By Thomas J. Walsh
The redeveloped and repopulated Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia took another step in its steady revitalization plans Tuesday, as it secured a $100,000 grant from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
Part of the DVRPC’s “Take Me to the River” program, the grant is being funded through a $1 million grant pool available for planning, programming and capital projects along the riverfront, provided by the William Penn Foundation.
NLNA President Matt Ruben said the group applied in the summer for twice the amount awarded, but that DVRPC “had an overwhelming number of applications” from organizations up and down the Delaware River waterfront. “We were thrilled to get the $100,000,” he said. The program was set up to aid proposals along the Schuylkill River as well.
The money will go toward improving (or creating, as the case may be) key connecting blocks between the river and the neighborhood. On the lengthy 100 block of Spring Garden Street, which includes a stretch under Interstate 95, new lighting and street furniture are the first steps in creating a “better and more inviting visual connector” for the entrance to the commercial corridor at 2nd Street, Ruben said. To be known as the “Spring Garden Greenway,” the expanse is more than two blocks long, extending to the river.
The NoLibs grant is also aimed at making the 2nd and Spring Garden El stop entrance safer and more inviting, including the adjacent “Doughboy” pocket park (a memorial to servicemen killed in World War I). The El stop itself is SEPTA property, but Ruben said NLNA would like to informally re-brand the station as “Northern Liberties Station” (it is officially the “Spring Garden” El stop).
“It’s foreboding, not friendly, and not clean,” Ruben said. “It is perceived as unsafe, especially at night.”
The projects as currently envisioned will take two to three years to implement. It is Ruben’s hope that the momentum will leverage future improvements to the sidewalks and street medians by the city and other perhaps other levels of government.
“It’s going to take more funds than this, and more action, to make this what we need it to be,” he said. Eventually, the purpose of connecting to the river is to make a public recreational space that fully incorporates 11.5 waterfront acres now owned by the Penn’s Landing Corp. – the former incinerator site and Festival Pier.
After an upcoming meeting with the DVRPC on ways to proceed now that the grant has been attained, Ruben says the NLNA will be retaining a landscape architect to manage the project, with the hope of getting started by the end of 2008. The plan includes new street trees, which he hopes will come through another source of area funding. The organization will also hold a competition for local artists in designing the benches, trashcans and other street furniture.
“We are fighting on all the fronts we need to fight, and working hard and celebrating these successes,” Ruben said. Though “overworked and underfunded” – like most neighborhood groups – Ruben said one would be hard-pressed to find a higher per-capita involvement of residents than in Northern Liberties, home to about 5,500 to 6,000 souls.
Contact the reporter at Tom@ThomasJWalsh.info.