Neighborhood Environment

Frankford Avenue Arts Corridor

Rising costs of living in Center City has put pressure on artists and new homeowners to spread northward in the city. Kensington has proved to be a tight knit neighborhood with a strong sense of community where newcomers and long-time residents have worked to revive the neighborhood’s creative legacy, by creating art, starting small businesses, and reoccupying a formerly dormant industrial niche. In response to these trends, the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) worked with the surrounding community to create the Frankford Arts Corridor Plan. In 2004, the city of Philadelphia designated Frankford Avenue an “arts corridor.”

The Arts Corridor plan resulted in significant private investment and new development. In 2005, over 50 properties were sold along Frankford Avenue alone. Many of these were converted into new commercial or residential space. Development and street improvements have continued through 2009, with several large projects still in the works.

A project of this nature is significant in that it signaled new development centered on the needs of artists and their desire to revitalize a neighborhood with their artwork, while preserving the neighborhood’s industrial roots and vibe. The development has made strides in other areas as well.

Namely, it has sought an innovative way to address the initial catalyst for artists moving into the Kensington area: housing affordability. With that in mind, the $7.5 million Coral Street Arts House was commissioned. The project entailed the redevelopment of an old textile mill into a combination of low-income housing and artist live/work space. The project has earned recognition from historic and preservation societies, while maintaining a vibrant atmosphere that is closely linked with the community and its beautification projects.

 Waterfront

There are numerous waterfront development plans between Philadelphia and New Jersey, and Kensington is another area with a plan in development. In recent years, development pressures have been felt from sources ranging to state-initiated casino sites to high-density housing developments. In response, the NKCDC coordinated a plan for four miles of the Delaware Riverfront from Spring Garden to the Betsey Ross Bridge. The NKCDC has partnered with Neighbors Allied for a Better Riverfront (NABR), with help from Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC). The goal of this plan is the reconnect the residents of Kensington to the river through a series of developments that will make the riverfront more welcoming, safe, and vibrant. This plan will be complimentary to the larger Central Delaware Riverfront Plan undertaken by Penn Praxis and the Philadelphia City Planning Commission.

Proposed plans include development of residential housing and commercial space. There is an emphasis on making the Riverfront accessible and open to the residents of Philadelphia and the Fishtown, Port Richmond, and Kensington neighborhoods. There are extensive plans for the inclusion of green spaces, recreational parks, and activity trails.

The Big Green Block

As part of the initiatives of Sustainable 19125, The Big Green Block has been established as a location for sustainable infrastructure and education. Housed on a 20 acre site bordered by Front Street, Frankford Avenue, Palmer Street, and Norris Street, the Block was identified by the NKCDC, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), and the Office of Sustainability to help leverage other city investments aimed at greening Philadelphia. So far the site has completed installation of two water infiltration basins to capture storm water runoff from nearby streets and parking lots. For the city’s Water Department, the Big Green Block serves as a model for storm water management for the rest of the city, collecting more than 11 million gallons of run off on a yearly basis and saving residents an estimated $6 billion.

The video below features The Big Green Block:

Land Use Management Department

Both public and private funding allow the NKCDC’s Land Use Management Department to focus on the transformation of abandoned vacant lots into clean, green open spaces. Various land stabilization processes transform a vacant lot for use as a park, garden, or green space. A monthly management plan for each revitalized lot includes cutting the grass, removing trash and debris, tree-trimming, and mulching. Through programs with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resource’s TreeVitalize, Philly Tree People, and Sustainable 19125 Green Guides, the Department has successfully planted hundreds of trees throughout the neighborhood.

Over 50 vacant lots sitting aside properties have had their titles transferred to the property owners in what is known as the sideyard program.

In a 2004 study by Susan Watcher of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, the author concluded that vacant land improvements result in the increase of value for surrounding housing by as much as 30%. Even the simple tasks of new tree planting have increased surrounding house values by 10%. She quotes, “In the New Kensington area, this translates to a $4 million gain in property value through tree plantings and a $12 million gain through lot improvements.” New Kensington’s approach can serve as a pilot site for understanding the impact of public investments in the Philadelphia landscape.

 

These are just a few of the neighborhood plans and initiatives to make Kensington and the surrounding area a vibrant, welcoming part of the city that offers a range of interests from art to commerce to sustainability. Efforts are being made every day to enhance the viability and environment in Kensington. But the fact still remains that a greater number of resources are being directed to the Fishtown/Olde Richmond area. While Kensington proper strives to stay afloat with modest efforts geared toward vacant lots, Fishtown/Olde Richmond are filling those lots with arts, sustainable fixtures, and gardens. It begs to question when some of that resource allocation, and perhaps even initiative, will be felt in the part of Kensington that sometimes feels left to decay.

 

Works Cited:

“The Determinants of Neighborhood Transformations in Philadelphia – Identification and Analysis: The Pilot Study.” Susan Wachter.  The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 12 Jul. 2004. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

Frankford Avenue Arts Corridor. New Kensington Community Development Corporation, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

New Kensington Community Development Corporation. N.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

“New Kensington Riverfront Plan.” New Kensington Community Development Corporation, Feb. 2008. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

Sustainable 19125. New Kensington Community Development Corporation, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2011.

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