Frankford reaps benefits of PhillyRising, other programs

This is the first of a two-part series on PhillyRising’s involvement in Frankford and Lawncrest.

Vacant buildings have become spaces for art galleries, overgrown brush in parks has been trimmed, empty lots have been cleared from short-dumping and victory gardens at local schools have been planted since PhillyRising first took roots in the revitalization efforts in Frankford last year.

PhillyRising originally began as a pilot program in 2010 and since has expanded to cover six different divisions in Philadelphia that are facing issues associated with community disorder such as crime, violence, empty lots and drugs. It began its division in Frankford in April 2011.

Each division is led by a PhillyRising team coordinator to draft a set of initiatives and goals with the community leaders and organizations. Together they develop an action plan through sustainable, responsive and cost-effective solutions.

The main focuses in Frankford have been to beautify the parks and green spaces, strengthen the business corridor and combat the vacancy problem, said Manny Citron, the coordinator for the Northeast division of PhillyRising.

In June, Citron reached out to the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps trim the overgrown brush in Overington Park on Orthodox Street. Citron said that the park is a great community space but the trees had not been trimmed.

“If you don’t take care of the trees, the branches grow down and become a safety hazard,” Citron said. “People could hide behind the tree or use it as a place to store drugs or weapons.”

Together with the AmeriCorps NCCC team of eight people, Citron said they were able to clip all the trees to a safe height and also plant new flower beds in the park.

Citron is also in partnership with the AmeriCorps NCCC on an ongoing project to restore and renovate the Hedge Street Park at the corner of Hedge and Plum streets. Citron organized a clean-up of the park in early October.

“The green space of the park was totally overgrown with weeds in the cracks of the concrete as tall as five feet,” Citron said. “I had the whole AmeriCorps team there, folks from CLIP and the office of Councilwoman Maria Sanchez as well as five or six local residents.”

Moving forward, Citron hopes to repair the cracks that fill the concrete of the park and is working with the Fairmount Park Conservancy to fund the renovation.

Other successful projects PhillyRising has completed in Frankford include clearing lots that had been used for short-dumping, in which the AmeriCorps NCCC team was able to remove six tons of material from the lots; and the installation of victory gardens at Sankofa Freedom Academy and Warren G. Harding Middle School in partnership with the Carson Valley Children’s Aid, a social services outreach program, Cintron said.

“The idea of PhillyRising in its coordinating role is to reach out to other organizations and agencies within the city to bring people with expertise to work with neighborhood groups,” Citron said.

One such group is the Frankford Community Development Corporation, which focuses on raising the quality of life in the community by providing job opportunities, increasing financial resources and revitalizing the business corridor.

“A lot of CDCs focus on affordable housing,” said Michelle Feldman, the corridor manager and special events coordinator of the Frankford CDC. “In Frankford, we are focused on the commercial corridor from 4200- to 5300-Frankford Avenue.”

Feldman said that not only does the Frankford CDC help businesses with everyday administrative duties and publicity work, but it also focuses on filling the vacancies along the corridor to make it a more vibrant area to shop from both within the neighborhood and outside it.

“If you have been to Frankford Avenue in the section the Community Development Corporation serves, there are a ton of vacancies, which leads people to feeling like it is an unsafe neighborhood,” Citron said.

The Frankford CDC has more than 70 vacant properties on file ranging from commercial to multistory office buildings, Feldman said.

In an effort to combat this issue, the Frankford CDC began the Art in Vacant Spaces project in partnership with PhillyRising.

“We’ve been working with PhillyRising on this project for months to identify funding opportunities, contact artists and develop some sort of real working program,” Feldman said. “We try to bring artists from within Frankford to a vacant space and give it new life in an effort to attract people to those spaces and see the potential of those spaces.”

Citron was able to connect the Frankford CDC with a representative from the Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy city program.

“I reached out and brought in one of their representatives to an Art in Vacant Spaces meeting and had them find out what were the upcoming cycles for grant applications,” Citron said. “The Frankford CDC needs funding to rent out the spaces, to pay for someone to coordinate the project and for individual artists because you want to pay them for their work.”

Another way the Frankford CDC is combating the vacancy problem in Frankford is through the Targeted Block Project of the 4600-block of Frankford Avenue that began in January 2011.

Businesses were offered the opportunity to have a new façade put on their building. The awning and signage colors of yellow and green will match the architecture that will be re-painted. Lighting will also be installed to illuminate the storefront signs and sidewalks.

A total of 11 businesses joined the project and construction is set to begin this January and finish in June, Feldman said.

Nafisha Lewis co-owns Iqraa Café with her husband and said she is excited for the renovations to begin.

“Frankford used to be a different kind of neighborhood back in the day but people are coming around and doing things to the neighborhood,” Lewis said. “We’re bringing it back though. We’re taking it back.”

Jessica Lopez and Lucia Volpe are students reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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