Parkside: Local Group Plans for Future Sustainable Development

Robert Cousar of the East Parkside Community Revitalization Corp. said the organization is ready to resume working towards its goals of building and retrofitting energy efficient, sustainable homes in Parkside–a goal that was put on hold because of the downturn in the economy.

In September 2009, EPCRC partnered with Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia and a team of architects from the Philadelphia-based firm Wallace Roberts & Todd to build seven LEED-certified row homes on the 4200 block of West Stiles Street. For EPCRC the partnership was a major step toward its goals of revitalizing the neighborhood through energy efficient and environmentally sustainable construction.

With the homes on West Stiles Street the organization hoped to prove that its vision for sustainable development in the inner city was viable.

“We wanted [the homes] to, in essence, prove that green works,” said Cousar, who served as executive director of EPCRC when the West Stiles Street project began.

“When the market first went upside down things were [put] on delay, and they’re just getting back on track,” he said.

The seven homes that EPCRC, Wallace Roberts & Todd and Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia partnered to build were designed to match the character of other homes in the Parkside Historic District, which is often regarded for its mix of Victorian homes and Flemish, Dutch and German inspired designs.

Each of the homes was fit with sustainable, energy-saving features including insulated concrete form foundations and walls, solar-light pipes, high-efficiency heating systems and more. As a result, Cousar said, the utility costs of each structure are drastically lower than average home utility costs.

“That’s what we wanted to prove,” Cousar said. “Green does work. If you apply sustainable building practices to housing, especially affordable housing, you’re giving people more disposable income without having to give them more money.”

A sign near the LEED-certified row homes on West Stiles Street states Habitat for Humanity's commitment to sustainable development in Parkside. | Philadelphia Neighborhoods
(A sign near the LEED-certified row homes on West Stiles Street states Habitat for Humanity's commitment to sustainable development in Parkside. | Philadelphia Neighborhoods)

At one ribbon-cutting event, a resident of one of the homes approached Cousar. She told him that she felt guilty that her neighbors were paying so much more for their utilities. She explained that because her utilities bill for the month of January was just $50, she was able to send her daughter back to college.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Cousar said. “The [residents] have consistently had significantly lower utilities bills.”

Getting to this point was not always easy, he said.

“It was very challenging because we were told it couldn’t be done,” Cousar said. “When we started down the green path, green was a color to most people … We were constantly told that you couldn’t do it in the inner city. My question was why not?”

Cousar said that other groups have since replicated this model for green, sustainable, inner-city housing in cities including Chicago and Detroit and that he is optimistic for the future success of such development in Philadelphia.

“We’re just now coming back around financially to get back on track and continue development with pretty significant projects that are coming over the next couple of years,” he said.

“All we can say is you haven’t seen anything yet.”

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Christine Fisher and Kara Savidge bring Eyes on the Street and PlanPhilly dispatches from Mantua, Parkside, and throughout Philadelphia as part of their work for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a publication of Temple’s Multimedia Reporting Lab. PlanPhilly is a partner in this project, so expect to see stories from other Philadelphia Neighborhoods as well.

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