirms that another Hai Street location will open in University City before the end of this year.

Hai Street Kitchen is under the umbrella of Genji, an international company based in Center City Philadelphia -- anyone who’s ever picked up sushi at a Whole Foods location on the east coast has already tasted Genji's products.

The restaurant, meanwhile, offers quick sushi-style flavor wrapped up in a new way. According to Hughes, as popular as sushi is among its devotees, only 15 percent of Americans eat it.

"We want to expand to that other 85 percent of America, and came up with the sushi burrito," he explains.

What’s the typical American response to sushi, Hughes asks? It’s cold, it’s small, it’s not filling, it’s only for people who know how to wield chopsticks, and "what’s this green thing in the corner?"

Hai Street diners can order their own sushi-style burritos in a nori wrap (or they can select a rice or salad bowl) with basics such as shrimp tempura, tataki salmon, chili citrus pork and more. They can choose dressings from spicy peanut sauce to black pepper teriyaki, and add a wide variety of toppings, including grilled zucchini, pickled jicama, carrots or cucumbers, wasabi guacamole, and fried garlic or shallots.

"Basically, everything is made right in front of you," says Hughes. And it's meant to appeal to everyone, from health-conscious city lunch-breakers to guys looking for something to "scarf down instead of a cheesesteak."

As with Genji’s Whole Foods-approved sushi, Hai Street focuses on organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, sustainably raised and harvested proteins and veggies, sourced locally in the tri-state area whenever possible (that means a menu that adjusts with the seasons).

They’re also expanding their green mission with the restaurant’s new delivery system, launched last month, serving "Vine to Pine, river to river" Monday through Friday, using bike-centric One Hour Messengers.

The company has grand aspirations -- in addition to their second restaurant later this year, Hai Street aims to open eight more in 2015, including locations in South Jersey, King of Prussia and the Main Line, with more planned for 2016.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Patrick Hughes, Hai Street Kitchen & Co.

 

Is The Boyd Theatre finally ready for its close-up?

Following a months-long negotiation process with the city's Historical Commission and various preservation groups, Center City's Boyd Theatre might finally be ready to come alive again.  

Roughly two years ago, Florida-headquartered iPic-Gold Class Entertainment first showed interest in developing one of its high-end movie theaters at The Boyd, which opened in late-1928 as a silent film theatre (it closed for good in 2002). And while, in 2008, local preservationists managed to have the Boyd added to the Historical Commission's list of "protected assets," iPic has made a controversial choice: It asked for the Commission's blessing to completely gut the Boyd's auditorium, claiming the project wouldn't otherwise make financial sense. (The building's façade, its marquee and entranceway would all be restored under iPic's plan.) 

"The plan to totally restore [the Boyd] into its original state inside -- to make it either a one-screen movie theatre or a Broadway-type theatre -- those plans are all $30 to $50 million," says Kirk Dorn of Ceisler Media, which manages iPic's PR. "And you couldn't get the revenue from the theatre to produce that ."
 
On February 14, iPic will present its development plan -- two stories consisting of eight small theaters with reserved stadium seating, in-theatre dining and in-theatre waitstaff -- to the city's full commission. An onsite restaurant is also in the picture, and assuming iPic receives a "yes" vote on Valentine's Day, "We're hoping to open sometime in 2015," says iPic general counsel Paul Safron. 

"We're still willing to work with the preservation community," adds Safron. "We're happy to incorporate some of the design concepts and elements if we can."

Update: On February 12, we were informed by Kirk Dorn that the Philadelphia Historical Commission has postponed iPic's full commission hearing for one month; it's now scheduled for March 14. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Kirk Dorn, Ceisler Media and Paul Safron, iPic Entertainment 


Design and Conquer: Benjamin’s Desk taps YAF for expansion ideas

Benjamin’s Desk, one of Philly’s premier coworking spaces, is expanding their Center City digs. This past weekend, in lieu of simply hiring a consultant to do the work, they tapped local talent from the Young Architects Forum (YAF) to generate ideas for the new space.
 
"It’s important for us to involve not only our current members, but also the local community to collaborate on our plans for expansion," explains Benjamin’s Desk co-founder Michael Maher in a press release.
 
When Benjamin’s Desk approached YAF—a program from the American Institute of Architects—to lead a design charrette for the new space, the organization jumped at the chance. "We saw it as a great chance for YAF designers to solve a real world problem and actually pitch their ideas to a client," explains YAF's Jeffrey Pastva. "Most don’t have opportunities like this anymore." 
 
"The event was very successful," says Pastva. "There were a number of very high level solutions given the time constraint." Pastva believes turnout is what made the event so productive—participants from various design fields, including architects, industrial designers, interior designers and students, all participated in the charrette.
 
"The designers were divided into teams of three, each with folks from various backgrounds," explains Pastva, adding that each team was then given two hours and a number of resources to complete their task. In short: How can Benjamin’s Desk best expand into the eighth floor of the Allman Building at 1701 Walnut Street?
 
Pastva says the solutions were diverse, thoughtful and practical. "There was something about each solution that was better than the others," he adds.
 
"Best Of" awards were offered, including Best Overall Presentation, Most Resolved/Practical and Most Innovative. Accorinding to Pastva, Benjamin’s Desk was excited about the ideas generated and may consult teams about certain concepts in the future.
 
Moving forward, Pastva hopes YAF can use this event as a springboard for other charrettes and networking opportunities. "Designers want real world problems to solve," he says. "Marrying that with networking opportunities for young designers is important to YAF. That’s the idea here."

Source: Jeffrey Pastva, Young Architects Forum
WriterGreg Meckstroth


New pedestrian scale lighting adds vitality, safety to Chinatown, Old City, Washington Square West

Ever walk a city block in Philly at night and wonder what gives that piece of street a sense of place? All too often, it’s the details that deliver; small fixtures or amenities in the urban realm that cater to the pedestrian user. Over the years, the Center City District has understood the importance of high quality pedestrian features on city blocks, something that hasn’t escaped their priority list to this day. More recently it has installed 124 pedestrian-scale light fixtures in three areas of Center City: Chinatown, Old City and Washington Square West.   
 
In Chinatown, ornamental pagoda lights were installed in the 900 and 1000 blocks of Arch Street plus 10th Street between Arch and Race Streets.  New lights were also added along Eighth Street between Market and Filbert Streets. 
 
In Old City, the CCD added pedestrian lighting to two blocks on Third Street between Market and Race Streets. And in Washington Square West, new lighting was added to the 1000 block of Spruce, and on 11th and 12th Streets, between Spruce and Pine Streets.
 
These recent improvements are the latest in a series of lighting installments the CCD has been implementing since 1996.  In all, $24 million has been spent and 2,179 ornamental lights have gone up, mostly around Rittenhouse, Washington and Logan Squares.  With 2/3 of all blocks finished in the district, CCD is always strategizing on where to implement the next round of lighting improvements.   “Our goal is to finish the balance of the blocks in the CCD,” explains Paul Levy, President and CEO of Center City District.
 
The purpose of the program has always been to “add vibrancy to the streetscape, improve safety and encourage people to visit businesses and restaurants,” says Levy.  Lighting is particularly important in fostering the ’24-hour downtown’ that Center City already is, a status Levy and others want to maintain and strengthen. 
 
Expect other parts of Chinatown and undeveloped areas within Center City to continue seeing pedestrian lighting improvements as development occurs.  “Since most of the remaining (unfinished) blocks are in areas where new development is still occurring, we usually partner with developers when they complete their projects,” says Levy, who says CCD's efforts to cover all blocks will be complete within five years. 

Source: Paul Levy, President and CEO of Center City District
WriterGreg Meckstroth

ANALSYIS: The Sansom apartments brings large scale development without the parking to Center City

On the 1600 block of Sansom Street, Pearl Properties is currently constructing an 8-story, 104 apartment building dubbed  "The Sansom."  It’s exciting news anytime a new mid- or high-rise construction project comes to town.  But the kicker in this project is the amount of parking the new development provides for future residents: 0. 

Low numbers like these don’t come that often with large scale residential projects in Philly.  And for good reason – it’s the law; the City’s current zoning code mandates 3 parking spaces for every 10 residential units of multi-family development projects like The Sansom (in certain overlay districts this requirement may not apply).
  
One of the problems with mandating so much parking in an urban environment is its cost, something developers incur and then pass off to potential buyers and renters. This drives up housing costs and prices out middle and lower income residents.  In high demand areas such as Center City, this means the richest among us are the only ones who can pay the additional price for parking.  Most of us simply can’t take on that burden.    

This is a problem.  Americans want to live in walkable places, but only a fraction can come up with the cash to do so.  According to a new study, the people fortunate enough to live in neighborhoods like Center City tend to also be the wealthiest among us. 

If the goal of Philly is to continue revitalizing our urban core, it does us no good if these areas become enclaves of the rich, banishing the rest of us to less walkable, less transit accessible parts of town.  Quite simply, we need more affordable housing in our walkable areas like Center City, and fast.      

One way to go about doing this is to develop like ‘The Sansom’ and forget the parking.  Poster child Portland, Oregon provides an example.  In that city, nearly two-thirds of their recent residential projects are being built without any parking spaces.  Thanks to years of investments in a robust public transit system and the City’s push to build without parking, a substantial increase in density and vitality in Portland’s downtown and nearby neighborhoods has been achieved.

It’s also led to cheaper unit costs in residential developments.  As one developer put it in a recent report, in Portland adding a parking spot to a unit is the difference between a $750/month apartment and a $1,250/month apartment.

In Philly, The Sansom is still relatively expensive due to its prime Rittenhouse location, starting at $1,895 for a one-bedroom apartment.  But other projects in less central neighborhoods like Graduate Hospital and Passyunk would likely see the most benefit from relaxing multi-family housing parking requirements.  While we can’t have it all and three spots for 10 units seems progressive enough, for now, making it even easier for developers to build without parking in the future would be a plus.  Or ensuring neighborhood groups and the ZBA don’t make developers jump through hoops to build no parking developments should be a goal.  Whether it be the City as a whole or a renter on his/her own, we can’t afford to do otherwise.

WriterGreg Meckstroth

ANALYSIS: Philly leads in some areas of infrastructure improvement, falters in others

At 21st and Bainbridge in Graduate Hospital, a sinkhole now sits where a water main break occurred over two weeks ago, revealing an impressive array of underground utility layers, yet representing unfortunate issues with Philly’s aging water pipes.  Adding insult to injury, four more water main breaks have since occurred across Philly, leaving many to wonder just how serious the City’s aging infrastructure problems are. 

When disruptions like this occur, they act as a wakeup call to the importance of sound water utilities in our day-to-day lives.  And on a broader scale, they showcase the need for collective investment in our city’s infrastructure to ensure high quality of life for residents and competitiveness in a modern economy.  In this regard, Philly leads the way on a number of fronts yet falters in others. 
 
It Happens: Water Mains Break
 
Wondering why water main’s break to begin with?  Blame the hot temperatures, says Joanne Dahme, Philadelphia Water Department's (PWD) general manager of public affairs.  “For larger pipes, such as transmission mains, it’s the warmer water temperatures inside the pipe that causes the pipe materials to expand. Couple this with higher water usage in the summer and we see additional stress on the pipe,” she explains.  This summer’s particularly hot weather is the likely culprit for the additional stress on the mains. 
 
But main breaks in Philly can also be explained by the infrastructure’s age: being one of America’s oldest and earliest developed cities, the condition and efficiency of its infrastructure requires constant attention and maintenance.  According to Dahme, the average age of water lines in Philly is 67 years old, with typical life expectancies of 100-120 years.  Some pipes in and around Center City date back to as early as 1824.  The age factor, coupled with the sheer amount of water mains in the City (over 6,000 miles of water, sewer, and stormwater pipes mains exist in Philadelphia proper) and you’re going to see water mains break.  It’s science.
 
Something needs to be done
 
For years now Philly has recognized the need to upgrade its aging utilities for a number of reasons beyond the recent wave of water main breaks.  On a national scale, as populations continues to urbanize, water utilities have been faced with new environmental, demographic, and financial challenges.  As these trends accelerate, at stake are safe and affordable water supplies; proper storm and wastewater treatment; flood protection; and clean rivers and streams.  From a stormwater mitigation perspective, Philadelphia already has done quite a lot.   
  
A Local Example has Become National Model for Improving Infrastructure

In recent history, the Philadelphia region was at a major crossroads: in sight of degraded waterways and under very real budget constraints to do much about it, the City then faced potentially budget-crippling mandates from state and federal governments to upgrade and improve its old sewer systems.  Enter the Green City, Clean Waters initiative, Philadelphia's 25-year plan to protect and enhance watersheds by managing stormwater with green infrastructure.

Instead of building its way out of the problem through the construction of costly underground infrastructure and utilities, through the Green City, Clean Waters initiative, the City used the mandate as an opportunity to plan for and implement innovative ‘green’ techniques on a citywide scale.  The way the City saw it, greening strategies invests public monies in a much smarter way and stands to benefit residents through increased open space, all the while meeting ecological restoration mandates. 
 
Through a fleet of watershed planning initiatives, natural habitat restoration, greening out those pesky grayfields, and the largest Green Stormwater Infrastructure Program this country has seen, Philly has been fighting the good fight for a more sustainable future, saving billions in the process.
 
To date, all of the planning has turned into tangible results: over 200 improvements have been implemented across the City, ranging from stormwater tree trenches, porous paving projects, green roofs, wetlands, rain gardens, and a host of other green improvements.  All of these tools do two things: meets federal mandates through reducing runoff volume and filter pollutants before entering the combined sewers and helps solve the city’s aging infrastructure by reducing strain on the system.    

Nationally, Green City, Clean Waters has been lauded for its vision and action-oriented progress.  The fight has become a national model for how cities can use these policies to combat budget and environmental constraints.  Locally, it is a reminder that investing in infrastructure is a must but that it doesn’t have to break the bank and can be completed in smart, innovative ways.

Similar Thinking Needed on Water Mains

PWD has recently started using a new technology for leak detection on its larger system pipes, and plans on expanding this program in the future.  This joins extensive leak detection and quality protection measures already in place to ensure a high level of service while minimizing the amount of main breaks. 

And despite the recent outbreak, Dahme suggests that PWD’s efforts are working.  “In the past year (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012), Philadelphia experienced its third lowest number of main breaks,” she notes.  On top of this, Dahme says the city is well below the national average for main breaks.  “There are roughly 240 breaks per 1,000 miles of water main pipe in the city.  The national average from the American Water Works Association is 270 water main breaks per 1,000 miles of pipe.” 

But as the sinkhole at 21st and Bainbridge continues to fester, it acts as a reminder that we must collectively invest in our public utilities now, or risk pushing more expensive fixes onto future generations of Philadelphians.  Considering that current demographic trends point towards the City adding population over the coming years, causing increased strain on water mains- the time to invest is now.  Dahme believes that to do otherwise could be catastrophic to the budget, ratepayers, and the City’s ability to properly function in a modern economy. “The more infrastructure dollars we have - through rates or federal grants - the more we can positively impact our future.” 

Source: Joanne Dahme, Philadelphia Water Department
Writer: Greg Meckstroth

City still encouraging homeowners to apply for proposed Homestead Exemption tax break

The City of Philadelphia's Actual Value Initiative (AVI) might be on hold until next fiscal year, but it is still banking on real estate tax relief in the form of proposed Homestead Exemption legislation. Homeowners must apply by July 31, 2012, and the only requirement for acceptance into the program is that the you must own your home and live in it. It's actually a very simple process. On July 1, says Marisa Waxman, Office of Property Assessment, Philadelphia homeowners will receive a pre-printed application, so there's no need to take action until then.

"It's a tax relief program that already exists in every other county in the Commonwealth," says Waxman, who points out that other efforts both statewide and nationwide are often far more complicated.

Age, income and length of homeownership do not figure into eligibility. Here's how it works: you will pay taxes on the value of your home minus $30,000.  For example, if a home is assessed at a value of $100,000 and there is a $30,000 Homestead Exemption,  a homeowner would only pay taxes based on $70,000 compared with the actual value of $100,000.

"The City is currently undertaking a reassessment which will value properties at their market value. For residential properties, the comparable sales method is utilized in most cases. For commercial properties, the income/expense method is utilized in most," explains Waxman. 

It does not matter if your home is worth $1 million or $80,000. You still get that flat $30,000 discount. Waxman says the greatest benefit will be for those with lower value homes. "It's the simplest program on the planet once we get it up and running."

The homestead real estate tax exclusion will be available for properties located within the City of Philadelphia when legislation is passed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and a City of Philadelphia ordinance also has to go into effect. But city officials are encouraging residents to apply now, as it can help reduce the taxable assessed value used for calculation of a tax bill by a proposed $30,000. 
 
Even if part of a primary residence is used as a home office or a rental property, a property owner may still be eligible to benefit from the Homestead Exemption for the percentage of the property that functions as the primary residence. 
Following approval, there's no need to reapply unless the deed to the home changes.

Applications received after the deadline for this year will be considered for tax year 2014. Those who are approved in this initial round will be notified in the fall of 2012, pending passage of AVI.

Source: Marisa Waxman, Office of Property Assessment, City of Philadelphia
Writer: Sue Spolan

Sister Cities Park opening brings a slice of the Wissahickon and a piece of Paris to the Parkway

Historically, Center City has been defined in part by its four outlying squares, which are Rittenhouse, Washington, Franklin, and Logan. However, Logan Square has long been an anomaly because of its circular shape. While Logan Square is fabled for its fountain, it has lacked some of the park-like characteristics of the other three squares. The Center City District (CCD) saw the need to expand on Logan Square and rehabilitate Sister Cities Park at 18th and the Parkway. This facelift was complete last week, and Sister Cities is now open for relaxation, lunch, and sailboats.

Sister Cities Park is unique because it brings a Wissahickon Valley-themed landscape, a Parisian-style café, and a children’s sprayground to Center City. The sprayground, which has the names of Philadelphia’s 10 sister cities etched in it, is a great alternative to Logan Circle for children to cool off. Families and other park-goers can grab a few bites to eat at the Milk and Honey Café, which is the offspring of West Philly’s Milk and Honey Market. Here, they serve French-style sandwiches and  pastries. The Independence Visitor Center also has a satellite branch inside the café.

The rear of the park is perhaps most impressive, as it includes a miniature boat pond, streams, and a rugged rock-filled landscape evocative of Northwest Philly’s Wissahickon Valley. The local architecture firms DIGSAU and Studio| Bryan Hanes collaborated to design Sister Cities, along with Pennoni Engineers, says Paul Levy, the president and CEO of the CCD. The Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory, which is an organization in Frankford that teaches children from Frankford, Kensington, and Port Richmond about maritime life, will provide youth-made sailboats for the pond. 

The Center City District has been the driving force behind Sister Cities Park, and will provide management and maintenance of the space. "This will be maintained and run in a first-class manner," says Levy, with a blast of conviction in his voice. The CCD will be employing sustainable techniques to maintain the park, such as dumping ladybugs to preserve the plant life. Ironically, the ribbon-cutting for Sister Cities took place exactly a year after the international park’s groundbreaking. As with many CCD projects, the park was finished quickly and efficiently.

Dignitaries cut the ribbon at Sister Cities this past Thursday in an event that featured plenty of participation from local K-12 students. The Friends Select School Choir roused the crowd with their singing and instrumentation, while younger kids from the Russell Byers Charter School put the ceremonial first boats from the Wooden Boat Factory into the pond. Speakers, which included Mayor Nutter, Paul Levy, and the Knight Foundation’s Don Kimelman were clearly wowed. "There’s a very heartening view across Logan Square and to Aviator Park," said Kimelman.

The transformed park is a testament to the sense of connectedness that Philadelphia shares with its sister cities. Representatives from the Israeli, Italian, and German consulates were on-hand at the ribbon-cutting to offer their appreciation and wince at the speaker’s pronunciation of their names. The park honors sister cities in Cameroon, China, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Poland, and Russia. It was first opened in 1976, but became a homeless hangout and never caught on with the general public. 

Source: Paul Levy, Center City District
Writer: Andy Sharpe

With success on the ground, Center City looks up for more office jobs, high-rise renovations

There are some richly exciting things happening with Center City residential, commercial, and transportation development, but there are also areas that beg for improvement. This was one of the takeaways from last week's panel, "The Next Cycle of Downtown Development," held by the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation (CPDC).  The program was moderated by CPDC and Center City District executive director Paul Levy, and featured executives at Liberty Property Trust, Brandywine Realty Trust, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), and the Parkway Corporation.

Levy delivered opening remarks that ought to have provoked optimism. These remarks served to preface the release of the Center City District's "State of Center City Report," which is expected this week. Levy defines the "Center City core" as being the neighborhoods between Vine and Pine St., while he ambitiously defines "Center City extended" as being the communities between Girard Ave. and Tasker St. Levy reports that residential prices in the "extended" Center City zone are quite healthy, with the average value being $310,446. 

The opening remarks contained more points of pride for those who live, work, take classes, shop, or play in the extended downtown. Levy saysthis area is second to only New York City in terms of the number of "cultural institutions." He adds that the hospitality sector is performing strongly in Center City, as job growth in this field "is outpacing the suburbs." Finally, Levy is ecstatic that sustainable transportation is becoming a more and more appealing alternative to driving for downtown inhabitants, as 74% of Center City "core" residents commute to work without a car.  

While the executive director's remarks accentuated the positives in both the core and extended parts of Center City, they also drew attention to the area's bleeding of high-rise office jobs. Levy says that 39% of private sector jobs in Center City are in office buildings, which is the highest percent of private sector employment. Even with population growth in Philadelphia and its suburbs, these Center City offices continue to lose jobs, even while offices in Radnor, Great Valley, and elsewhere are gaining positions.

After Levy wrapped up his report, the executives on the panel began discussing how the city can draw more office jobs. John Gattuso, the senior VP and regional director at Liberty Property Trust, hinted at a new office high-rise to be proposed within the next couple of years. He also mentioned that Three Franklin Plaza, which currently houses GlaxoSmithKline, will be undergoing a "significant" $30 million renovation, with the installation of new bathrooms and elevators, for when Glaxo moves out. This anticipates the building at 18th and Race "will be coming to market in 2014," says Gattuso.   

Joseph Coradino, president of PREIT, also imparted some nuggets of hope on the audience. While he spent considerable time talking about PREIT's suburban development, such as at the Cherry Hill Mall, he also said good things were in store for PREIT's Gallery at Market East. He said Philadelphia Media Network's move to 8th and Market coupled with the new digital sign allowance for Market East could signal a rebirth for the beleaguered strip. He expressed a desire to "activate The Gallery at the street level," which would mean opening sidewalk cafes at the mall. 

Sources: Paul Levy, Central Philadelphia Development Corporation; John Gattuso, Liberty Property Trust; Joseph Coradino, PREIT
Writer: Andy Sharpe


New pedestrian advocacy group's agenda includes improving intersections

When it comes to sustainable transportation around Philadelphia, pedestrians have been without an active group speaking on their behalf since PhillyWalks ended about a decade ago. While bicyclists have enjoyed advocacy from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and mass transit riders have been represented by the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, pedestrians have not found a similar voice recently. That is, until now. The Clean Air Council has just formed a pedestrian advocacy group, and is in the process of creating an agenda for those who travel with two feet on the pavement.

This new group, dubbed the "Pedestrian Advocacy Project," has met twice so far and has crowdsourced its agenda through the hundreds of people who are on its listserv, according to Dennis Winters, a trails associate at the Council who is leading the project. Winters says e-mail participants indicated the biggest problem facing pedestrians is that "red-green lights (are) not synced right." In other words, traffic lights around the Philadelphia area often favor motorists over pedestrians.

At the project’s second meeting, the 10 or so attendees largely agreed with the e-mail survey. They discussed intersections in Philadelphia, such as 20th and JFK Blvd., that are not as pedestrian-friendly as they believe they should be. Attendees arrived at the conclusion that pedestrian countdown signals and corresponding traffic lights should be re-timed to equalize the playing field between drivers and walkers. By the end of the evening, a committee had formed to study pedestrian countdown signals, and how they could be improved.

One prevailing question for the nascent advocacy group is whether pedestrian countdown signals themselves are to blame for diminishing the pedestrian experience, or whether bad behavior on the part of motorists is to blame. Deborah Schaaf, an employee of the City Planning Commission and a walker herself, says that police enforcement of aggressive driving had to be cut short due to lack of funds. In fact, police overtime money that was supposed to go to the "Give respect, get respect" campaign targeting vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian infractions instead went to Occupy Philly coverage.

The Pedestrian Advocacy Project’s online members also indicated that the presence of outdoor seating and other obstructions blocking sidewalks, traffic laws not being adequately enforced, and aggressive drivers turning left were other impediments for pedestrians. Most members of the listserv attended the Academy of Natural Sciences forum "Walkability: Philadelphia Strides into the Future," which was where the pedestrian advocacy group was unveiled. Given that just about everyone in Philadelphia walks, even if it is just to get to their car or train, this group could help a lot of people.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Dennis Winters

Neighborhood Foods' CSA delivers West Philly's freshest to rest of region

Greater Philadelphia is rapidly becoming more of a hub for urban farming and community-supported agriculture (CSA). Just look at the recently expanded Mariposa food co-op on Baltimore Ave., the active Kensington Community Food Co-op, and the Creekside Co-op groundbreaking in Montgomery County. Another organization that hasn’t received as much publicity is West Philadelphia’s Neighborhood Foods, which is transitioning from just an urban farm to a CSA and is teaming up with other local food venders at Rittenhouse Square.

Neighborhood Foods will be using three different sites in West Philadelphia this year to cultivate fresh food. The main site is Polselli Farm, a two-thirds acre lot at 53rd and Wyalusing at which the group has been farming snce 2010, according to Dylan Baird, the business manager. He adds that his organization annexed two smaller farm sites last year, and will be growing from them starting this year. One site is the popular Walnut Hill Farm, which thrives in the shadows of SEPTA's 46th St. El stop. 

Baird is excited to announce that his urban farm will also feature a CSA this year, which he claims is the city’s first urban farm-based CSA. Members of this CSA will enjoy locally-cultivated fruits, vegetables, and grains, with all proceeds being returned to Haddington, Walnut Hill, and other sections of West Philly. According to Baird, the CSA will run for 22 weeks from the middle of May to October, and more include very affordable prices. Neighborhood Foods is currently looking for members.  

The CSA is now working with other local food sellers at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market every Saturday. "We are broadening beyond just urban farmed produce and we will be incorporating all kinds of Philly produced products," says Baird. Some examples of this include canned goods from South Philly’s Green Aisle Grocery, bread from West Philly’s Four Worlds Bakery, and jellies from Fifth of a Farm Jams

Proceeds from the Rittenhouse stand enable Neighborhood Foods to continue to grow and sell fresh food at a steep discount in West Philly. "Our business model is such that we sell our food at a premium around the city so that we can subsidize the price of food at our community farmers market as well as our community programs," says Baird.  

Neighborhood Foods is a product of The Enterprise Center CDC and Urban Tree Connection, and features produce that is grown naturally and without chemicals. Baird says that the urban farm benefits from a large local population of senior citizens, who understand the value of fresh vegetables from their early years in the South. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Dylan Baird, Neighborhood Foods

Photo courtesy Neighborhood Foods     

Philly has 2,500 acres for urban farming, crop value of $10M-plus, says Green Space Alliance study

The Pennsylvania Convention Center Annex was filled with the redolent scents of artisanal cheese, creamy gelato, freshly-baked bread and biscotti, and premium steeped tea last Sunday. These scents formed the aromatic calling card for the Philly Farm and Food Fest, which was co-organized by Fair Food and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). One of the highlights of the convention was a panel discussion on the Green Space Alliance’s recent study “Transforming open space to sustainable farm enterprises.”

The panel discussion started with an outline of Green Space Alliance’s (GSA’s) findings, which include recommendations on public outreach, zoning and planning, and urban areas. One of the chief findings is that GSA should extend an arm to local governments, land trusts, and conservancies to generate knowledge about sustainable farming. Under zoning, the study concludes that specific ordinance definitions should be drafted, says Justin Keller, an architect with Simone Collins Landscape Architecture, which prepared the study for GSA. 

Finally, the study advises that incentives be created for urban farms that bolster stormwater management through the elimination of impervious surfaces. It specifically pinpoints urban farms as sources of sorely-needed nourishment in food deserts and job creators in neighborhoods with rampant unemployment. GSA found that the city of Philadelphia has nearly 2,500 acres that can be used for farming, which could yield a crop value between $6.4 and $10.8 million, says Peter Simone, also an architect with Simone Collins.

After Simone Collins presented the study, three panelists offered conference-goers some feedback. Nic Esposito, who farms at East Kensington’s Emerald St. Urban Farm, is interested in the study’s examination of municipal land, as his farm is owned by three different city agencies. While the study looks at both CSAs and farms that donate food, Esposito makes sure to mention that Emerald St. donates all the food it generates from chickens and bees. He also adds that Councilwoman Sanchez and Councilman Green’s land bank resolution in City Council would be an asset for urban farming on vacant land.

Another panelist was Joan Blaustein, chair of the Philadelphia Food Policy Council and a director in the city’s department of Parks and Recreation. Blaustein, who grows food in her own backyard garden, emphasizes the practical nature of urban gardening. Urban gardens “should satisfy the social needs of people in the city,” says Blaustein. She proceeds to give the city a pat on the back for emphasizing urban farms in its Greenworks plan and mentioning it in its new zoning code

The third panelist was Fred DeLong, a project director at the Willistown Conservation Trust and Rushton Farm in Chester County. DeLong differs from the other panelists in that his farm certainly isn’t urban. Nonetheless, he has a similar goal to the study and his fellow panelists. “Willistown Conservation Trust wants to connect people to the land,” says DeLong. He adds that within the trust is the Rushton Farm, which is a natural community-supported agriculture (CSA) within an 80-acre nature preserve.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Sources: Justin Keller, Peter Simone, Nic Esposito, Joan Blaustein, and Fred DeLong, panelists at Philly Farm and Food Fest

Illustration courtesy of Philly Farm and Food Fest   

Public art in Open Air: Ben Franklin Parkway to convert people’s voices, GPS into 3-D light

The Philadelphia Live Arts & Philly Fringe Festival and DesignPhiladelphia, are going to light up the Ben Franklin Parkway like never before come September. The best part is that visitors to the Parkway will be the ones controlling the light show through the use of a smartphone app. This will be the world premier of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s "Open Air" art installation, which will provide a web of light over the path many people use to access Center City.

Open Air will consist of 3-D light that is powered by the voices and GPS locations of Parkway visitors through the use of a free smartphone app, says Susan Myers, the Open Air project manager with the Fairmount Park Art Association. Myers makes sure to mention that everyone will be given a chance to participate, as the Art Association will have a station by the Philadelphia Museum of Art parking lot where people can borrow smartphones to use. 

The display will span from 21st to 24th Sts. along the Parkway, with lights mounted to Parktowne Place, the Best Western hotel, and scaffolding on Von Colln Field, according to Myers. In all, there will be 24 robotic searchlights, which will be visible from as far as 15 miles away. While Myers admits a similar presentation was done in Tokyo, this will be considered a world premiere. If Lozano-Hemmer is successful here, he will likely follow suit with similar interactive light shows in cities across the world. 

The Fairmount Park Art Association received  the largest amount awarded through the 2011 Knight Arts Challenge from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, $250,000, and a $45,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to bring Open Air to Philly. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a Mexican-Canadian artist who works with architecture and high-tech theater, and whose works have been displayed around the world and in prestigious museums, like the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. 

Myers is truly excited to bring "Open Air"to the Parkway. "We feel public art is one of the city’s most overlooked assets," she says. The project manager has reached out to various stakeholders, such as the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA). She makes it clear that the searchlights won’t shine in anyone’s window, which is a point that seems to satisfy members of LSNA.    

Source: Susan Myers, Fairmount Park Art Association
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Photo courtesy of the Fairmount Park Art Association 

Liberty Bike Share builds support, strategy to introduce long-awaited bike sharing program

What do New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, Baltimore, Spartanburg SC, and Hollywood FL all have in common? Hopefully you’ll have an answer by the time I’m finished with this sentence. If you don’t, these are all East Coast cities that offer bike sharing. Notice that Philadelphia is not in there. With this in mind, a team from the University of Pennsylvania is looking to put our city on par with the likes of Spartanburg by establishing Liberty Bike Share, which aims to bring bike sharing to Center City, University City, South Philly, and the Temple University-area.

Liberty Bike Share is the product of three Masters degree candidates at UPenn who closely analyzed the 2010 Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) “Philadelphia Bike Share Concept Study,” says Dylan Hayden, who’s helping to organize the bike share concept. Hayden says Liberty is hoping to make 2,500-2,700 bicycles available to be shared at a cost of abougt $15 million. He adds that Liberty has the support of the Center City District and certain members of City Council. At this point, his group is waiting for the city’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) to issue an RFP. 

As is usually the case, the cost of setting up operations is one of the biggest challenges Liberty faces. Hayden emphasizes that his team is looking to solicit pledges from local hospitals, universities, insurance companies, and other private sector entities willing to chip in. He does admit that securing financial contributions in the Philadelphia-area can be “like squeezing a turnip.” On this note, MOTU has identified the up-front costs of bike sharing as one of its biggest worries. 

Hayden says his team hopes to implement Liberty Bike Share in two phases, with the first concentrating on Center and University Cities and the second extending the program up to Temple. Liberty has two companies in mind, Alta and B-Cycle, to operate the bike share. Alta operates the bike sharing programs in New York City, D.C., and Boston, while B-Cycle is responsible for bike sharing in Spartanburg, Chicago, Denver, and elsewhere. Hayden envisions charging members an annual fee of anywhere between $75 and $90.

The UPenn team hopes Liberty Bike Share will complement mass transit in Philadelphia. “We’re looking to deal with last-mile issues,” says Hayden, who’s talking about the distance between a transit or rail stop and someone’s final destination. Indeed, the Penn senior envisions a future where someone can (as an example) take a train to Market East Station and share a bike to get to their final destination. Hayden hopes to work with SEPTA to incorporate bike sharing in with their upcoming New Payment Technology.

Locally, only one borough offers bike sharing. That would be Pottstown, a borough with around 22,000 people in Western Montgomery County. Bike Pottstown, Pottstown's bike sharing program, is run by Zagster, which launched its bike sharing consultancy in Philadelphia under the name CityRyde before moving to Cambridge, Mass last year. Bike Pottstown is a free bike share, which has filled the streets of the borough with 15 eye-snatching yellow bicycles. 

Hayden is unequivocal about the benefits of bike sharing. “Bike sharing is a policy Swiss army knife,” he says. By this, he means it ameliorates a host of policy issues, including healthcare, sustainability, and mobility. He also says that the city already has much of the infrastructure in place to support bike sharing, including the 215 miles of bike lanes he cites. Bike sharing would provide Philadelphia an opportunity to catch up to other American cities, large and small.  

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Dylan Hayden, Liberty Bike Share

Adaptive re-use: Center City developer looks to transform GHo church into luxury residences

Since 1889, the intersection of Grays Ferry Ave. and Fitzwater St has been graced by a church. For decades, the St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church occupied the crossroads, until the Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church moved in soon after the start of this century. Yet, Greater St. Matthew recently had to sell the building, which might mark its conclusion as a place of worship. In fact, Center City developer Ben Weinraub is looking to convert the church into luxury apartments.

Weinraub, the owner of Vintage Residential Management, is keen on "adaptively re-using" the church to create one- and a few two-bedroom apartments. This means "saving the interior and exterior [of the holy place] as much as possible," he points out. One way in which Weinraub hopes to do this is by carving a patio out of the roof and parapits. He also seeks to utilize the former church's tower as an overlook space, although that would depend on the fire code. 

The building is comprised of two facilities, which are the erstwhile sanctuary and rectory of the church. The developer is proposing 29 apartments to be built where the sanctuary used to stand and eight apartments where the rectory was housed. Weinraub is currently hoping to get a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) for converting the sanctuary into apartments. 

The developer is passionate about maintaining the character of the holy place. He endeavors to use a great deal of stone in constructing the apartments, and hopes to create wrought iron balconies. Weinraub is also skeptical about creating off-street parking for the units. Some neighbors have suggested he include basement parking, although that would mean he would have to significantly alter the interior of the building, thus hindering the efforts to preserve the church's character. 

In lieu of parking, Vintage Management hopes to encourage residents to bike, carshare, and walk. Weinraub hopes to invite PhillyCarShare and Zipcar to turn two of the old church's anointed parking spaces into pods. He also hopes to provide ample bike storage. In addition, the developer anticipates that many residents will be graduate students or workers in University City, meaning a relatively short pedestrian commute over the South St. Bridge.       

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Ben Weinraub, Vintage Property Management
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