Brains behind Spruce Street Harbor to take on vacant ‘pocket park’ along Ridge Avenue

 Residents of the neighborhood offered their visions for what is now referred to as the Ridge Avenue Pocket Park. The site is located at 6170-72 Ridge, and the adjacent Allison Building, a former carpet store, is part of the plan. (Neema Roshania/WHYY, file)

Residents of the neighborhood offered their visions for what is now referred to as the Ridge Avenue Pocket Park. The site is located at 6170-72 Ridge, and the adjacent Allison Building, a former carpet store, is part of the plan. (Neema Roshania/WHYY, file)

A proposed green space in the midst of the Roxborough business district took a step toward the light on Thursday night.

At an informal community meeting, longtime and new residents of the neighborhood offered their visions for what is now referred to as the Ridge Avenue Pocket Park. The site is located at 6170-72 Ridge, and the adjacent Allison Building, a former carpet store, is part of the plan.

Prior to the meeting, held in the vacant Allison Building and hosted by the Roxborough Development Corporation, 200 area residents responded to an online survey seeking their concepts for the open space and the structure next door. The results of those surveys and the communal idea-download on Thursday night will inform the next phase for the park: refining the dreams into design concepts.

Background

The site of the proposed park had served for many years as an entrance to the Leverington Avenue Parking Lot.

The RDC received a service grant from the Community Design Collaborative in 2010 to envision a park at the site. The Collaborative developed the concept of a pedestrian pathway that could include an area for sitting surrounded by trees and landscaping in what is currently a 6,800-square-foot empty grass lot.

In 2013, the RDC purchased 6168 Ridge, the then-dilapidated, 4,000-square-foot Allison Building. It was redeveloped in 2014 by the RDC under the guidance of design committee member Bob Torres.

Investment site

Torres told the 20 residents at the meeting that the RDC has been trying to “bring the neighborhood back to Ridge Avenue” through a series of redevelopment projects. The reason for the RDC’s investment in the Allison Building was the opportunity for an indoor/outdoor space utilizing the adjacent lot and the chance to control who the next tenant will be.

An obvious choice would be a restaurant that could make use of the park for café seating, said Torres, an architect and a Roxborough resident since the 1950s.

Taking on the next phase of the park plan is Groundswell Design Group, a firm whose recent projects have included Spruce Street Harbor Park, Winterfest, The Porch @ 30th Street Station, and portions of Dilworth Plaza. At the meeting, Groundswell designer Rob Brady, who lived in Roxborough for three years, said the firm would bring its experience in creating “activation spaces” to the Ridge Avenue project. He and Groundswell colleague Kyle Blackwell said their goal is to gather the “needs, likes and desires” of the community and return with design concepts.

What they heard at the meeting was a range of creative ideas for the pocket park.

In the area of sustainability, residents asked for the use of reclaimed materials and a space devoted to collecting recyclables on the site.

Margaret Ann Morris, a 16-year Roxborough resident, suggested the creative use of technology in the park, including low-level LED lighting that enhances the space but isn’t intrusive.

Stormwater management is also a major concern in hilly Roxborough and will have an important role in the park design.

To bring the community together in the park, residents suggested the formation of a friends group that would provide volunteer maintenance of the site. Brady called that an excellent way for neighbors “to take ownership” of the park.

Capturing the history of the Allison Building and the borough was an important concern as well. Residents called for a statue, plaque, photo collage or signage to tell the story of Roxborough in the park.

To activate the space, suggestions included a performance stage, playground area, movie screenings, and food — inside the Allison Building and outside under the trees.

As for the elements of the park, residents would like to see the use of native plants to attract birds and pollinators, an edible community garden, a fountain and a lush green wall.

Next steps

James Calamia, executive director of the RDC, said the next community meeting on the park will move the design process forward and seek feedback from the concepts developed by Groundswell.

In the fall, the RDC will use seed money provided by the Exelon Corp. through the Schuylkill River Heritage Area Grant Program to further stabilize the park site, Calamia said. At the same time, the organization will seek other stakeholders and new funding sources for the realization of the project.

Two tenants are already living on the upper floors of the Allison Building, and prospective tenants have expressed interest in the retail space on the street level, Calamia said.

The community needs “to shepherd new businesses that move into the commercial corridor,” before development pressure really starts to build along Ridge Avenue, said Martine Decamp, a resident of the borough for 11 years.

The site for the pocket park and the adjacent building is centrally located and could be “the funnel for activity” in the neighborhood, she said. Shielded by the surrounding buildings, the open site near Leverington Street is “our only intimate park space available.”

PlanPhilly is now a project of WHYY/NewsWorks. It began in 2006 as an initiative of Penn Praxis inside the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. Though now part of WHYY, PlanPhilly still works closely with Penn Praxis in covering planning, zoning and development news. Contact Alan Jaffe at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

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