A new approach to preserving black Philadelphia

In a part of the city undergoing massive redevelopment, a young design-minded activist is working to make sure that a piece of African American history survives and thrives amid the change.

Maya Thomas (left) sits on a raised planter bed in North Philadelphia Peace Park
Maya Thomas (left) sits on a raised planter bed in North Philadelphia Peace Park

Maya Thomas, a 2016 graduate of University of Pennsylvania School of Design, is taking a nontraditional approach to preserving a little-known and long-neglected historic gem in Sharswood, reports Billy Penn. The Dox Thrash house at 24th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, next to a neighborhood branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, is named for the innovative and influential mid-20th-century painter and printmaker who lived there from 1945 until 1958, documenting and participating in North Philadelphia’s vibrant African-American culture. Instead of pouring financial resources to restore the sorely-neglected Thrash house and maintain in its original form, Thomas envisions remaking it as a “public space, owned and operated by ‘various stewards.”  “There’s space for several organizations to come into this and make money, teach the community skills, teach job-training through art,” Thomas told Billy Penn reporter Michaela Winberg. “To bring that back to this neighborhood, to that community, would be life-changing.”

In SEPTA news, we can expect a slew of projects to advance or finish up in the coming fiscal year, Jim Saksa reports. SEPTA says work on the concourse and new elevators  at 15th Street Station should finish this year, as well as the new elevated Regional Rail platforms at Secane, Paoli, Villanova, Yardley, and Exton. Also, did you know there’s actually a town named Wawa? If you didn’t know how to get there, SEPTA will also begin a three-year project to extend three miles of track from Elwyn to Wawa, PA in Delaware County.

Meanwhile, SEPTA’s board will vote Thursday on the final route for the Norristown High Speed Line (NHSL) extension to King of Prussia, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jason Laughlin reports. SEPTA tweaked the route in response to community feedback to a previous design that would have required the partial taking of four residents’ backyards. While the new route addresses local opponents’ primary concern, No KOP Rail group head Dan Cowhey says “many are still not pleased with the project” and has concerns that the project will be “more of a burden in the long run to King of Prussia.” For an in-depth play-by-play of the saga, check out Jim Saksa’s coverage of the many iterations and neighborhood reactions.

Amazon HQ2 files, continued: Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records has ordered Pittsburgh to publicly release its Amazon bid and related emails within 30 days, the Tribune-Review reports. Pittsburgh is not the first city to resist telling taxpayers about the public goodies on offer to the tech giant. Philadelphia released a heavily redacted version of their bid in December before the finalists were announced.

Tracking the heartbeat of the city, by merging design, empathy, and medical practice is the work of Jefferson University doctor and professor Bon Ku, reports Next City. Ku is the co-founder of JeffDESIGN, a co-curricular design program within the medical school at Jefferson University with the mission to “design healthier cities, find more efficient ways to deliver care, and develop the next generation of medical devices.” Passionate about the impact of the built environment on public health, Ku is arming future doctors with hybrid skills to understand the needs of their patients and the communities they serve, here in Philly and beyond. 

PSA: EKNA is looking for artists to create designs for its “Kensington Cans” initiative, Philadelphia Weekly reports. Inspired by fellow River Wards organizations Olde Richmond Civic and Fishtown Neighbors Associations’ colorful and distinct trash can designs, EKNA wants to do their own and inspire other RCOs to do the same. EKNA is also talking to neighborhood businesses who are interested in committing to host a can. Want to submit a design? Email info@EKNA.org.


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