Connecting community assets in Manayunk

In Garrett Elwood’s estimation, Manayunk is a little disconnected. Not from the outside world, that is — but from itself.

“Pretzel Park feels detached from Main Street,” says Elwood, director of economic development for the Manayunk Development Corporation (MDC). “And the Canal and Towpath have the same connectedness problem. The neighborhood feels like three distinct entities.”

That may soon change. The MDC has been awarded a $15,000 to $20,000 service grant from the Community Design Collaborative, which will allow it to look into ways to connect Pretzel Park, historic Main Street, and the Manayunk Canal and Towpath. The grant will also be used to create designs for a green corridor in the neighborhood. The MDC is currently inviting community members and other stakeholders to join a task force that would meet with volunteers from the Community Design Collaborative, and make suggestions about how to pursue these projects.

Here’s how the grant works: According to the Community Design Collaborative (a local, volunteer-based group) most nonprofits can’t afford early design assistance for development projects. So, over the next 6 months, the group will provide $15,000 to $20,000 worth of design services to the MDC.

In March, the project will officially begin, with a task force meeting being the first big step. The second meeting will likely take place in May, says Elwood, and designs should be completed by August. The task force will likely be made up of nearby neighbors, as well as representatives from City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.’s office, Destination Schuylkill River, the Friends of Pretzel Park, and the Department of Parks and Recreation, among others.

There are dozens of possible ways to fix Manayunk’s disconnectedness problem, say MDC representatives. It could be as simple as improving signage and street banners, or as neighborhood-changing as making a one-way street into a two-way. One of the more progressive ideas being floated is to close off one of the side streets permanently to traffic, and put up a plaza there.

“There’s not enough public space for visitors who come to Manayunk or people around Manayunk,” says Elwood. “We need an updated version of the town square where people can congregate.”

But Elwood emphasizes that these proposals aren’t even close to being finalized: The goal of the meetings between the Community Design Collaborative, neighbors and other stakeholders is to hash them out, and find out what works best for Manayunk.

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