Germantown is a neighborhood that is characterized by the remnants of its past colliding with the challenges of its present. It is definitely one of the most famous historic sections of Philly, right behind Old City in the eyes of many. Yet, this storied history comes with the backdrop of crime, poverty, trash, and neighborhood division on many blocks. This neighborhood division has been manifested by the corrupt Germantown Settlement, which was a social service and community development agency that ran out of money, and a tiff over retail development on Chelten Avenue.
It's why Germantown residents are even more motivated to redevelop and cultivate a sense of community. In fact, the Germantown United CDC (GUCDC)
was formed toward the end of last year to reinstate transparency to the neighborhood. The CDC is currently in the process of selecting its Board, and serves the racially, economically, and religiously diverse area from Chew Ave. to the north, Wissahickon Ave. to the south, Wayne Junction Station to the east, and Johnson St. to the west.
John Churchville, the president of GUCDC, is passionate about making a difference. "I'd have to say that our first priority is to establish our trustworthiness as an organization in Germantown," says a motivated Churchville. He says this means reaching out to local businesses, residents, civic associations, and developers. The president also detects a hardy sense of optimism among those who are interested in serving on GUCDC’s Board.
Once GUCDC becomes more entrenched in the neighborhood, one of its priorities will be re-utilizing the historic Germantown Town Hall. Churchville says that the re-use of Town Hall will be a personal commitment of his. He wants to take advantage of the Civil War-era building’s location across from Germantown High School by turning it into a building of learning that will feature post-secondary level science, technology, and math and high-school level "green entrepreneur" training. The building is up for sale by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC)
Another GUCDC priority will be to clean up the Chelten and Germantown Ave. business corridors
. The corridors form perpendicular Main Streets feature a diverse selection of small businesses, but are pockmarked by trash and other quality-of-life problems. The CDC has already held clean-ups along Chelten, and has proven its intimate concern with the avenue since its days speaking out against the new shopping center at Chelten and Pulaski.
It’s not hard to guess that GUCDC sees Germantown’s history playing a vital role in the area’s future. Barbara Hogue, the executive director at Historic Germantown
, is hoping to assist in this effort. She says her organization has submitted a grant application to the Pew Charitable Trust
for "the interpretation of the enduring search for freedom in Germantown." If they receive the grant, Hogue foresees Historic Germantown working setting up pop-up exhibits at vacant storefronts and organizing lectures at local coffee shops in an event commemorating the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
GUCDC held a forum last week to examine CDC best practices in Philadelphia and New York and strategize ways to make a community like Germantown more livable. The forum was keynoted by Colvin Grannum, president of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
. Other speakers were Econsult
economist Steve Mullin, Rick Sauer with the Philadelphia Association of Economic Development Corporations
, Historic Germantown’s Hogue, Sandy Salzman at New Kensington CDC
, and Andy Frishkoff with Local Initiatives Support Corporation
John Churchville, Germantown United CDC and Barbara Hogue, Historic Germantown
Photo courtesy of Dana Scherer