Tag Archives: abandoned property

Lots of Possibility: Grassroots vacant lot project with Mural Arts Program underway in Germantown

Doley-Lot-Collage

One of the biggest issues facing W Rockland Street has been managing the block’s new public spaces. In 2014, Aine and I submitted a proposal to the City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program aimed at improving conditions within the vacant lot on the corner of W Rockland Street and Greene Street. We are excited to announce it was approved! The project is now underway and will be completed during the summer months of 2015.

Lot at the corner of W Rockland Street & Greene Street

Lot at the corner of W Rockland Street & Greene Street

The proposed project aims to activate and beautify the vacant lot. The highly visible location makes it possible to further the connection between neighboring blocks around W Rockland and bolster what we’re building here. Improvements will include light landscaping and features that help to break-up the space, making it easier to maintain and inviting use; the installation of a community message board; new plantings and flowers; and a mural on the facade of the last house of W Rockland Street. The mural, visible from Greene Street, will face the open space. The project may also include other interventions developed during the community engagement process.

We hope to make our grassroots neighborhood revitalization efforts more sustainable by turning this vacant space into a safe place for residents.

The project is designed to be temporary but durable and accomadate long-term temporary use, in this period between blight and possible redevelopment.

It will also be accessible and costs will be kept low, so that the ideas put in place here can be easily replicated by anyone elsewhere – from your average D-I-Y citizen to grassroots community groups like ours.

Zoom around this Google Map of the space and get a lay of the land. 4819 Greene is owned by the City of Philadelphia; 4817 Greene is privately owned by the tax delinquent and missing-in-action Church of God by Faith; and 4815 Greene is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Special shoutout to the lady crossing the street in the satellite image!

THE WALL

Michelle Oosterbaan, a contemporary artist working with the Mural Arts Program, will paint the mural. Oosterbaan is currently working on the color pallet and mural concept, after meeting with residents and talking about the ideas and things they would like the mural to evoke. Her abstract mural at Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology (PCAT) in West Oak Lane is what first caught our eye.

The mural will add beauty and brightness to Southwest Germantown and link the houses on W Rockland and Greene. The side-wall of the house where the mural will be painted was previously blocked by the abandoned properties that once stood on Greene Street, and now has a new audience.

Kevon flies a paper airplane in October 2013 in front of 74 W Rockland St, where the mural will be installed.

Kevon flies a paper airplane in October 2013 in front of 74 W Rockland St, where the mural will be installed.

Michelle Oosterbaan’s “Pulse” at Philadelphia Center for Art and Technology, a collaboration with the Mural Arts Program.

EMPOWERING D-I-Y CITIZENS

Many people think maintaining vacant land is really the city’s responsibility, and that might be true. But shouldn’t it be easier for residents who want to care for and reimagine these spaces? With this project, we think we can make it easier.

It seems kind of bonkers that the solution for community-managed vacant land tends to go from keeping lots litter free and the grass mowed, to community gardens and urban farms, with little in-between. A fence around a vacant lot is sometimes not enough. And let’s face it, community gardens are hard – we know this because we built one in another vacant lot at the top of our block. We want to uncover more creative in-between uses for vacant lots that can be done on the cheap. 

At the same time, there are many residents living in Philly neighborhoods, like ours, that lack resources and organizational capacity to take on this kind of project from scratch. We think they just need a how-to. 

Every part of this project will be documented and shared online here at rocklandstreet.com for anyone to adapt or copy what we’ve tried, without having to reinvent the wheel. We’ll post tips for getting neighborhood participation, detailed instructions for how to create anything we build for the lot, clever fundraising tactics, and more.

OFF THE WALL

Interestingly, this wide open space is a relatively new addition to our neighborhood fabric, thanks to the demolition of two abandoned rowhouses that towered over the community, some say for over 20 years.

It wasn’t until June 2011 that the footprints of the looming three-story houses (4815 Greene and 4817 Greene St) joined the adjacent overgrown lot (4819 Greene), already a popular illegal dump site.

The story of how that happened is not exactly typical.

Over Memorial Day Weekend in 2011, Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter paid a surprise visit to the block to see the Grow This Block! garden project – a day on which over 30 households on W Rockland St planted fruit, veggie, herb, and flower gardens in their front yards. The Mayor had read an article by Inga Saffron about the planting project in The Philadelphia Inquirer and showed up with the newspaper in-hand. It was then that he toured the block and saw the condition of the abandoned properties.

Wildness. Google Maps image of the space in 2008.

Wildness. Google Maps image of the space in 2008.

L&I had already declared the buildings imminently dangerous, after a re-inspection requested by the community. But within days of the Mayor’s visit, the demolition was scheduled.

“When neighbors are trying to make something happen, we, the city, have to meet them halfway,” Mayor Nutter told the Inquirer.

What happened next is perhaps more typical.

After the houses were demolished (yay!) the lot was left unprotected without a fence, and the ground remained a sandy pit with bits and pieces of rock and concrete from the houses (doh!). Soon cars and trucks began parking in the lot and illegal dumping returned. Navigating what to do next was challenging.

By 2013, it was clear we had to find an alternative use for the vacant lot and work to turn the space into something that neighbors could enjoy. We began with simple beautification projects. We also hosted community events in the lot, including yard sales and a kids Halloween party.

The bottom of the block began to look and feel differently. It began to look like a space people cared about.

The question now is how to make more people care about this vacant lot (and others around the city), which is a big part of what this project is all about.

LOTS OF POSSIBILITY

Taking action
2009 – 2011
In 2009, residents on W Rockland St began organizing cleanups of the lot and the abandoned properties, working to maintain the area and put an end to illegal dumping.  Philly Spring Cleanup, April 4, 2009.

In 2009, residents on W Rockland St began organizing cleanups of the abandoned properties, working to maintain the space and put an end to illegal dumping. Philly Spring Cleanup, April 4, 2009.

4819 Greene St after W Rockland St Project’s Philly Spring Cleanup 2009 project in which the lot was cleaned.

4819 Greene St after W Rockland St Project’s Philly Spring Cleanup 2009 project in which the lot was cleaned.

4819, 4817, 4815 Greene St after W Rockland St Project’s Philly Spring Cleanup 2009 project in which the lot was cleaned and graffiti was removed from the front of the houses.

4819, 4817, 4815 Greene St after W Rockland St Project’s Philly Spring Cleanup 2009 project in which the lot was cleaned and graffiti was removed from the front of the houses.

Demolition of 4817 and 4815 Greene St in June 2011, funded by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), managed by the Redevelopment Authority.

Demolition of 4817 and 4815 Greene St in June 2011, funded by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), managed by the Redevelopment Authority.

W Rockland St's very own sand lot. The condition  of the lot after the demolition of the houses in June 2011.

W Rockland St’s very own sand lot. The condition of the lot after the demolition of the houses in June 2011.

Germantown Beach. Kids play in the sand lot in September 2011.

Germantown Beach. Kids play in the sand lot in September 2011.

An evolving space
2012 – 2015

GET INVOLVED

If you’re interested in helping make this project happen and supporting The W Rockland Street Project, there are lots of opportunities to get involved.

Our first community meeting was held on Monday, June 22 at the steps of the DePaul Catholic School. Join us at the next one (date TBD) and contact us if you have immediate questions.

We will be working to increase communication and engagement with residents of the 4800 block of Greene St, who face the vacant lot, the flanking 100 blocks of Logan St and Wyneva St, the 4800 block of Germantown Ave, and other surrounding blocks.

Sign-up for our email list! Keep up with The W Rockland Street Project! We’ll send very occasional emails with stories from the block, along with updates about our vacant lot project with Mural Arts Program.


Full disclosure: Emaleigh Doley is currently working on the Mural Arts Program’s citywide public art exhibition Open Source (coming October 2015) as a programming consultant. The idea and development of this project however predates that engagement. 

Unions protest Germantown development projects

St. Peters Episcopal Church in Germantown (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

St. Peters Episcopal Church in Germantown (Photo by Bas Slabbers for NewsWorks)

Are escalating union protests one sign that a neighborhood is on the upswing?

Developer Ken Weinstein, who’s company Philly Office Retail is a fixture in Northwest Philadelphia, recently sent out the appeal below to neighborhood residents, in response to a protest by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union.

Weinstein did not hire IBEW members for his Waldorf School campus development, which is now underway at the long vacant St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, located on the 6000 block of Wayne Avenue in Germantown. Instead of protesting in Germantown however, IBEW is targeting Weinstein’s customers at The Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy, hoping to disrupt business at the friendly neighborhood restaurant.

The historic St. Peter’s Episcopal Church was designed by noted Philadelphia architects Frank Furness and George Hewitt, and listed on the Preservation Alliance’s annual endangered properties list in 2010. The religious buildings are now being adapted to function as a school campus for pre-K through 8th grade students.

In his letter to neighbors, Weinstein says he is investing nearly $6 million into the project, which after years of neglect, requires extensive restoration.

Elsewhere in Germantown, union activity continues outside of the Post Brothers’ Rittenhouse Hill apartment towers, at at Rittenhouse Street and Wissahickon Avenue. (Note to self, buy stock in yard signs.) As development interest grows in Germantown, expect to see more protests around development activity, whether they spurred on by unions or residents themselves.

Union protest signs outside of The Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy (Photo via Chestnut Hill Local)

Union protest signs outside of The Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy (Photo via Chestnut Hill Local)

Inside St. Peter's (Bas Slabbers for NewsWorks)

Inside St. Peter’s (Photo by Bas Slabbers for NewsWorks)

Read Ken Weinstein’s email to friends and neighborhood leaders below. Learn more about the Waldorf School project and view photos of the church campus at:

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: Ken Weinstein <Ken@phillyofficeretail.com>
Date: Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 3:52 PM
Subject: Really need your help

As a friend, I am writing to seek your help and support. I am being personally attacked for not hiring IBEW (electrical workers union) members for my development project converting a long vacant and deteriorated property in Germantown into a vibrant and active Waldorf School campus. IBEW members were stationed outside Trolley Car Diner this morning handing out flyers with my picture and cell phone number listed.

Below are some facts that IBEW may want to consider before trying to turn customers away from the Diner:

  • We are investing nearly $6 million into this positive Germantown development. It is the largest investment in Germantown in many years.
  • We returned this property to the real estate property tax rolls after years of no tax revenue.
  • We are saving several Frank Furness designed buildings on this 1.5 acre campus. These buildings were listed by the Preservation Alliance as one of the most endangered historic properties in the Philadelphia region.
  • This project uses no government funding, other than historic tax credits that were recently awarded to this project in exchange for preserving the structures.
  • Unlike members of IBEW, a majority of our contractors hired are from the northwest Philadelphia community and are racially diverse.
  • Unlike IBEW, our chosen general contractor, McCoubrey/Overholser, is based in Mt. Airy and invests heavily in our community.
  • This project will create nearly 100 temporary and permanent jobs and will allow the Waldorf School to add students and grow.

I do not appreciate this personal attack and I will not stay quiet while they spread lies and misinformation about our projects designed to revitalize our neighborhoods. I will put up my record of revitalizing our region’s urban communities, anytime, against the efforts of IBEW to shut down projects that positively impact our community.

I am asking you to visit Trolley Car Diner in the next couple days to let the protestors outside the Diner know that you don’t agree with their position and that they are doing a disservice to the community by trying to discourage people from visiting the Diner and shutting down our Waldorf School development project. If you want to be sure that the protestors are there when you visit, feel free to call the Diner at (215) 753-1500. They know that you may be calling to check.

I don’t care whether or not you stay to eat at the Diner, just that you let the protestors know that they do not have the support of our community and that they should support my efforts to make northwest Philadelphia a better place to live, work, learn and enjoy. Please ask the protestors to tell their leadership that they are not helping their cause by camping outside the Diner with their threatening signs and flyers.

They say that you know who your friends are when times get tough. I am blessed to have many good friends who have a common vision for our community and City.

Please let me know if you have any questions or need additional information. I would love to hear feedback on your visit to the Diner when you get a chance.

Thanks,
Ken

———-

The 4th Annual Philly Spring Cleanup is Saturday, April 2 & W Rockland Street is participating!

It’s that time of year again. The 4th Annual Philly Spring Cleanup is just around the corner! The city-wide cleanup will be heldon Saturday, April 2 beginning at 9 a.m. This is the 3rd year W Rockland Street is participating. Our first year was an huge success. Tons of neighbors came out to give the block a Spring cleaning and a group of students from Drexel University helped us to clean the vacant lots on the block, which were total dumping grounds at the time. Our second year, was even better! More neighbors got involved and student volunteers from St. John’s University, brought to us by organizers at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, came all the way from New York to pitch in.

2011 is here and we have bigger and better plans for transforming our vacant lots into permanent green space. Looking to get involved? Volunteer for our cleanup project! Register online here or email rocklandstreet@gmail.com.

W Rockland Street Cleanup and Lot Transformation Project

We have no funding, nor do we work with any partner organizations. Our group is comprised of a handful of block home-owners working to implement much needed change in our community.

Goals for the 2011 Spring Cleanup:

  • Clean up all 3 vacant lots (minor cleaning compared to previous years!)
  • Install garden beds in the largest vacant lot of the 3.
  • Install fences in order to help curb future illegal dumping issues – all 3 lots.
  • Cleanup and beautify our own homes and yards.
  • Cleanup the street and sidewalk areas along the entire block.
  • Work with our neighbors to cleanup in front of vacant houses (there are several).
  • Work with our neighbors to assist the elderly in cleaning up their properties.
  • Say no to litter and illegal dumping! Respect our neighbors. Make Rockland Street a beautiful, trash free and safe place to live for all residents!

Future Goals for W Rockland Street:

  • Following our initial cleanup, we hope to continue hosting regular cleanups.
  • We would like to have the entire sidewalk and curbs redone on both sides of the street.
  • We would like to have trees planted on the block in vacant lots and along the sidewalk. (Is it possible to get trees from the city?)
  • We want to make Rockland Street clean and beautiful and keep it that way.

Abandoned Properties: 4815 Greene Street and 4817 Greene Street

4819, 4817 and 4815 Green St, at the corner of W Rockland St, in 2009.

At the intersection of W Rockland Street and Greene Street (on Greene) there are two abandoned homes that are still standing but that were also destroyed by a fire over 20 years ago. The exact date is unknown, I’d have to ask around, but basically it’s been a long, long time. The addresses of the homes are 4815 Greene Street and 4817 Greene Street. The property owners are long gone. The houses are now the site of illegal dumping, drug use and vagrant activity and also a lovely home for neighborhood raccoons.

Over the years, we have called the city to get these homes at the very least boarded up, at best demolished. Still nothing.  Our last reports were directed to Philly311 on March 27, 2010. We were told that LNI would be out to inspect both properties within 45 days. We’ll see what happens this time…

4815 Greene Street and 4817 Greene Street, Philadelphia, PA 19144

West Philadelphia neighbors fight to save their block from an abandoned property

Just read two interesting articles in the news recently, one about a West Philadelphia block fighting to protect their community, the other a news story about the whopping 54,000 Philadelphians who applied for federal rent subsidies (Housing Choice Voucher program better known as Section8 housing) between March 2-15. 54,000!  More about the HCV program later.

The West Philly article includes an interview with Carolyn McClary, the longtime block captain who lives on the 1400 block of N Conestoga Street. She has been fighting to have an abandoned property near her home either sold or demolished. A good quote to think about:

“Some people decide to sell,” she says. “But for those who choose to stay, you worry that before you know it, it’s the whole block.” […] “Maybe I’m asking too much of this old neighborhood.”

No, Mrs. McClary, you’re not asking too much. People need to grow up and be held accountable for their actions on all sides. From the property owners to the city’s lagging paperwork. Looks like now that this article was published, the city is being leaned on to put that property up for sheriffs sale. I hope the situation changes sooner than later.

Read the full article mentioned above here:

W. Phila. neighbors fight to save their block
The Philadelphia Inquirer
By Kia Gregory | April 8, 2010