NW Philly groups land Knight Foundation grant to attract immigrants, improve walkability

  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Community development corporations Mt. Airy USA and Central Roxborough Civic Association have been awarded Knight Cities Challenge grants. The grants are meant to encourage “talent, opportunity and engagement” in the 26 cities that the Knight Foundation opened up the application process to. 

A total of seven groups in Philadelphia were awarded grants totaling $1.1 million. Throughout the country, 32 grants were approved in 12 cities.

MAUSA will be using its $261,500 grant to create an innovation hub for immigrant entrepreneurs. CRCA will be using its $20,000 grant to create a toolkit that will help residents develop Neighborhood Conservations Overlays — a zoning function that can aid in the preservation of a neighborhood’s unique physical characteristics. The group hopes to use it to promote walkability. 

Attracting immigrants

In Mt. Airy, a collaborative workspace at 6700 Germantown Ave. is set to open by fall. The co-working space will be open to anyone — immigrant or not — according to the group’s executive director, Anuj Gupta. 

He hopes the availability of the space, along with additional programming help, social networking, credit access advice and mentorship programs for immigrants will help attract them — one of the sources of the Philadelphia’s population boom in recent years — to Northwest Philadelphia. 

Gupta says the idea to create such a hub for immigrants came to him when he saw the results of the 2010 census. Despite the city’s overall population growth, the population of Mt. Airy declined by three to four percent over the 2000 census.

While that could be due to a variety of factors, Gupta says one thing is for sure: “If we don’t tap into the population growth that is fueling the rest of the city, we are going to be left behind.” 

Partnering with the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, an immigrant services group that Gupta is on the board of, and Finata, a nonprofit community lender, Gupta hopes to attract newcomers to Northwest Philadelphia.

“Once we get them up here, we can sell them on the neighborhood as a good place to live and to do business,” he says.

Preserving walkability

In Roxborough, the plan to create an accessible toolkit for residents to map their neighborhoods will help preserve the original characteristics of Philadelphia design, according to project lead, Sandy Sorlien, an urban code writer, photographer and environmental educator.

“Privileging cars is not how Philadelphia became the city of neighborhoods. We intend for this project to draw attention to the patterns that undermine our walkable character, and to fix them,” says Sorlien. 

She hopes the project will help encourage community-based design and possibly act as a standarized tool throughout the city in the future. 

Click here for the full list of Knight Cities Challenge grant recipients. 

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