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We've got HUGE news: On the Ground is back!

On the Ground in Germantown

Moving into our space in Camden

The skyline from Upper Darby

An art show in Mantua

We spent three months in Frankford

On the Ground is back! Thank to funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Flying Kite will be spending the next year embedded in four distinct Philadelphia neighborhoods: Parkside, Callowhill, Strawberry Mansion and Kingsessing.

The idea for On the Ground was born back in 2011 on the magazine's first birthday. Former managing editor Joe Petrucci and publisher Michelle Freeman threw a party in a vacant storefront on South Street. The response was enormous. It seemed they were onto something, now they just had to figure out how to translate the energy of that evening into an ongoing program that dovetailed with Flying Kite's mission to highlight what's next in Philadelphia.

The resulting experiment was piloted for a year on a shoestring budget. Beginning in May 2012, the publication set up a temporary media hub for consecutive three-month stretches in four neighborhoods: Mantua, Frankford, Germantown and Camden. The spaces were donated and the programming was flexible, with a few exceptions: The walls were always covered with the work of local artists and (during office hours) the doors were always open to the community. 

Built into On the Ground's DNA was an innate versatility, allowing us to tailor each stay to the neighborhood's needs. Frankford wanted to counteract negative associations and bring people to see the area for themselves, so Flying Kite threw a music and arts festival. Germantown needed a community gathering space and a locus for discussion around development and design, so we facilitated a design charette. Mantua wanted to highlight their monthly arts crawl, Second Fridays, so we helped create promotional materials and spread the word. In Camden, our space hosted a night out for young professionals.

In return, those neighborhoods offered us fascinating stories and powerful relationships that continue to this day.

"On the Ground came out of a desire to utilize vacant or under-used spaces, to get closer to communities and inspire neighborhood-centric journalism," recalls Freeman. "We thought that literally being 'on the ground' would allow us to better understand the make-up of an area and uncover the people, places and initiatives that were under-reported and unseen. As an online publication, we felt there was an opportunity to make our mission palpable through a physical space." 

After that year of experimentation, the program went into hibernation. But Freeman never stopped talking about it, working to build connections and earn funding for a bigger, better second year. Now all that hard work has paid off.

"With support from Knight, we now have the opportunity to establish a model with On the Ground, engage more citywide partners, and assess our impact," she enthuses. 

Knight Foundation also helped inspire the selection of the neighborhoods. They connected Flying Kite with the Fairmount Park Conservancy and their Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative (funded both by Knight and the William Penn Foundation), a program spearheading massive public space projects in all of the upcoming On the Ground communities: Centennial Commons in Parkside, Bartram's Mile in Kingsessing, the Reading Viaduct Rail Park in Callowhill and the Discovery Center in Strawberry Mansion.

"This time around, we are tagging along with the Civic Commons work that the Fairmount Park Conservancy is leading," explains Freeman. "We not only want to highlight what's happening in these areas, but to connect these communities with one another, with former On the Ground neighborhoods, and with citywide resources. The opportunity to continue the program will allow us to showcase some of the incredible growth and development happening in Philadelphia."

Flying Kite is currently laying the groundwork for our first stop in Parkside, a fascinating and vibrant West Philadelphia neighborhood defined by its location adjacent to West Fairmount Park. 

"We've already begun outreach in Parkside," says Freeman. "The community is very accessible and engaged there. A Parkside Community Development Corporation is forming, there's a strong business community in West Parkside, and the outdoor and cultural amenities in the Centennial District are unmatched."

So stay tuned for more big announcements including our exact location in Parkside. If you'd like to get involved or have any ideas for how we can forge connections in our upcoming destinations (Strawberry Mansion, Callowhill and Kingsessing), email [email protected].

See you On the Ground!

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

LEE STABERT is managing editor of Flying Kite and Keystone Edge. Follow her on twitter @stabert.
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