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The Atlantic asks tough questions about urban public schools

An effort to keep middle and upper-middle class residents in cities by getting them involved in their local public schools has produced mixed results. In Philadelphia, a growing Center City population has not mitigated the district's budget crisis, despite the Center City Schools Initiative. There are also race and class issues.

The areas targeted by the initiative (Center City and its surrounding gentrifying neighborhoods) were largely white and middle- and upper-middle class. Proponents believed that if these parents became invested in their local public schools, all of Philadelphia would benefit from higher property tax income, increased downtown revitalization as more affluent families continued to live and spend in the city, and—eventually—a better school system.

The marketing worked: According to my analysis of School District of Philadelphia data, by 2009 the number of Center City children enrolled in first grade in the three most desirable public schools had increased by 60 percent, from 111 to 177. Through fundraising and the activation of social and professional networks, these new families helped bring resources to the schools, including new playgrounds, libraries, and arts programs. But these Center City children weren’t taking empty slots. When they enrolled, they left fewer spots for low-income students from North and West Philadelphia, who had for years used those schools to escape failing ones in their neighborhoods. During this period, the number of first graders in Center City schools from outside the neighborhood decreased by 42 percent, from 64 to 37. Not surprisingly, this shift had racial dimensions: The percentage of white students in these schools in the early grades increased by 30 percent, and the percentage of African American students decreased a corresponding 29 percent.


Original source: The Atlantic
Read the complete story here.

Chinatowns gentrifying across the nation, and Philadelphia is no exception

Chinatowns are experiencing radical gentrification, speaking to wider trends in cities. Check out the infographics.

Restaurants are a good indicator of Chinatowns' ability to "serve local and regional Asian immigrants," the report says. Right now, just under half of the restaurants in New York's Chinatown are Asian; more than half are Asian in Boston and Philadelphia. But that's changing quickly, as these neighborhoods get gutted by gentrification.

The findings are based on a year of gathering data, block by block, on how space in the communities is being used, and by whom. Researchers say the neighborhoods are rapidly getting more expensive and less useful to the people who need them most. From 2000 to 2010, the share of the Asian population fell in all three Chinatowns. In Boston, it dropped from 57 percent of the population in 2000 to 46 percent in 2010; in New York, it shifted from 48 percent to 45 percent. In Philadelphia is fell from 49 percent to 42 percent.

Housing values and rents have soared; the average apartment in New York and Boston Chinatowns is now much more expensive than in the cities overall. High-end condos, businesses, and hotels have encroached heavily on places traditionally occupied by affordable housing, small businesses, and immigrant services.


Original source: The Atlantic Cities
Read the complete story here.

Detroit can look to Philadelphia as a model of economic recovery

According to Bloomberg, Detroit can look elsewhere for models of recovery, including Philadelphia. In the near northeast, zoning changes paved the way for development.

The city also can promulgate new land-use rules to foster development, an idea demonstrated by Philadelphia, which in 1991 itself teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. Take, for instance, once-blighted Frankford Avenue.

Sandy Salzman says that even though she promoted the idea, she doubted the thoroughfare in the New Kensington and Fishtown neighborhoods would become an art corridor when it was proposed in 2000.

“It didn’t even have a coffee shop,” said Salzman, director of the New Kensington Community Development Corp. “Now we have a ton of coffee shops. We have art galleries.”

The transformation will get additional support from the first zoning changes in half a century, which make it easier to convert abandoned industrial areas to residential or commercial uses, urban gardens and farms or allow artists to have a shop next to their homes, said Eva Gladstein, who was the executive director of the commission that developed the changes.


Original source: Bloomberg
Read the full story here.

New York Times reviews new Fernand Léger show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The New York Times takes a look at "Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis," a group show disguised as a single-star vehicle.

The exhibition includes numerous mediums: painting but also film, stage design, posters and several forms of printed matter. Orchestrated around “The City,” Léger’s great clangorous mural-size ode to the metropolis of 1919, it situates his art among that of about 40 of his contemporaries. They include like-minded painters, sculptors, writers, graphic designers, filmmakers and architects who were often friends and with whom he collaborated on all sorts of projects outside of painting.

In the end, only about a third of the 180 items on view are actually by Léger (1881-1955). But even as the show quietly subverts the convention of the monographic exhibition, his work almost never gets lost — it is formally too robust, or as he might have put it, too viscerally plastic. An added benefit throughout is that the show is studded with unfamiliar works, both by him and by others from home and abroad.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

Gov. Corbett finally releases school funds

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett finally agreed to release desperately needed funds for Philadelphia schools.

Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday that he has agreed to release $45 million for the Philadelphia schools as the district goes through its worst financial crisis in memory and questions swirl about a student’s apparently asthma-related death after attending a school without a nurse on site. Mr. Corbett, a Republican, said the Philadelphia school superintendent, William Hite, had convinced him that district officials had made enough progress toward the governor’s educational and financial goals for the district. Mr. Hite said the money would allow the district to restore sports and music and rehire about 400 people, including guidance counselors, assistant principals and teachers.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here; click here for the Inquirer's coverage.

Temple's new president announces ambitious $50 million plan

In his inaugural address, new Temple University president Neil D. Theobald announced an ambitious 5-year plan that should improve the city and ease the debt burden on students.

One proposal calls for Temple to become more involved in helping the city solve its problems, such as the Philadelphia School District's funding crisis. Theobald, a professor, researcher, and expert in education finance, will participate in an afternoon symposium on funding. The $50 million for research, which Theobald touted as the largest-ever investment in the university's academic program, will be used to bring in new faculty to explore problems deemed most pressing in the city and state, he said. The research will be carried out across disciplines, he said.

Original source: The Philadelphia Inquirer
Read the complete story here.

Curbed compiles a map of the '17 Projects That Will Change Philly in the Next Few Years'

Curbed Philly's new interactive map features development projects that have the potential to transform the city (and the neighborhoods where they will arise). A bunch of Flying Kite-featured plans made the cut, including ReNewbold, The Granary and the University City Science Center.

Original source: Curbed Philly
Click here to check out the map.

A New York Times interactive feature takes a closer look at Old City

The New York Times took a deep dive into four square blocks of Old City, noting the rise of galleries, boutiques and condos, and the continued resilience of historic sites and wholesale businesses. Click through to check out the in-depth video and graphic elements of the interactive piece. 

Things took a turn for the better around 1976, the year of the Bicentennial, when interest flared up in Philadelphia’s federal past. "There was a sense of a reconnecting with the earliest history of the city," said Nathaniel Popkin, a local urbanist writer and the editor of the Web site Hidden City Philadelphia. Mr. Popkin believes that the term "Old City" was coined in those days. "It had an 'e' on the end of 'Old' originally," he said.

Today, Old City's narrow brick buildings house an assortment of design and fashion boutiques, along with some remaining wholesalers of textiles and heavy-duty kitchen equipment. Factories are now condominium complexes with names like the Castings to acknowledge their manufacturing heritage.


Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete feature here.

Fishtown's 'creative renaissance' draws ambitious travelers

The New York Times' travel section shines a light on the "creative renaissance" in Fishtown, with a focus on ever-evolving Frankford Avenue. They highlight five businesses, including Bottle Bar East, Adorn and The Parlour.

The southwest end of Frankford Avenue is becoming an artisanal avenue, with design shops, a small publishing press, restaurants and coffeehouses moving in to this former manufacturing district. Neighborhood pride is palpable; graceful metal sculptures line one stretch of sidewalk, and a wooden sign in a community garden reads "Welcome to Fishtown: Stop and smell the roses." First Fridays, the free open gallery nights along Frankford Avenue, are also drawing newcomers.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

Drama at the Philadelphia Inquirer garners national attention

The ouster of editor William K. Marimow from the Philadelphia Inquirer precipitated a week of drama at the local institution -- publications across the country took notice. From the New York Times:

But the promise of an ownership group with deep pockets and an agenda driven by civic purpose collapsed in an unsightly heap last week. Mr. Marimow was fired, and a raucous war among the owners broke out into full view. Two of them, Lewis Katz, the former owner of the New Jersey Nets, and H. F. Lenfest, a former cable TV mogul, filed suit against the newspaper, as well as its publisher, Robert J. Hall, claiming that Mr. Marimow’s firing was a breach of contract. They and Mr. Marimow claim he was dismissed at the behest of their partner George E. Norcross III, a businessman and power broker in Democratic politics, as part of a pattern of interference.

While the battle may seem like one more bit of denouement for an industry on the wane, it is less a business story than a fight for the soul of not just an institution, but of a city as well. Philadelphia deserves better.


Philadelpha Magazine covered an ensueing change.org petition.

Original source: The New York Times; Philadelphia Magazine

Philly company institutes 'zmail' policy to keep workers off the clock

Vynamic, a Philadelphia-based health care IT company, has instituted "zmail," a system that makes work email off-limits to employees on nights and weekends. Could this be the future of work-life balance?

The policy, which the company dubs "zmail," began after employees complained about stress in the annual engagement survey. Constant email contact played a role in that. Calista describes it this way: "You get an email. You're trying to sleep. You happen to look at it right as you fall asleep, and next thing you know you're up thinking about it. All it takes is that one." And so the policy began: "Let it wait until the morning."

The roll-out required some thought. Managers had to go first. After a month, they evaluated it, and "everyone became a believer in it," says Calista. So the email blackout zone went into the employee handbook. "We're not going to fire somebody if they violate it," he says. But it's pretty effectively self-policed.


Original source: Fast Company
Read the complete story here.

Inventing the Future: Penn's new Singh Center for Nanotechnology pushes the boundaries

Hidden City takes a deep dive into Penn's innovative new nanotech center. The architecture of the Singh Center for Nanotechnology inspires, while also showcasing a slate of high-tech bells and whistles. It was especially important to Penn that the building be integrated into the urban fabric, while also protecting intensely delicate work.

Penn officials wrestled with the project’s site, on the 3200 block of Walnut Street. They wanted the facility to be centrally located, close to scientists in the School of Arts and Sciences (co-developer and operator of the Center), biomedical researchers and engineers (at Penn and Drexel), and innovating firms at the Science Center. With only a handful of similar facilities on the east coast, Penn’s competitive advantage would be the city itself. “We planned to bring Center City to our door and create an urban context for the center,” says Glandt.

But nanotechnology research requires almost complete isolation. Even the slightest air current or vibration can distort the cellular or sub-cellular matter under the microscope. Nanotechnology fabrication requires a still more sanitized environment: the removal of all UV light waves. Fabricators use UV light to etch the strands of atoms and molecules.


Read the complete story here.
Original source: Hidden City

The University City Science Center has partnered with Flying Kite to showcase innovation in Greater Philadelphia through the "Inventing the Future" series.
 

Move doc 'Let the Fire Burn' earns rave reviews

A new film detailing the Move bombing debacle -- and the surrounding circumstances that existed in 1985 in Philadelphia -- garners high praise. The New York Times gave the documentary a starred review.

Like an extended flashback or a prolonged bad dream, the film draws us into the story of Move, a separatist black organization and commune led by John Africa, which entered a cycle of belligerent resistance to authority, and suppression by the police, in the mid-1970s. Part of the achievement of the film’s director, Jason Osder, and its editor, Nels Bangerter, lies in orchestrating dual gripping dramas in constant dialogue, using footage from before, during and after the standoff.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete review here.

Inventing the Future: Monell scientists help analyze 'new baby smell'

The Monell Chemical Senses Center -- profiled here in Flying Kite -- was instrumental in a study that examined the power of "new baby smell."

Researchers asked 30 women -- 15 who had recently given birth, and 15 who had never given birth -- to identify mystery scents while their brain activity was monitored. When given the smell of newborns taken from pajamas, the women all showed activity in the same dopamine pathways that light up after ingesting cocaine, enjoying food, or other reward-inducing behavior...

Johan Lundström, a biologist with the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and a study author, believes that women’s brains are hardwired this way to provide an evolutionary incentive. "We think that this is part of a mechanism to focus the mother’s attention toward the baby," he said. "When you interact with the baby, you feel rewarded." A similar process may apply to men as well, Dr. Lundström said, though he lacks the data to prove it.

Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here

The University City Science Center has partnered with Flying Kite to showcase innovation in Greater Philadelphia through the "Inventing the Future" series.


Amazing pictures of the abandoned Spring Garden subway stop

The Atlantic Cities highlighted the local blog Streets Dept and their images of the abandoned Spring Garden subway station. The space is now covered with street art. Check out the amazing pictures. 

Riders can still get a glimpse of the old station, dimly lit and covered in graffiti, as their trains pass between Fairmount and Chinatown stations. Recently, local photographers Austin Hodges and Meredith Edlow joined Conrad Benner (who runs Philadelphia blog Streets Dept) to check out the former station as well as the portion of neighboring Fairmount station no longer in use.
 
Proclaimed by Benner on his site as a "mecca for graffiti artists and urban explorers alike," the former station was easy to find since it remains visible for SEPTA riders. "We had to walk on the tracks past a station being used," says Hodges. "Other than that it was fine."

Original source: The Atlantic Cities
Read the complete story here


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