This article was created in partnership with Philadelphia Neighborhoods, Temple University’s capstone multimedia journalism class.
By Mary Mazzoni
The corner of 16th Street and Ridge Avenue is now largely vacant, but that condition will not exist for long.
A group of private stakeholders announced they will begin construction on an LEED-certified housing development at the Francisville intersection. The proposed development – called the Vineyards at 16th – will feature 20 three-family townhomes with ecological amenities including hydronic radiant heating and solar thermal hot water systems.
Property owners hope to break ground in March, and the introduction of modern and sustainable housing is a movement that could change the neighborhood, says Penelope Giles, executive director of the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corp. (FNDC).
The Vineyards at 16th is not only the first LEED-certified housing development in the area, but its construction also has the potential to draw new residents into a neighborhood suffering from population loss.
“When I was a little girl, this neighborhood was so densely populated,” Giles remembers. “There were no vacancies. Now there are vacancies on almost every block. But that gives us the opportunity to look at the neighborhood as a blank slate,” she continues. “We can learn from the past and make the future better.”
To promote residency and development, FNDC has set out to transform Francisville into a green neighborhood.
Giles felt so strongly about promoting sustainability that she spearheaded a “Cleaning and Greening” effort, taking back vacant lots and converting them into green spaces. The crowning achievement of the initiative is Ogden Park at 20th and Ogden Streets. The lot, once a hotspot for crime, is now home to fruit and vegetable patches and yards of open space.
“When [Giles] came to me with the idea for that park, I never thought it would work,” says Sharon Hale Jenkins, treasurer of FNDC. “It was so overgrown and filled with garbage, but now it’s beautiful.”
Construction began on several new homes after the completion of the park, Giles says. “Cleaning and greening helps attract residents and business owners into the area,” she says. “It makes them more comfortable … and it improves the quality of life for everyone.”
Other green spaces introduced by the initiative include an orchard at 815 Perkiomen St. and pocket parks at Brown and Uber Streets and 15th Street and Ridge Avenue.
The green housing development is a promising next step, Giles says, and many residents agree. “It’s major,” says Jenkins, a 35-year resident of Francisville. “It will change that whole part of Ridge Avenue.”
Jenkins admits some residents may be skeptical of a development with homes starting at nearly $175,000, but she is confident that more information will change their minds.
“Some residents will probably receive [the development] as someplace they can’t afford to live, but that’s not necessarily true,” Jenkins says. “And filling in all this space is what we need to sustain ourselves.” “We can’t afford to draw a line between old and new residents,” she says. “We need new investment to revitalize this neighborhood, and [FNDC] needs to educate people of that.”
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