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Getting things right

22 Jun

Sister Cities Park - credit via CC license Plan Philly:Eyes on the Street

I had the pleasure recently of spending some time in Sister Cities Park. It’s a lovely little alcove tucked to the side of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway near Race Street, a couple of blocks from the main branch of the Free Library.

I admit to having been a skeptic about the park. I thought it was a waste of money because its chances of being used were limited by its location in a pedestrian dead zone.

I am happy to have been completely wrong. Every time I have been in the park it is being used by delighted visitors. And it still looks beautiful.

Photo credit: Plan Philly/Eyes on the Street. Used by permission under a Creative Commons license.

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Putting your mouth where the money is(n’t)

21 Jun

Four activists in Philadelphia are on Day Five of a hunger strike in support of funding for our public schools.

The mind boggles.

I hope they are getting good support and taking care of themselves, and that they stop when they need to.

(In case you haven’t been following the story, the city and state are currently in a massive showdown over hundreds of millions of dollars that’s being slashed from the district’s ~$3 billion budget. To call the situation catastrophic is probably not that far off. )

Bad neighbors

14 Jun
Inga Saffron headshot

Inga Saffron (photo credit: Philadelphia Inquirer)

Philadelphia Inquirer architecture columnist Inga Saffron has quite a story. I’d call this aggressive negligence.

Once upon a time it was a stately Philadelphia townhouse…. Today the 19th Century building is a weed-choked wreck with bricks popping out of the facade.

Upper windows hang slack-jawed, like a drunk who just passed out. Graffiti dances across a side wall. A family of possums has colonized the interior.

It has been like this, neighbors say, for a good 15 years, perhaps longer. They’ve called building inspectors, signed petitions and corresponded with city officials – with little results.

Neighbors have even offered to buy the house from its owner, who currently owes $31,772 in back taxes.

Such tales of neglect and lax enforcement could be told about any number of blighted, vacant houses that litter the hardscrabble corners of Philadelphia. What distinguishes this one is that the property is located two blocks off Rittenhouse Square.

Read the whole thing.

This kind of neglect has consequences — not just for the neighbors who live on that block, but in promoting civic apathy.

If even rich, well-connected people can’t get an eyesore like this taken care of, what chance do the rest of us have?

(As an aside, kudos to Saffron for re-imagining her role as an architecture critic and practicing actual journalism. I don’t always agree with her, but I’m grateful for her legwork and effort.)

Row by row

8 Jun
Did you know that Philadelphia’s Chinatown has the greatest amount of paved-over surface area in the city? I didn’t.

Now a group of young activists from Asian Americans United is working to transform a small triangle of land in Chinatown into a green space. (See photo for its current appearance.)
AAU garden lot

From AAU’s recent announcement:

In 2008, when youth in AAU’s Community Action Class surveyed the area around their school in Chinatown North, they found neglected vacant lots, illegal dumping, and little green space.

After succeeding in getting a lot next to the school cleaned up, permission to use the lot, and the fence fixed by the absentee land owner, AAU youth (with the indispensable help of adults) are now working to transform this vacant lot into a garden.

Every year, children and youth in our AAU Summer Program help build the garden – little by little, inch by inch. Last summer they built raised beds, planted butterfly habitat, made bird feeders, and grew and cooked with herbs.

I’ve recently been listening to some lectures on environmental psychology, and the research on greening is pretty interesting. One study found that hospital patients who had a view of something green (such as a tree) healed more quickly than those whose windows just looked out onto other buildings.

The AAU announcement continues:

In the words of our garden theme song: “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.”

Through AAU’s Summer Program and our Inch by Inch Garden, we teach children that making positive change takes persistence and hard work. But, together, we can make a difference in the world.

That’s a pretty good message, I think. (Emphasis mine.)

You can make a donation to support AAU’s garden work.

Here are some options:

___ $12 buys a dozen spring bulbs

___ $60 buys one fig tree

___ $100 buys four blueberry bushes

___ $200 buys lumber and supplies for four more raised beds

Listen to AAU member Dao Tran talk about her experience of being taken seriously as a 12-year-old activist back in 1987.

How litter is born

7 May

Emaleigh Doley is a writer and civic activist in Philadelphia. This piece from her recent article on littering has me boggling:Emaleigh Doley headshot

How we put out our trash in Philadelphia is no doubt a major contributor to the city’s pervasive street litter problem.

Philadelphians are not required to use trashcans and city-issued recycling bins do not have lids. You can see the results of this on the streets of every neighborhood, on trash collection days.

(Emphasis mine.)

We’re a big city, we’re a poor city, and we’re a city with a lot of row homes. But sheesh, is it really the case that we can’t come up with a solution that prevents broken-open bags and windblown trash all over our streets?

As Emaleigh says, an ounce of prevention when it comes to litter would go a long way.

(You should follow her on Twitter. Smart, entertaining, and doing more than her share to make a better Philadelphia.)

Philadelphia wins EPA grant to clean up Frankford Creek

6 May

This falls into the category: Things I don’t know much about, but sound intriguing.

Philadelphia 2035 logo

The city of Philadelphia has just won a $200,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to cleanup an industrial brownfield in the Frankford Creek area.

From the announcement:

Gary Jastrzab, Executive Director of the City Planning Commission said, “The revitalization of this area was the focus of the recently adopted Philadelphia2035: Lower Northeast District Plan. This grant is the first step toward reusing formerly industrial properties along Frankford Creek in new and exciting ways.”

Emphasis is mine.

Learn more about Philadelphia2035 and how you can be involved in neighborhood planning.