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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

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 

Stenton Park poised to become a new community hub

A long-crumbling park and community center just northeast of Wayne Junction is getting a major revamp over the next year thanks to a $2.8 million infusion from the City of Philadelphia. That includes $15,000 for a public art installation through the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy’s Percent for Art Program.

Stenton Park, located at 4600 N. 16th Street, covers over six acres near Germantown; it currently features a playground and community center that both need major upgrades. The site is also adjacent to the historic Stenton House (built in 1725), home of Philadelphia statesman James Logan.

Percent for Art project manager Jacque Liu explains that the existing Stenton Park community center building was constructed in two parts: an original piece in the 1955 and an addition in 1982. The older portion has been closed down because of damage to its roof and flooding from broken pipes. The nearby playground equipment is outdated and noncompliant with modern standards. It’s also hard to access because of a large fence, and the fact that the grounds cover multiple elevations.

Many major improvements are planned. The older portion of the rec center will be demolished along with part of the other building, and a completely new rec center -- featuring classroom space -- will go up. A total redesign and landscape upgrade will open up the space. New equipment, including park benches, game tables, picnic tables and even a new spray-ground, will be installed.

The other major component of the project is an installation from artist Karyn Olivier, a teacher at Temple's Tyler School of Art who splits her time between New York City and Philadelphia. As per the process of Percent for Art (which allocates up to one percent of development budgets on land acquired and assembled by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority to public art), a nationwide request for qualifications went out. An expert panel -- that included local community members -- narrowed the field down to about five artists who made full proposals for the space.

"Often public art is just plopped in there," says Liu, but "in this particular case, it’s very integrated into the site."

Olivier is creating a site-specific installation called "School is Out." It will feature a giant blackboard on one exterior wall of the new rec center, equipped with chalk for everyone -- it can serve as an extension of the inside classroom. There will also be engraved pavers featuring quotations from historic and contemporary Philadelphia thinkers, including Logan.

Olivier says the piece will provide "a place for individual reflection," encouraging debate and conversation in the communal space.

Liu estimates that all work at Stenton Park will be done by summer 2016; a single dedication will be held for all the park’s new features.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jacque Liu, Percent for Art Program

Uptown Beer Garden shakes up summer on JFK

Right before scheduled publication, Uptown Beer Garden was shut down by L&I. It has since reopened. The space has been restructured and table service added. Read on for more on this exciting contribution to the Center City business district.

This month, Chestnut Street’s BRU Craft & Wurst expanded to activate a formerly barren piece of Center City. Starting July 1, the 9,000-square-foot Uptown Beer Garden, helmed by BRU owner Teddy Sourias, took over the courtyard of the PNY Mellon Building at 1735 John F. Kennedy Boulevard.
 
"I was adamant about that area," explains Souria. "I didn’t want to go Old City or South Philly, because those things had been done before.”

Sourias nabbed the unexpected spot in the business district during the first week of June, which meant a wild scramble to get the space ready. He had a broker helping him search for a year before he found out the Mellon Building plaza could work.
 
"It happened so fast," he says of what came next: the paperwork, the purchase of a food cart, and the design and development of the space. "We literally didn’t sleep. My whole staff pulled through."
 
The space includes trees and 2,000-pound granite benches, some of which Uptown removed and more than a dozen of which they kept. There are also large communal picnic tables (the staff stained them themselves), tree slabs made into high-top tables and a 35-foot bar. A lot of Pennsylvania reclaimed wood went into the construction, lending a rustic note to the formerly quiet stretch of concrete.
 
So far Sourias’s hunch about the location has paid off: 3,500 people showed up on beer garden's first day.

And they're not showing up just for the drinks. The menu includes bratwurst brought from the kitchen at BRU, Bavarian-style warm pretzels, guacamole and chips, a BBQ summer tofu roll, and pulled duck, beef short rib, and seared tuna sliders. There’s also ice cream and cocoa cookies for dessert.
 
The bar menu includes frozen margaritas, various sangrias, and a wide range of cans and beer on tap, including special seasonal selections.

And you can feel good about sipping those suds: The Philadelphia Animal Welfare Association (PAWS) is close to Sourias’s heart, and Uptown is partnering with the rescue organization to donate proceeds throughout the season. During "Yappy Hour" -- details TBA -- a portion of the till will go to PAWS; and a special sangria on the menu will put a dollar toward the charity every time someone orders it.
 
Sourias is so optimistic about the location that he’s hoping to stay open for Uptown’s own Oktoberfest, and, if they can get the clearance, to stay open through the Pope's visit in late September.
 
"We’re in the best worst location for that," Sourias quips of their proximity to the Parkway. "The best because it’s right across the street; the worst because it’s right across the street."
 
Uptown Beer Garden’s opening hours are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 5 - 10 p.m., Wednesday from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday from 2 p.m. - midnight (closed Sundays).
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Teddy Sourias, Uptown Beer Garden

Rethinking the Rowhome: An architect lets in the light in Queen Village

In this city of rowhomes, thoughtful design can have a huge impact. One local designer transformed her Fabric Row space into a showcase for bringing light and flexibility to Philadelphia's signature structure.

Juliet Whelan, owner of award-winning architecture firm Jibe Design, lives with her husband live on the second and third floors above an office they rent out. The recently renovated home is stunning. Natural light floods the space and the minimalist furniture was designed by the homeowner herself. There are tons of unique features including a steel parapet hook chandelier over the custom dining table, a raw steel grating stair and a steel "curtain" guardrail from the 3rd floor to the roof.

This is actually the second renovation on the home, which sits on the 800 block of South 4th Street in Queen Village. The project cost $150,000 and included an addition to the rear of the building, a roof deck and a garden.

In fact, there are no traditional closets -- just a custom pantry in the kitchen for storing food and cleaning supplies, and a string curtain surrounding open shelves for clothes and shoes in the master suite. 

"We're pretty tidy people, so I opted for closets as furniture," explains Whelan. "I like to stand in my bedroom, where there's a lot of natural light, and pick out my clothes for the day."

Helping to capitalize on that natural light pouring in through large windows on the upper level and coming down from the light box on the roof are two sliding doors on the bedrooms. They can be left open to let the light play throughout the space or closed to provide privacy when the couple has guests.

The home's new furniture was designed by Whelan and built with the help of several friends and craftspeople. There's the bed that looks like a double-wide chaise lounge made from wood, which sits atop a black and white rug from Millésimé. She also designed the dining table; above it hangs the chandelier made from parapet hooks, which have a connection to the house's history.

"For the last seven years I've had these metal hooks I found in the basement," she says. "We thought maybe it was a Jewish deli and these were meat hooks. We hung them above my table and then found out they're parapet hooks, used to do work on the exterior of a building. Someone who lived here before us must have been a mason or something."

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: Juliet Whelan, Jibe Design

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society funds public spaces with $25,000 Placemaker Grants

When the El rumbles overhead in Frankford, people stop mid-conversation and wait for the noise to pass. Residents call this the "Frankford Pause." Now, that iconic local phrase will become the name of a new vacant property-turned-public park in the neighborhood, designed with help from the Community Design Collaborative.

Spearheaded by the Frankford Community Development Corporation and the City Planning Commission, the project will be funded through multiple sources, including the Neighborhood Placemaker Grant, awarded for the first time this year by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS). The Frankford CDC is one of three winners of these grants -- they provide $25,000 to projects aimed at improving the look and environmental sustainability of communities through public spaces. The other two winners are Nueva Esperanza, Inc. and Somerset Neighbors for Better Living

"We selected projects that are quite different from each other," explains PHS's Tammy Leigh DeMent. "But [each] scored well across multiple levels including impact to the neighborhood, commitment from the community, partner engagement and a maintenance plan."

Nueva Esperanza, Inc., which serves the needs of Hispanic communities in North Philadelphia, leads the charge in revitalizing the Veterans’ Memorial Plaza at Wyoming and Rising Sun Avenues. Plans for the project include the expansion of the central garden, replacement of crumbling hardscape and the addition of benches and planters. The goal is to attract residents to this important gateway in the Feltonville community.

Somerset Neighbors for Better Living, a committee of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, heads the Community Planter Initiative, a program that will provide free window boxes, street planters and plants for residents who attend neighborhood meetings. This program is about fostering community connections through greening, while beautifying residential and business corridors.

Each of these projects are scheduled to begin in June and be completed within one year.

PHS hopes that this grant program inspired community based organizations to think big for their neighborhoods. 

"Many of the groups that did not win the grant contacted us afterwards to let us know that the opportunity to apply gave them a chance to organize around an idea that had been in the back of their minds for a while," says DeMent. "Now that they’ve done so, they are going to continue to look for funding."

The Neighborhood Placemaker Grants are part of PHS's larger Civic Landscapes program, a four-decades-old effort that has transformed public areas and neighborhood open spaces into premier sites and destinations. 

"Communities matter," adds DeMent. "Not every beautification project can be City-driven, not every greening effort needs to be large-scale and expensive. Small but important green spaces can lift the spirit of a neighborhood, gather people together and give communities a place -- and a reason -- to meet."

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: ?Tammy Leigh DeMent, PHS

Commercial developer founds Jumpstart Germantown to empower new developers

In 25 years of business, commercial real estate developer Ken Weinstein of Philly Office Retail has mentored plenty of wannabe real estate developers. Recently, two such novices approached him after a community meeting and asked him to mentor them. He offered to sit down with them together and spend three hours teaching them the basics of development.

From this three hour session came the inspiration for Jumpstart Germantown, an initiative Weinstein is spearheading to drive investment in the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood where he's been investing and working his entire career. This new organization looks to "jumpstart" the neighborhood by mentoring inexperienced developers, connecting them with each other and more experienced developers, and providing loans to spur development. 

"There is great enthusiasm for doing more in Germantown," explains Weinstein. "We totally did not expect this much energy and enthusiasm this quickly. It's clear that what we're offering has struck a nerve."

One of those original novices who approached Weinstein is Nancy Deephouse. He has tapped her to lead the Developers' Network, bringing together inexperienced and experienced developers alike. On May 28, more than 100 people showed up to the first meeting of Jumpstart Germantown's Developers Network at the newly renovated Greatness is in You! Drama School and Performing Arts Center (4811 Germantown Avenue).

Weinstein has also received 79 applications from developers who want to be part of the nine-hour program he's created about development. Only eight at a time will go through the course; the next cycle starts in July. He says he'll make sure each of those 79 get through.  

Jumpstart Germantown will also provide loans of up to 95 percent of the cost of a residential development project. These short-term loans are funded by a $2 million line of credit, which means they could service up to 30 loans at a time. What makes this loan program different from others is that the organization does not have the same loan requirements as a bank. But the hope is that recipients will be able to sell the property or finance it through a bank at the end of 9-to-12 months so that Jumpstart Germantown can exit the loan.

So far they've received five applications and signed deals to provide two loans of approximately $75,000 each. These loans are going to developers who have two and four development projects behind them, respectively.

Weinstein, who got his start in residential real estate, says he could've gotten back into that business but he'd rather help others. 

"I always push mentees strongly to start in residential," says Weinstein. "I'd rather empower others to [revive Germantown's residential real estate]. This is a great, grassroots way to give people the knowledge and funding."

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: Ken Weinstein, Philly Office Retail

 

Neighborhood Bike Works makes a big move

For almost 20 years, staff and the youth served by the nonprofit Neighborhood Bike Works (NBW) have hauled bicycles up and down the steps into the organization's basement headquarters. 

While they've had a great time in the subterranean section of St. Mary's Church on the University of Pennsylvania's campus, the time has come to open their own center. Last month, NBW announced plans to do just that: The organization is gearing up to move to 3939 and 3943 Lancaster Avenue, one mile from their current location in West Philadelphia. 

"We're a little hidden in this basement," explains Executive Director Erin DeCou. "But we wanted to stay nearby because our neighborhood has been so good to us."

The new location is close to where three communities -- Mantua, Belmont and Powelton -- converge. Currently, NBW must carefully balance its schedule of programming for youth and adults to make use of its limited square footage space. The Lancaster Avenue site combines two side-by-side storefront properties, giving the organization plenty of room for offices and two learning spaces.

Since 1996, NBW has helped over 4,500 young Philadelphians discover a love of cycling. Through education, hands-on bike-building and group rides, the Philly youth (ages 8-18) served by NBW develop job and life skills that serve them for years to come. NBW also hosts adult repair classes and "Bike Church," a recurring event where the community can get help fixing their rides and purchase affordable donated bikes or bike parts.

Later this summer, NBW will start the move, but to get the new space fully ready, they first have to raise $150,000. The organization will start by tapping the community and corporate sponsors, and follow that up with fundraising events.

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: Erin DeCou, Neighborhood Bike Works

Groundswell and University City District give The Porch an upgrade

People used to rush through the sidewalk outside of 30th Street Station, determined to get to the train or to work in the neighborhood as quickly as possible. But then University City District (UCD) initiated a proof-of-concept test, hoping to prove that people would use the underutilized stretch of concrete as a public space -- if there was something to tempt them. 

In November 2011, The Porch at 30th Street Station was born. It featured planters, benches and café tables. The sunny, flexible spot became mighty popular as a lunch destination for nearby workers, but could it be more? 

On May 27, UCD and its design partner Groundswell opened what they call Porch 2.0 featuring an installation of nine tiered wooden platforms built around existing planters and benches to maximize the places where visitors can eat, hang out and enjoy themselves. The mission: Give people a place to really spend some time, preferably in off hours.

"We took it from a [place to] pause to a [place to] stay," explains David Fierabend, principal at Groundswell. The local firm is also responsible for stunning design projects such as Spruce Street Harbor Park, Morgan's Pier and Independence Beer Garden

The space is also upping its food game. The lunch trucks that had paid a flat fee to serve customers at The Porch are gone, replaced by a permanent food truck called Rotisserie at the Porch. Rotisserie will be managed by Michael Schulson, the restauranteur behind Sampan, Graffiti Bar, Independence Beer Garden and other eateries. There will also be a beverage trailer serving beer and liquor Wednesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Prema Gupta, director of planning and economic development at UCD, hopes Philadelphians will be pleasantly surprised: "Where this is really interesting is that a small fraction of the people using it will come deliberately, but I think a lot of people will come out of 30th Street Station and decide to stay and check out The Porch." 

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: David Fierabend, Groundswell

 

The Drake architects preview Philly's newest theater hub

After 18 years at the Adrienne, InterAct Theatre Company is moving to The Drake at 1512 Spruce Street, a former University of the Arts dance space. Metcalfe Architecture & Design (MA&D) has been working with InterAct (who will be leasing additional space to PlayPenn, Simpatico Theatre Project, Azuka Theatre and Inis Nua Theatre) to create the perfect new home, and they gave Flying Kite a preview of the layout.

The Center City-based company has a dual specialty, explains principal Alan Metcalfe: They’re an architecture and exhibit design firm that focuses on work for museums, schools, cultural institutions and other nonprofits.

Their dedication to spaces that foster social interaction is a great fit for the new vision at The Drake. There will be one box office, two black-box stages and two lobbies with separate entrancse. The InterAct lobby will double as a coffee and work lounge for Philly’s creative types during the day.

There are several unique components to the space. InterAct asked MA&D to scale back some of the design elements of their lobby, explains lead architect Chris Kircher, because one corner of that space will be reserved for "micro-performances," complete with rigging for lights and lighting controls. The theater company also insisted on unisex bathrooms for the lobby/lounge space.

The construction phase of the project, which the architects estimate will take about three months once all the necessary permits are acquired, will also have an unusual aspect -- employees of InterAct are pitching in on the actual construction: building their stage, the riders for the seating and some custom elements of the tech booth.

The seating for the InterAct stage will be fixed, while the slightly smaller second space will have removable seating, a sprung floor and a square shape, allowing for a very flexible performance area.

It’s been a special project all around, Metcalfe continues. The company and the architects were free from the need to wrestle with zoning codes to convert the use because the space is already zoned as a theater.

"Imagine how hard it is to find existing theater space in the middle of Center City," he says. "It was really a dream come true for InterAct." 

"In the lobbies themselves, there’ll be some exposed brick-work, exposed concrete beams and columns; all the piping and mechanical systems will be exposed," says Kircher of the space's "raw industrial-type feel...[There's] sort of an oxymoron in the idea that we’re exposing the truth about the architectural aspects of the space," but inside of a theater, which is all about creating artificial environments onstage.

"When we came into the space, everything was covered up, and we were gleefully pushing at ceiling panels, looking to see what was up there," recalls Metcalfe. "The world of theater and urban design has changed so much, from 'cover it all up and make it look like everything else' to 'let the character show.'"

InterAct is hoping to get into the Drake by September under a 15-year lease; the arts community should stay tuned for news of when performances will commence.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Alan Metcalfe and Chris Kircher, Metcalfe Architecture & Design
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