Tag Archives: Community Organizing

What’s Happening at 5301 Germantown Avenue?

5301 Germantown Ave - Google Maps
5301 Germantown Ave

5301 Germantown Avenue

A group of Germantown residents, business owners, and property owners have submitted a letter of inquiry to L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams calling for a review of the commercial and residential development at 5301 Germantown Avenue.

In the letter, of which I am a co-signer, the group questions the process through which zoning was obtained and whether or not the project is consistent with the goals of developing mixed-use commercial districts.

At six stories (that’s soaring in Germantown), the building sits on a largely historic stretch of Germantown Avenue below Chelten Avenue and is perhaps the biggest non-commercial redevelopment in years. Yet significant aspects of the project remain shrouded in secrecy.

As advertised on a sign posted to the building facade, 5301 Germantown Avenue is said to feature a 1,600 sq ft cafe or restaurant space on the ground floor and 11 market rate apartments (one and two-bedroom units). The primary use of the building however is reputed to be a 100-bed residential shelter, managed by an unnamed non-profit. The developer, Ken Weinstein of Philly Office Retail, has stated publicly at several community meetings that he cannot legally disclose the name of the non-profit tenant or the nature of the additional residential use. This has baffled residents living nearby, generating unnecessary confusion about the development. The distrust and frustration could no doubt have been mitigated by a more transparent development process.

Interestingly, many local news publications have covered the renovation at 5301 and the community’s response, including WHYY’s NewsWorks (most recently here, here, and here), The Philadelphia Tribune, and The Independent Voice. None of the stories from the press however explore the legality of the unnamed use, or how exactly the developer secured the required zoning, bypassing public disclosures, the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and the Registered Community Organization review process.

For full disclosure, the text of the aforementioned email and enclosures sent to Commissioner Williams and copied to a list of public leaders and officials, follows below in it’s entirety.

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W Rockland Street is looking for a Junior Block Captain

Litter Scavenger Hunt
Marianna, Junior Block Captain, with the Neighborhood Transformation Award

Marianna, Junior Block Captain 2010, holds the W Rockland St’s Neighborhood Transformation Award

We’re on the hunt for a new Junior Block Captain on the unit block of W Rockland Street for 2014. Being a block captain is more than just organizing block parties, it’s a real (volunteer) job worthy of a serious job description. How will we find the right kid? Outlining what is expected of the Junior Block Captain at the outset should help. Some of the responsibilities below were suggested by children at our first block meeting of the season.

Download a PDF of the flyer.

W Rockland Street Junior Block Captain
Job Description

Responsibilities

  • Spray weeds in the sidewalk on your assigned section of the block once per week.
  • Sweep and pick up trash on your assigned section of the block twice per week (from April to September. Once per week from October to March).
  • Talk to children about putting trash in its place and recycling properly.
  • Attend Block Meetings.
  • Organize and help lead two youth block meetings per year.
  • Help spread the word to residents on the block about meetings, events and activities through word of mouth and flyering.
  • Communicate ideas and concerns from the children on the block.

Qualifications

  • You are a natural leader.
  • You set an example for the other children living on W Rockland Street.
  • On time for all block events.

Benefits

  • If job responsibilities are completed in a satisfactory manner you may receive up to two gift cards each month.

This is a volunteer position available immediately though December 31, 2014. Beyond that, there may be the opportunity for the Junior Block Captain to renew their position each season.

Harvard panel on Philadelphia sparks thoughts on the dilapidated built environment

By Emaleigh | Last week, I ended a job, got a new one and went to Cambridge on the fly to attend The Philadelphia Story: Planning. Politics. Reality, a panel at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Everything aligns in a Philadelphia story, right? The event was organized by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s architecture critic Inga Saffron, who is on a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard, and fellow Loeb Anne-Marie Lubenau, who has worked to transform Pittsburgh – PA’s second largest city – through design of the built environment.

Speakers included Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter; Alan Greenberger, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development; Harris Steinberg, Director, PennPraxis; and Glen Abrams, Manager of Policy and Strategic Initiatives, Office of Watersheds. One might expect to find this group at City Hall, but here they all were in Massachusetts.

The Philadelphia Story - photo via Changing Skyline

The Philadelphia Story was a walk through the city’s planning past to today’s scene. The audience heard about Greenworks Philadelphia, stormwater infrastructure initiatives and the innovative “Green City, Clean Waters” control plan, the Master Plan for the Central Delaware and the unfortunate expansion of the Sugar House Casino, the challenges of I-95, limitations of the city’s former transactional political system, the need to institutionalize programs and create systems beyond the 4-year plan, and then some. Head over to Inga Saffron’s blog or check out Ashley Hahn’s story on PlanPhilly for detailed accounts of the panel. For more about how the event influenced my own thinking, stay right here.

Part I: Planning and the Dilapidated Built Environment

The path of the conversation at Harvard pushed me to consider planning that effects Philadelphia’s struggling neighborhoods. My perspective is weighted by my experience in Germantown these past few years and the concentrated neighborhood improvement and stabilization efforts that my sister and I are spearheading on W Rockland Street.

I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the dilapidated built environment. Philadelphia is lined with aging houses in declining conditions. Given the number of Philadelphians living in poverty and the high rate of joblessness, among other factors, home repairs won’t make the priorities list any time soon.

When I pass through parts of Southwest Germantown in particular, I picture the scene 10-20 years ahead, looking beyond abandoned properties and at the conditions of occupied houses. I see my own block.

There is a tremendous need for home repair and improvement assistance programs. It feels like a crisis to me, one that without strategic, widespread action will damn neighborhoods in limbo, threatening the growth of the city.

Who is planning for Philadelphia’s neighborhoods that are literally falling apart, where residents struggle to maintain century year-old houses (like those on W Rockland Street), where gap-toothed blocks of row homes are dotted with vacant lots?

At Harvard, Mayor Nutter remarked, “Changing systems is one thing, changing culture is another.” My connecting point here is that there is a need for a system that is scaled for Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, like Germantown, which is focused exactly on that – changing culture in struggling neighborhoods, not through social services, but through planning and design and urban interventions that in turn build community, engage residents and set a new tone.

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