NKCDC Partnering Up With Delaware Valley Green Building Council For a Greener Frankford Avenue Corridor
For some, first impressions are everything. When one enters the Kensington neighborhood or the neighborhoods along the Lehigh Viaduct, they’re met with vacant lots and dilapidated infrastructure. It’s an image that residents claim acts more like a “barrier than a bridge.”
In an effort to change this, the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) is partnering with the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC) to transform and beautify Frankford Avenue and Sterner Street through a fundraiser for high-quality greening.
Frankford Avenue and Sterner Street are both part of the Frankford Gateway, the entrance area to neighborhoods along Frankford and Lehigh Avenues. Residents identified the Gateway as a high-priority area to transform, according to the 2013 North of Lehigh Neighborhood Plan, which outlines revitalization efforts supported by the NKCDC and residents. Having a “positive” entrance to Kensington would reduce negative perceptions some have of the neighborhood, according to residents. Additionally, residents believe transforming the location would reduce the drug activity that occurs in the Lehigh Viaduct.
When Carlos Mitti moved to the North of Leigh neighborhood, he claims the underpass area looked like a “warzone,” which made a family member afraid to visit. Acting as the Vice President of the Somerset Neighbors for Better Living, Mitti has focused much of his efforts on improving the Gateway. He hopes that the Gateway’s future should reflect community pride, similar to what he saw while living in Puerto Rico.
“It’s a matter of changing the perception of [the neighborhood]. It is just not people coming in and out of the El stop to get high or getting drugs. It’s more than that; it’s a neighborhood,” Mittie said. “Coming from Puerto Rico, we have a sense of community, feeling proud of where we are, where we come from. It’s my dream to have something like that, where we can [say] where we are from, where we are living, and welcome people to our neighborhood.”
Andrew Goodman, the NKCDC’s Community Engagement Director, has vivid memories of the Gateway coming up as an area in need of attention during meetings with residents since he began at the NKCDC in 2014. Many of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods have been historically built around industry. Goodman claims that neighborhoods, like ones along the Lehigh Viaduct, are still in industrial conditions that need to be more representative of the residents who live there now.
“On Frankford Avenue, we still have some of that industry nearby in the Frankford Gateway,” Goodman said. “A lot of it is gone, but the fabric remains. So how can we visualize and capture the next vision for these corridors and types of corridors that represent residents and reflect resident priority and be a source of community pride? It’s something that is certainly a need in Kensington and the neighborhoods come against this particular stretch of freight rail.”
To make sure community pride will be displayed at its greenest, the NKCDC is partnering with the DVGBC. Formed in 2011, the DVGBC is a non-profit organization and chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. The Green Building Councils “promote buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable, and healthy places to live and work.” The DVGBC’s job in this project is to raise money, find donations and gather volunteers for the Gateway’s creation. Lisa Shulock, a DVGBC volunteer, co-chairs a committee with Kristie Kozeniewski that chose the NKCDC Frankford Gateway to devote their efforts to.
“Our goal is to raise $10,000, which is a lot of money for a volunteer group to raise, but not a lot of money in the context of a multi-million dollar redevelopment effort,” Shulock said. “The initiative is significant because it’ll be part of the visual story leading to the larger development project. We are working on several parcels at the entrance to the neighborhood. It’ll be an important kickstarter for funders and the community to see a portion of the revitalization.”
The money raised will go to greening Frankford Avenue and Sterner Streets: plant materials, labor, supplies, etc. The plan includes planting fruit trees and rows of berry patches. Later in the spring, the DVGBC and the NKCDC volunteers and community residents will be helping hands-on with the planting process on greening days. Unlike a public park, Goodman suggests the Gateway will be a different kind of green space.
“[The community] has been thinking about designs that animate and activate, not necessarily just places of congregation,” Goodman said.
Keeping with this theme of animating and activating the area, the Gateway plans to engage visitors with devoting land for open-air businesses and placing sculptures made out of reclaimed building materials as a way to draw a connection to the industrial legacy.
The designs in the drafts are still being finalized and the greening on Frankford Avenue and Sterner Street is only one step in the multi-phase, multi-year transformation of the Gateway. Thinking about the NKCDC’s measures to improve the Gateway, Mitti claims the NKCDC has shown him he has a right to feel good about the neighborhood and says he is starting to “see the light.”
“I see every day it’s a beginning for the neighborhood, for myself as part of the community. I see so much potential. It’s a long and beautiful way [we] have to go for the neighborhood,” Mitte said. “Many great things will happen.” •