Tag Archives: Improvements

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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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.