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It's Happening: Breaking ground at the Divine Lorraine

What does it take to redevelop a massive, beautiful and long-vacant Philadelphia landmark? Sixteen years of financial and political wrangling, a welter of speeches from some of the city’s top politicians and developers, and no less than six very shiny ceremonial shovels.

On September 16, a large crowd gathered at Broad and Fairmount to celebrate an event many Philadelphians thought would never actually materialize: the redevelopment of the 10-story Divine Lorraine Hotel.

Designed by noted Victorian-era architect Willis Hale -- many of whose Philly buildings were later reviled for their ornate "Philadelphia grotesque" style and demolished -- the Divine Lorraine was completed in 1894 at a time when city buildings without elevators rarely reached more than three or four stories high. It’s an architectural landmark as well as an economic and cultural one, serving first as apartments and then as a hotel for Philly’s richest denizens in the manufacturing boom of the early 1900s. Later in 1948, it was purchased by controversial religious leader and social reformer Reverent Major Jealous Divine and became the city’s first racially integrated hotel.

The site was closed and abandoned in 1999, gutted of its furnishings and left looming over North Broad with more graffiti than windowpanes. Developer Eric Blumenfeld of EB Realty Management Corporation purchased the site in 2012. A few years later, thanks to another $44 million in financing through partnerships with real estate lender Billy Procida, the PRA, the State of Pennsylvania and PIDC, construction is finally commencing on a new mixed-use incarnation.

The 21st century Divine Lorraine will feature 109 apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. As Mayor Michael Nutter noted in his remarks at the groundbreaking, developer Robert Levine is also building two new apartment towers and a supermarket on the plot behind the old hotel.

Both Mayor Nutter and Deputy Mayor of Economic Development Alan Greenberger -- who also spoke -- called the projects a major "tipping point" in the revitalization of North Broad Street as a whole.

Greenberger described the groundbreaking as a historic day in the city’s life, dubbing the project was "one of Philadelphia’s most transformative developments."

"We’re all in this together…I’m the luckiest guy in the world, because this building has a mystique and a spirit unlike any other project I’ve seen," enthused Blumenfeld. "This building is an organism. It’s alive. It has a heartbeat."

Nedia Ralston, director of Governor Wolf’s Southeast Regional Office, expressed the Governor’s office's enthusiasm for the new Divine Lorraine, which will maintain its historic exterior.

"We can renew a part of history and renew economic opportunities for a community who needs it," she added.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Mayor Michael Nutter; Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger; Eric Blumenfeld, EB Realty Management Corporation; Nedia Ralston, the Governor’s Southeast Regional Office. 


On the Ground: Parkside Edge caters to those who want quiet and good company just steps from home

The Centennial Commons project is so large that even its first part is broken into Phase 1A and 1B. And while there are a lot of exciting things on tap for local youth in Phase 1B, 1A will focus on a new recreational space geared towards adults who want a peaceful place to watch the world go by.

Final plans for the area dubbed "Parkside Edge" are still undergoing some work, but residents can expect to see rectangular "outdoor rooms" fashioned from benches, low walls and maybe even some wooden flooring that will add to the inviting feel. 

The Fairmount Park Conservancy estimates that they'll break ground on the space this coming spring. Conservancy Senior Director of Civic Initiatives Jennifer Mahar says that this piece of the project has required some extra groundwork, leading to a partnership with the Philadelphia Water Department for new Green Stormwater Infrastructure.

Managing stormwater at Parkside Edge “requires a lot more engineering that we didn’t anticipate, but is the right thing to do,” explains Mahar, even if it set the timeline back a little.

"I think we were conscious that this was going to be a zone that we wanted to be a natural extension of the neighborhood," adds Conservancy Project Manager Chris Dougherty. Some might term it a "passive space," but that’s just to distinguish it from areas like a playground or a baseball field that invite noisy play.

"One thing we’re trying to do in a lot of our parks, or should be thinking of more, is this idea of age-friendliness," he continues. The whole point of Parkside Edge is a relaxing space "that isn’t very far from the neighborhood and isn’t very deep into the park, but also gives you a sense of seclusion."

Fostering friendly interactions with neighbors is another piece, which is why the plans for "rooms" in the Parkside Edge design will reflect the look of the residential porches across the street. Special swings will add to the welcoming feel.

"You can imagine taking your shoes off; having that sort of interior experience," says Dougherty. Designers are also playing with the idea of special outdoor floor-lamps to light the spaces.

The area will also benefit from a natural kind of security: Thanks to the raised porches across the street -- where neighbors already congregate -- there will be a clear line of sight into the park. Dougherty calls it a form of "informal surveillance that I think makes great spaces."

Once Parkside Edge is complete, it will provide room for activities like quiet reflection, reading, chatting with neighbors, or portable leisure activities such as sewing, knitting, crocheting or other types of arts.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Chris Dougherty, Fairmount Park Conservancy 

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.

Three local sites announced for Play Space design competition

This summer, Flying Kite took a look at the kick-off of the Community Design Collaborative's Infill Philadelphia Play Space program, a special exhibition of innovative play space concepts (running through September 25). Now the organization has launched the second major piece of its 18-month Play Space Initiative (funded by the William Penn Foundation): a design competition focusing on three city sites that were announced on September 9.

Registration for the design teams will open on September 30, and their work on the three spaces will further the Infill mission to "find solutions to key community development challenges in Philadelphia and other cities." The results of an extensive community engagement process will be shared with registered designers once the competition opens.
Participating teams will be able to pick which site they want to focus on for the competition, which will run through March of next year. The trio of projects selected by the Collaborative are the Blanch A. Nixon Cobbs Creek Library branch at 5800 Cobbs Creek Parkway in West Philly; the Waterloo Recreation Center at 2501 Waterloo Avenue in North Philadelphia; and Mantua’s Haverford Center Comprehensive Day School at 4600 Haverford Avenue.

According to Alexa Bosse, program manager for the Play Space Design Initiative, choosing the sites happened with the help of geospacial software and analysis firm Azavea. In identifying spaces to target for the competition, they looked at factors such as high concentrations of kids and low-to-moderate income families, vacancy rates and geographical diversity.

The resulting map highlighted 100 likely sites, which the Collaborative narrowed down to fifteen, then six, each of which Play Space organizers visited: two schools, two libraries and two parks.

"We wanted them all to be different from one another," says Bosse of the final cut.

The school site -- which is nearly two acres -- is notable because it’s a large grassy area without any existing play infrastructure. By contrast, the Waterloo site is completely paved, though it does have some equipment. And the library is interesting because it’s a triangular patch of ground with three bordering streets.

"All designers love a challenge, and that’ll be great," enthuses Bosse. "It’ll cause invention.”

She hopes the competition’s winning design and the groundwork laid through the Collaborative’s program will ultimately help line up the funding to make the new plans a reality.

"Another real benefit to this is that the sites are different enough that they can act as prototypes for more sites across the city," she adds. "And they’ll raise awareness that this is something we should be investing in for our children."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alexa Bosse, Community Design Collaborative

On the Ground: Restoring the Centennial Commons' History, Papal Edition

As Philly gears up for a 21st century turn on the international stage with September’s papal visit, it’s worth looking back. The new Reimagining the Civic Commons is making efforts to preserve and revitalize the Centennial Commons' history while reimagining the area for new generations.
"One of the most important things that we’re trying to do as we make these investments is to be very conscious of the existing cultural and historic fabric of the places," explains Fairmount Park Conservancy Project Manager Christopher Dougherty.
That means honoring the new Centennial Commons as site of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, which celebrated the United States’ 100th birthday with a massive event that lasted from May to November of that year.
Post-Civil War America had "its first foray into being on the international stage, and that’s not an unimportant moment in the history of the country," insists Dougherty. The Centennial Exhibition, which boasted about 200 buildings at the time, was formally named the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine. It was an exploration of everything from arts to horticulture to the latest technology, and even boasted the first international exhibition dedicated to the work and inventions of women.
“We want to be cognizant and respectful of that, and wherever possible, elevate some of the resources that are there, and make them more legible and understandable,” says Dougherty.
That means focusing part of the Centennial Commons upgrade on improvements to the few remaining structures from the 1876 event, and an important piece of the site's early 20th-century landscape: the Smith Memorial Arch, built in 1912, on the Avenue of the Republic, just west of where it meets Lansdowne Drive and 41st Street in a traffic circle. Cleaning, repointing, landscaping and new lighting could all be on the agenda for the monument to Civil War soldiers.
Though the Centennial was a massive event in its time -- drawing about 10 million people to Philadelphia during the months it was open -- many locals aren’t aware of its significance.

"There was a temporary quality to the exhibition that made it kind of ephemeral," explains Dougherty. "It’s very difficult for people [today] to envision this space."
Outside of remaining buildings like Memorial Hall (which housed the Centennial’s art exhibition, was the original seed of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and now hosts the Please Touch Museum) or the Ohio House, the event featured temporary pavilions and wooden and glass structures that weren’t meant to stand the test of time; they were repurposed and then demolished within a decade or two. One of the longest-lasting -- the original Horticultural Hall -- was demolished in the 1950s. All we have now are pictures and other documents to help us imagine the scene.
Is there a parallel today as we gear up for the pope? According to Dougherty, yes.
"On the front of it, there was a certain degree of civic booster[ism] that preceded the Centennial," he says of the intensive fundraising and Congressional lobbying that brought the event to Philly. "It resembles some of the efforts of the Nutter administration to try and show that we’re ready for the world stage."
While the Centennial drew a much wider, larger swath of the American and international public than Pope Francis will, Dougherty believes "the objectives are somewhat similar in the sense that the city is [experiencing] a Renaissance of sorts."
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Christopher Dougherty, Fairmount Park Conservancy

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.


Big News: UCity Square will transform West Philadelphia

The University City Science Center has embarked on a major expansion that, over the next 10 to 15 years, will add 10 new buildings, remap West Philadelphia and create what Science Center President Stephen S. Tang calls a "community of ingenuity where bright minds can flourish and thrive."
The recently announced uCity Square will be a vast mixed-use development featuring residential, lab and office buildings, maker space, retail offerings and green space. The so-called "Innovation District," surrounded by universities, research institutions, hospitals and a concentration of highly skilled workers, will be a magnet for thinkers and doers.
Dignitaries including Mayor Michael Nutter gathered last week on the roof of a Market Street parking garage overlooking what was once University City High School. The now-cleared, 14-acre site is at the heart of uCity Square, which will ultimately range roughly from Ludlow Street (just south of Market) north to Lancaster and Powelton Avenues and from 34th to 38th streets.
A partnership between the Science Center and Wexford Science + Technology, the megadevelopment will add 10 new buildings totaling four million square feet to the Science Center’s existing 17 buildings, bringing the campus to a total of 6.5 million square feet. The parking garage where the announcement was made, 3665 Market, will be replaced with a new lab and low-rise residential building.
The new project will also redraw the map of University City by reintroducing the original street grid. Notably, the long missing-in-action 37th Street will be reinstated from Market to Lancaster and several east-west streets will also be brought back. The idea is to provide easy pedestrian access between communities such as Powelton Village and Mantua to the Science Center and University of Pennsylvania, and from Drexel University to the east. On a larger scale, the new complex will also leverage the continuing westward movement of the city’s commercial heart beyond Center City.
"Today, uCity Square is home to the Science Center, our programs, and our vast ecosystem of scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators," enthuses Tang. "Tomorrow, uCity Square will be a true mixed-use community comprised of office and lab space for companies of all sizes, while adding more amenities and services for residents and neighbors to the mix, such as shopping, dining and housing. It will also be a linchpin that connects the neighborhoods to our north and west to the rest of University City."

Writer: Elise Vider
Source: University City Science Center


On the Ground: All eyes on the Centennial Commons gateway in Parkside

In August, we began our look at plans for the new park at Philly's historic Centennial Commons, part of the Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.

Jennifer Mahar, senior director of civic initiatives at the Conservancy, says that with so much community outreach going on --including door-to-door questionnaires and months of pre-construction in-park surveys for neighbors -- "lots of components to the project are changing by the day and by the week."

One of the most important components is a fresh approach to the park's long-neglected entrance near the School of the Future.

According to Mahar, right now "the most critical [element] design-wise is the gateway right where Parkside Avenue and Girard meet." Envisioned as the "Centennial district gateway," it’s currently a triangular piece of concrete opposite a vacant lot below an iconic mural; neighbors insist that any design for the gateway not obscure the mural.

"Eventually we’d like to put a piece of artwork or a sign, something interesting that welcomes people to the neighborhood and to the park," adds Maher.

According to a roundup of feedback from Callowhill-based design partner Studio|Bryan Hanes, this is in line with neighbors' hopes for interpretative signage to celebrate the area's history.

The spot is a bit of a high-speed transit hub year-round -- it boasts a Girard Avenue trolley stop frequented by kids riding to Kelly Pool -- and lacks proper traffic safeguards. That’s why the Planning Commission has been in the the loop on this project from the start. A fix to the area's traffic dangers will also incorporate an extension of the Mantua Greenway, a bike lane into West Fairmount Park.
Keep an eye out here for details on another piece of Centennial Commons’ Phase I: Parkside Edge, a relaxing new recreational space slated to border Parkside Avenue.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jennifer Mahar, Fairmount Park Conservancy

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.


Mt. Airy Art Garage must find a new home

This summer after six years and close to a quarter million dollars invested in rent and renovations, Mt. Airy Art Garage learned that they only had a year left in their current location.

When they originally rented the space near the corner of Germantown and West Mt. Airy Avenues, the original MAAG leaders -- including president and co-founder Linda Slodki, her co-founder Arleen Olshan, architect Donna Globus and founding board member Solomon Levy -- spearheaded an astonishing overhaul of the long-neglected warehouse. Under a five-year original lease, a building featuring trenches in the floor, no lights, heating, plumbing or emergency exits was transformed into a vibrant hub for social change and exchange through the arts. But building owner Greg Bushu has decided to remove MAAG's option to renew the one-year lease they received this summer. According to organization leaders, he’s refused to meet with them or discuss the change, despite their model record as tenants and status as an anchor institution on the Mt. Airy business corridor.

"It’s a blow," explains Slodki, but they’re not going to fight the owner. After investing so much in the space, they did have high hopes of gaining ownership, "but the asking price was exorbitant."

"We came back several times to the table to ask about the price he was asking," she says. MAAG had their own appraisal of the property completed last year, and according to Slodki, Bushu’s asking price was almost double the building’s appraised value. "We can’t get a mortgage based on a price like that."

So what’s next?

MAAG is launching a major fundraising and search campaign, along with a series of community meetings to garner ideas and support for their next phase. The first took place on August 20; the second was on August 30. Watch MAAG’s website for details on these and other events.

Whatever happens, Slodki says neighborhood support has been overwhelming, and she’s hoping MAAG can find a new home somewhere in Northwest Philadelphia.

"I don’t know where we’ll be a year from now," she muses. "Maybe we’ll be smaller. Maybe we won’t have such a large rent that we have to meet. Maybe we won’t have resident artist studios. Maybe we’ll have a gallery on one floor and offices on the second floor. If this place is as important to you as you all say it is, why would we give up?"

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Linda Slodki, Mt. Airy Art Garage


The Bicycle Coalition takes new action for a safer Washington Avenue

In July, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia decided it was time to take action on a plan that has long been in the works. The goal is to make a stretch of Washington Avenue, the site of over 1500 crashes in the last five years, a safer ride.

In spring 2014, after a lengthy process, the Planning Commission proposed a new pavement marking plan, but nothing further has been accomplished. Sarah Clark Stuart, deputy director of the Bicycle Coalition, offers some background on the problem, what residents and city officials have done to tackle it so far, and why action on the current plan seems stymied.

To begin with, "the pavement markings have long been faded out," she explains. The 2.9-mile Washington Avenue corridor "is a major arterial for the city…it has a lot of very different uses," including driving, parking, loading zones, walking and biking, "and some of those uses conflict with each other."

According to Stuart, there’s also a big gap in the bike lanes on Washington between 7th and 11th Streets, and the pavement markings from 16th Street to 25th Street and from 13th Street to 4th Street have almost disappeared.

According to a July 21 blog post from the Coalition (which requested data from PennDOT and the Police Department), between 2010 and 2014, there were 1,425 non-reportable crashes (between all kinds of vehicles, including bikes) and 212 reportable ones, resulting in the injuries for 234 people and the deaths of four. That means a total of 1,637 Washington Avenue crashes in a five-year period, averaging out to 327 crashes per year.

The difference between a non-reportable and reportable crash is that the latter requires an ambulance for the victim(s) or a vehicle to be towed away. In these types of incidents, the Police Department files an additional report for PennDOT. Comparatively minor run-ins such as fenders-benders -- which may get a police filing but let those involved walk, drive or ride away -- aren’t reported to PennDOT.

With so many crashes happening on this multi-use strip of South Philly, why has it taken so long to address the problem?
According to Stuart, the city had plans to simply re-stripe Washington Avenue a number of years ago, but the Planning Commission saw the opportunity for a traffic study and an associated community outreach process to determine if rethinking the thoroughfare could make things safer for everyone.

A consultant and numerous steering committee and advisory meetings happened over the next few years, culminating in the current Washington Avenue Transportation & Parking Study, and "that’s where things got complicated," says Stuart.

The new plan proposed a road diet and changes to parking and parking regulations, but these couldn’t be implemented without new ordinances from City Council, and the plan has languished since last year. So on July 17, the Coalition launched an e-mail campaign to help Washington Avenue users tell City Council members, Deputy Commissioner Michael Carroll and Mayor Michael Nutter that it’s time to move forward with the plans. As of mid-August, the page has garnered over 370 e-mails to city officials.

The goal is simple: "What we think the City should do is re-stripe a safer Washington Avenue by the end of [2015’s] paving season," explains Stuart. That is when the temperature dips below 40 degrees. "We want to make it safer. What we want to avoid is just the status quo."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah Clark Stuart, The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

On the Ground: A new life for Philly's Centennial Commons

On March 16, Mayor Michael Nutter and other local officials announced the $11 million Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative. The project is being run by the Fairmount Park Conservancy and partners, with major support from the Knight Foundation and the William Penn Foundation. Since the announcement, we’ve taken a closer look at plans for one of the five major developments: an overhaul of the Bartram’s Mile walkway. And now that Flying Kite has landed in Parkside with On the Ground, it’s the perfect time to take a peek at the new Centennial Commons.

According to Jennifer Mahar, senior director of civic initiatives at the Conservancy, conversations with local leaders and stakeholders began in winter of 2013. It was an eye-opening process. From block associations and block captains to business owners and religious leaders, the community dove into a long series of meetings and planning activities. What did locals really want for the massive historic space, the erstwhile hub of Philly’s famous 1876 Centennial Exhibition?

The first meeting was in West Parkside, and that was a lesson all on its own.

"I didn’t know about the distinction between East and West Parkside," admits Maher. "There was a lot of work that we had to do to spend more time on the East Side." That included connecting with the Parkside Historic District Coalition and the Viola Street Residents Association. Many of those meetings took place at the Christ Community Baptist Church on 41st Street between Parkside and Girard.

"This project is a little bit different than most other ones I’ve had in my time as far as community engagement," explains Mahar. "The project came online and then we reached out the community; usually projects run the other way."

In another surprise, Conservancy staffers and surveyors learned that residents had good reason to be wary of news that a major rehab was coming to the Commons.

"The Parkside community has gone through 26 plans in the last 20 years, and has seen very little implemented," says Mahar. These plans have included everything from healthy eating initiatives to economic corridor boosts, along with traffic and transit upgrades, "but so little has happened that I don’t think people actually believe us that we're building a park."

But a park is coming: The $12 million renovation of an 800-acre space will encompass four main projects in multiple phases. The Conservancy has already raised $6.5 million towards Phase 1.

Those four areas include the "gateway" to the park and the whole neighborhood, where Girard and Parkside Avenues meet. Now, "it’s just a slab of broken concrete where people drive super-fast," explains Mahar. With the help of the Planning Commission, work is afoot to transform this into a welcoming and accessible space that is safer for drivers, pedestrians and trolley-riders alike.

Other phases of the plan -- created in partnership with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation -- will include a new Youth Area near the existing Kelly Pool geared to kids ages 5 to 12, a "B’tweens Area" for teens and the "Parkside Edge," a mellower area that will turn a neglected stretch of Parkside Avenue into an inviting green space boasting seating, shade and gathering spaces.

Stay tuned to Flying Kite for more details as the spring 2016 groundbreaking approaches.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jennifer Mahar, The Fairmount Park Conservancy

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.


Trolley routes back on track after 2015's successful Trolley Tunnel Blitz

After a little over two weeks of no service in the SEPTA trolley tunnel between 13th Street and the 40th Street Portal, this underground artery to West and Southwest Philly is back on track.

It’s the third year for the "Trolley Tunnel Blitz," explained SEPTA spokesperson Heather Redfern. In 2013, SEPTA closed the tunnel from August 2 to August 12 for maintenance and repairs.

"They were able to accomplish so much, and they knew that if they had an extra week, it would help even more," she explains.

So in 2014, the blitz was expanded to 16 days, with a closure of the same length repeated this year. Trolleys have been running again since 4 a.m. Monday morning. 

While the Trolley Tunnel Blitz is an undeniable headache for many who have to divert to the Market-Frankford Line and then head to the 40th Street Portal to reach points on the 10, 11, 13, 34 and 36 trolleys, Redfern says a well-warned public is mostly understanding.

The work is more complicated than repairs on regional rail lines, which shut down for a certain number of hours every night, while the trolleys run 24 hours a day.

"It’s a good time for our crews to get in there and just knock it out," says Redfern, mentioning the even more unpleasant alternative of shutting down service on nights and weekends for a longer period of time to get the same amount of work done. "When people realize what we’re doing benefits them…they’re a little bit more understanding of what it takes to get done."

In-house SEPTA crews have been working around the clock for the duration of the closure. These weeks in August were chosen because trolley ridership is typically at its lowest, with many vacationers and students out of town.

This year’s upgrades included almost 7,500 feet of new track on the westbound side of the tunnel between 22nd and 40th Streets, and repairs on the eastbound side to the system attaching the trolleys’ overhead wire to the tunnel ceiling. More visible improvements include the continued replacement of old fluorescent lighting with energy-efficient LEDs, and upgraded stairs and platforms at the 13th and 19th street stations (13th Street also has new LED lighting within the track area). Other work included repairing and clearing track drains to reduce standing water in the tunnels, heavy cleaning, graffiti removal and tile repair, fresh painting, and tests of emergency generators and lighting throughout the tunnel.

"It’s stuff that people will be able to see…but then it’s also stuff that will help the trolleys run more efficiently," says Redfern. "Something you won’t see, but it’ll help your trip."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Heather Redfern, SEPTA

Innovation Plaza slated to open this fall in University City

In June, the University City Science Center broke ground on an inviting new public space. The Innovation Plaza, under construction right next to International House at 37th and Chestnut, will run between Market and Chestnut Streets.

Recently, Flying Kite took a look at the Science Center’s second call for nominees for its Innovators Walk of Fame, a key piece of the plaza that will feature specially designed concrete blocks with metal plaques honoring science visionaries. The first call for nominees went out when the project was first announced in 2013; this second "class" of nominees focused on women in the sciences. According to Science Center spokesperson Jeanne Mell, this call -- which closed in June -- drew 68 suggestions. In July, a selection committee finalized a group of five honorees; they will be announced at the Center’s Nucleus 2015 event on October 15.

"We realized that just putting them on this pretty pedestrian-looking walkway wasn’t going to do them justice," says Mell says of the plan to develop the whole plaza space, which will be open to the public by this fall.

In addition to the Walk of Fame, the plaza will feature a café seating area where people can meet, collaborate, eat and work; there’ll be free public WIFI -- the Science Center hopes visitors will use it for more than just a place to have lunch. With plenty of food offerings already in the neighborhood, there aren’t any plans for a permanent café, but with the help of ex;it design firm, the spot will be very food-truck friendly.

There will also be a versatile space sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania with seating 150 to 200 people that could be used for all kinds of outdoor entertainment, from movie screenings to concerts to theatrical performances. Landscape design firm Andropogon will create attractive green elements. 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Jeanne Mell and Monica Cawvey, the Science Center


University City builds its biggest parklet yet

Flying Kite recently took a look at University City District’s (UCD) study "The Case for Parklets: Measuring the Impact on Sidewalk Vitality and Neighborhood Businesses," and since then the parklet movement has only gotten bigger. 

A parklet is created when a business replaces parking or other adjacent public space with a small, landscaped seating and socializing area. Past and current participants have partnered with UCD for the building and upkeep of the spaces, which typically have a single "host" business, explains UCD Capital Projects Manager Nate Hommel.

But this summer, the social and financial benefits outlined in the UCD study convinced four businesses to partner for the development, installation and maintenance of the city’s biggest parklet yet.

It’s all happening at 125 S. 40th Street (near 40th and Sansom) outside of a newly developed stretch of casual restaurants: Hai Street Kitchen (check out our look at their move to University City here), Jake’s Sandwich Board, Zesto Pizza & Grill and Dunkin’ Donuts. The parklet, installed in the restaurants’ former loading zone and buffered from the street by attractive plantings, is over 60 feet long.

“You basically have the perfect situation for a parklet,” says Hommel -- it's what he told representatives of Hai Street Kitchen when they approached UCD about ideas for livening up their new location. Ultimately, each business was so enthusiastic about the plan that the four hosts paid for the entirety of the design, construction and installation of the new outdoor amenity. No formal study has been done on the parklet’s usage yet, but UCD staffers say the new stretch of seating is attracting lots of customers and passersby.

Shift_Design -- which also collaborated on this summer’s Porch at 30th Street -- designed and fabricated the parklet elements this spring and summer. It was installed on July 10. Working with local manufacturers, the company specializes in repetitive modular design pieces that can be built in its shop and then installed on site. (Watch a time-lapse video of the July 10 installation here.)

According to UCD, this parklet is also forging new ground with a bit of programming: Jake’s Sandwich Board has a jazz trio playing outside every Wednesday night -- all users can enjoy the music. The space will stay open all the way through November.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nate Hommel, University City District

A pop-up pool in Francisville jazzes up summer

When Philadelphia Parks & Recreation deputy of programs Leo Dignam first heard that the Francisville Recreation Center was in the running for a Knight Cities Challenge grant for a pop-up pool, he was confused.

"At first I was like, what do you mean, a pop-up pool?" he recalls. "A pool’s a pool. That pool’s been there for 30 years. What do you mean by that?"

Benjamin Bryant, director of planning and design at Group Melvin Design, actually came up with idea of a pop-up pool project and submitted the proposal to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. When Bryant found out his idea was in the running for a grant out of the $5 million Knight Cities Challenge pot, he contacted Parks & Rec to find out if they were interested.

They were. The Francisville Pop-Up Pool Project took a formerly bare urban space and transformed it with a custom-designed lounge deck, canopies, new landscaping, an outdoor play space adjacent to the pool, and weekly aqua yoga and Zumba classes.

The idea ultimately received a $297,000 grant from Knight -- this year’s pop-up is a pilot (completed with the help of the Sikora Wells Appel landscape architecture firm as well as Group Melvin Design) -- and the money will fund two more city pop-up pools over the next two years, in addition to the Francisville space.

"It turned out to be an eye-opener for me," explains Dignam. The first consideration at a pool is safety for the kids, he explains, which can mean plain pool decks and a rather "sterile" environment without a lot of appeal outside of the water. The improvements to the space brought in more adults to the park (meaning better supervision for the youngsters, a plus for everyone).

"This seems to be a step in the right direction," enthuses Dignam. "I’ve been in the department for 34 years and it’s neat to see the pools being used by everybody.”

He thinks that as other neighborhoods get a look at the project, they’ll become interested in the possibilities for their own pools. The Francisville pop-up pool will be open through August 22.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Leo Dignam, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation

Designing the spaces of the future for Philly's kids

Many of us give little thought to how the built environment can benefit children's growth and play, but the latest iteration of the Community Design Collaborative’s InFill Philadelphia design initiative, launched in 2007, is focusing on the cutting edge in playgrounds.

Previous InFill programs have focused on repurposing industrial sites, improving food access, building commercial corridors and stormwater management (via a Philadelphia Water Department partnership called Soak It Up). According to the Collaborative, their latest program -- dubbed Play Space and funded through the William Penn Foundation -- will "promote dialogue between designers, child care providers, child care families, educators and community members" on the important role of play space design in early childhood learning.

"How We Play," a special exhibition of top playspace concepts from across the world will kick off the initiative. A display of international best practices in the design of temporary and permanent outdoor play spaces for children, the show is happening in partnership with the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children. Featuring over forty concepts, the exhibition is currently being installed and will run from August 5 through September 25 at the Collaborative’s Arch Street headquarters.

"There are other ways of thinking about a playspace beyond the normal playground equipment," explains Collaborative program manager for Play Space Alexa Bosse, and the U.S. has some catching up to do on this concept.

As Bosse puts it, playgrounds don’t need to just be about slides and swings: They can feature moveable parts, boxes and even scrap material for building.

"The act of building and creating is just as much a part of play as the actual structure itself," she continues. "A lot of what these exhibits show is that play is larger than we typically think, because it’s the process as well as the activity."

Kids who experience these types of interdisciplinary spaces aren’t just getting some exercise -- they’re gaining valuable social and physical development skills, including hand-eye coordination, prioritization of tasks, and even math and science.

Bosse references a new worldwide movement called "adventure playgrounds" -- a few can be found in the U.S., but most are overseas. In the United Kingdom, for example, you can earn a degree or certificate as a "playworker" or official supervisor of these spaces, to guard kids’ safety as well as help them navigate playground offerings.

The Place Space programming will have a variety of events in the coming months. Bosse is particularly excited about two August 12 sessions geared toward educators but open to members of the general public. In the afternoon, there will be a special three-hour panel, led in part by U.K.-based playworker Morgan Leichter-Saxby, on the basics of adventure playgrounds, followed by an evening screening of The Land, a documentary about a Welsh adventure playground, and then a panel discussion on balancing the risks and benefits of non-traditional playspaces that can feature activities such as hammers and nails and even lighting fires.

Stay tuned for more from Flying Kite about another Play Space project: an international playspace design competition for three local spaces -- a library, a Parks and Recreation site and a schoolyard. This will launch in September and run through March 2016.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alexa Bosse, Community Design Collaborative


West Philly gets its own Nesting House, haven for sustainability-minded parents

Five years ago, Germantown couple Jen and Chris Kinka opened their first Nesting House at the corner of Carpenter Lane and Greene Street in Mt. Airy, completing what Chris Kinka calls a "holy trinity" for parents: a stop-in grocery store (Weavers Way Co-op), a caffeine peddler (the High Point Café) and a boutique-style consignment store featuring used kids’ clothes at great prices. The shop also offers top-of-the-line new products for environmentally and socially-conscious parents.

Their unique combination of quality second-hand goods and organic environmentally safe products -- including bedding, bottles and cups, toys and other family necessities -- is a way of tying the environmental and the economic together.

"Raising children can be very expensive, but it doesn’t have to be," insists Chris. The Kinkas have three kids, aged eight, six, and three, and their business has been expanding at almost the same pace as their family. They opened a second Nesting House in Collingswood, N.J., two years ago, and doubled the size of their original Mt. Airy location. Now, they’re poised to open a third shop, just off West Philly’s Clark Park.

They’ve had their eye on the area for a while.

"West Philly has been wildly supportive of us since we opened," explains Chris. On Saturdays, the busiest days in the Northwest store, "West Philly is coming up to Mt. Airy to shop at the Nesting House…It’s about time we gave them their own store."

Family-friendly Clark Park is an ideal hub of clientele. By networking with the local businesses and community organizations, the Kinkas heard about a vacant space opening up at 4501 Baltimore Avenue, right across the street from the West Philly location of Milk and Honey Market and not far from Mariposa co-op.

In a strip of five vacant storefronts, The Nesting House is leasing two to create a 1200-square-foot space. This time around, they’re able to put more thought and energy into the branding and look of the shop.

"Up until now, we have not been in a place economically or even mentally to consider more of the aesthetic nature of our spaces," says Chris. "This is the first space where we’re trying to determine what we want to be our branded look."

As of mid-July, the space is gutted and ready for construction; a beautiful exposed stone wall will add to the urban flair.

Things are moving quickly: Chris says they’re on track to open by mid-August, capturing that vital back-to-school clothing market.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Chris Kinka, The Nesting House 
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