Category Archives: W Rockland Street

Lots of Possibility: Grassroots vacant lot project with Mural Arts Program underway in Germantown

One of the biggest issues facing W Rockland Street has been managing the block’s new public spaces. In 2014, Aine and I submitted a proposal to the City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program aimed at improving conditions within the vacant lot on the corner of W Rockland Street and Greene Street. We are excited to announce it was approved! The project is now underway and will be completed during the summer months of 2015.

Lot at the corner of W Rockland Street & Greene Street

Lot at the corner of W Rockland Street & Greene Street

The proposed project aims to activate and beautify the vacant lot. The highly visible location makes it possible to further the connection between neighboring blocks around W Rockland and bolster what we’re building here. Improvements will include light landscaping and features that help to break-up the space, making it easier to maintain and inviting use; the installation of a community message board; new plantings and flowers; and a mural on the facade of the last house of W Rockland Street. The mural, visible from Greene Street, will face the open space. The project may also include other interventions developed during the community engagement process.

We hope to make our grassroots neighborhood revitalization efforts more sustainable by turning this vacant space into a safe place for residents.

The project is designed to be temporary but durable and accomadate long-term temporary use, in this period between blight and possible redevelopment.

It will also be accessible and costs will be kept low, so that the ideas put in place here can be easily replicated by anyone elsewhere – from your average D-I-Y citizen to grassroots community groups like ours.

Zoom around this Google Map of the space and get a lay of the land. 4819 Greene is owned by the City of Philadelphia; 4817 Greene is privately owned by the tax delinquent and missing-in-action Church of God by Faith; and 4815 Greene is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Special shoutout to the lady crossing the street in the satellite image!

THE WALL

Michelle Oosterbaan, a contemporary artist working with the Mural Arts Program, will paint the mural. Oosterbaan is currently working on the color pallet and mural concept, after meeting with residents and talking about the ideas and things they would like the mural to evoke. Her abstract mural at Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology (PCAT) in West Oak Lane is what first caught our eye.

The mural will add beauty and brightness to Southwest Germantown and link the houses on W Rockland and Greene. The side-wall of the house where the mural will be painted was previously blocked by the abandoned properties that once stood on Greene Street, and now has a new audience.

Kevon flies a paper airplane in October 2013 in front of 74 W Rockland St, where the mural will be installed.

Kevon flies a paper airplane in October 2013 in front of 74 W Rockland St, where the mural will be installed.

Michelle Oosterbaan’s “Pulse” at Philadelphia Center for Art and Technology, a collaboration with the Mural Arts Program.

EMPOWERING D-I-Y CITIZENS

Many people think maintaining vacant land is really the city’s responsibility, and that might be true. But shouldn’t it be easier for residents who want to care for and reimagine these spaces? With this project, we think we can make it easier.

It seems kind of bonkers that the solution for community-managed vacant land tends to go from keeping lots litter free and the grass mowed, to community gardens and urban farms, with little in-between. A fence around a vacant lot is sometimes not enough. And let’s face it, community gardens are hard – we know this because we built one in another vacant lot at the top of our block. We want to uncover more creative in-between uses for vacant lots that can be done on the cheap. 

At the same time, there are many residents living in Philly neighborhoods, like ours, that lack resources and organizational capacity to take on this kind of project from scratch. We think they just need a how-to. 

Every part of this project will be documented and shared online here at rocklandstreet.com for anyone to adapt or copy what we’ve tried, without having to reinvent the wheel. We’ll post tips for getting neighborhood participation, detailed instructions for how to create anything we build for the lot, clever fundraising tactics, and more.

OFF THE WALL

Interestingly, this wide open space is a relatively new addition to our neighborhood fabric, thanks to the demolition of two abandoned rowhouses that towered over the community, some say for over 20 years.

It wasn’t until June 2011 that the footprints of the looming three-story houses (4815 Greene and 4817 Greene St) joined the adjacent overgrown lot (4819 Greene), already a popular illegal dump site.

The story of how that happened is not exactly typical.

Over Memorial Day Weekend in 2011, Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter paid a surprise visit to the block to see the Grow This Block! garden project – a day on which over 30 households on W Rockland St planted fruit, veggie, herb, and flower gardens in their front yards. The Mayor had read an article by Inga Saffron about the planting project in The Philadelphia Inquirer and showed up with the newspaper in-hand. It was then that he toured the block and saw the condition of the abandoned properties.

Wildness. Google Maps image of the space in 2008.

Wildness. Google Maps image of the space in 2008.

L&I had already declared the buildings imminently dangerous, after a re-inspection requested by the community. But within days of the Mayor’s visit, the demolition was scheduled.

“When neighbors are trying to make something happen, we, the city, have to meet them halfway,” Mayor Nutter told the Inquirer.

What happened next is perhaps more typical.

After the houses were demolished (yay!) the lot was left unprotected without a fence, and the ground remained a sandy pit with bits and pieces of rock and concrete from the houses (doh!). Soon cars and trucks began parking in the lot and illegal dumping returned. Navigating what to do next was challenging.

By 2013, it was clear we had to find an alternative use for the vacant lot and work to turn the space into something that neighbors could enjoy. We began with simple beautification projects. We also hosted community events in the lot, including yard sales and a kids Halloween party.

The bottom of the block began to look and feel differently. It began to look like a space people cared about.

The question now is how to make more people care about this vacant lot (and others around the city), which is a big part of what this project is all about.

LOTS OF POSSIBILITY

Taking action
2009 – 2011
In 2009, residents on W Rockland St began organizing cleanups of the lot and the abandoned properties, working to maintain the area and put an end to illegal dumping.  Philly Spring Cleanup, April 4, 2009.

In 2009, residents on W Rockland St began organizing cleanups of the abandoned properties, working to maintain the space and put an end to illegal dumping. Philly Spring Cleanup, April 4, 2009.

4819 Greene St after W Rockland St Project’s Philly Spring Cleanup 2009 project in which the lot was cleaned.

4819 Greene St after W Rockland St Project’s Philly Spring Cleanup 2009 project in which the lot was cleaned.

4819, 4817, 4815 Greene St after W Rockland St Project’s Philly Spring Cleanup 2009 project in which the lot was cleaned and graffiti was removed from the front of the houses.

4819, 4817, 4815 Greene St after W Rockland St Project’s Philly Spring Cleanup 2009 project in which the lot was cleaned and graffiti was removed from the front of the houses.

Demolition of 4817 and 4815 Greene St in June 2011, funded by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), managed by the Redevelopment Authority.

Demolition of 4817 and 4815 Greene St in June 2011, funded by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), managed by the Redevelopment Authority.

W Rockland St's very own sand lot. The condition  of the lot after the demolition of the houses in June 2011.

W Rockland St’s very own sand lot. The condition of the lot after the demolition of the houses in June 2011.

Germantown Beach. Kids play in the sand lot in September 2011.

Germantown Beach. Kids play in the sand lot in September 2011.

An evolving space
2012 – 2015

GET INVOLVED

If you’re interested in helping make this project happen and supporting The W Rockland Street Project, there are lots of opportunities to get involved.

Our first community meeting was held on Monday, June 22 at the steps of the DePaul Catholic School. Join us at the next one (date TBD) and contact us if you have immediate questions.

We will be working to increase communication and engagement with residents of the 4800 block of Greene St, who face the vacant lot, the flanking 100 blocks of Logan St and Wyneva St, the 4800 block of Germantown Ave, and other surrounding blocks.

Sign-up for our email list! Keep up with The W Rockland Street Project! We’ll send very occasional emails with stories from the block, along with updates about our vacant lot project with Mural Arts Program.


Full disclosure: Emaleigh Doley is currently working on the Mural Arts Program’s citywide public art exhibition Open Source (coming October 2015) as a programming consultant. The idea and development of this project however predates that engagement. 

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Photos: Snow Day on W Rockland Street in Germantown

A few scenes of snowy W Rockland Street from the third-floor window of our house.

And remember to shovel your walk! Sidewalks are for everyone. It doesn’t really matter where you’re going or how you get there, just remember mostly everyone in the city has to step foot on a sidewalk. Whether you’re walking around the corner to the bus stop or 10 feet to your car, a few blocks to school or back and forth all day to the corner store – sidewalks are for everyone and everyone uses sidewalks! If you need a refresh, the official rules for snow removal in Philadelphia are included below in this snow day post from 2014.

Enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with a snow storm. We are!

Let there be light in Germantown

Outdoor lighting is an important part of making Germantown a safer place. One of the simplest things you can do to improve neighborhood safety is leave your porch light or lamp post on after dark.

In lower Germantown, both the DePaul Catholic School and Philly Office Retail have joined residents in lighting up the neighborhood and added exterior lighting to their properties.

The DePaul Catholic School on W Rockland St

The DePaul Catholic School on W Rockland St

The DePaul Catholic School property had become a problematic hangout for teens after hours, the site of vandalism and violent incidents. In response to resident concerns, school administration installed lights to the exterior of the building facing both the unit blocks of W Rockland St and W Logan St. The new lighting has made a big impact and helps brighten what was a very dark part of the block. Special thanks to Aldo Cavalli with Independence Mission Schools, Sister Bernadette Miller, and Vice Principal Stephen Janczewski for working with the community.

Just up the block on Germantown Avenue, the buildings at developer Ken Weinstein’s Wayne Junction Campus are also getting new exterior lighting (don’t call it the former Germantown Settlement campus anymore!). The photos don’t really do the change justice. If you go by this week, you’ll notice a big difference.

If you don’t have an exterior light where you live, consider leaving a first floor light on and join the cause! Well-lit streets are more inviting to pedestrians, make people feel safer and discourage criminal activity.

West Rockland Street Crime Alert October

Crime Watch LogoThis May we began compiling a monthly crime alert for W Rockland Street after noticing an uptick in robberies, burglaries and theft nearby. We attend the monthly 39th District Captain’s Town Hall and local Police Service Area (PSA) meeting but weren’t sure how much information ever reached block residents who can’t or don’t regularly attend meetings. Each month, the crime alert is printed and distributed as a flyer to every house on the block. We know its now December, but here is a copy of October’s report. We’re working on updating past reports to rocklandstreet.com for a complete digital record. Look for the November recap soon.

Learn more about the 39th Police District at phillypolice.com/districts/39th.

You can find out when and where your police district meetings are at www.phillypolice.com. We get our crime stats from www.spotcrime.com and you can too!

>> Download a PDF of the October crime report

October Crime Alert

October Crime Alert

 

Grant opportunity to design a neighborhood bulletin board

STONE_SOUP_LOGO-300x270Last month, Germantown United Community Development Corporation (GUCDC) launched the micro-grant program Stone Soup Saturdays, awarding grants to artists, designers, gardeners and other creatives for projects in four Germantown locations.

We’re excited that one of the locations just happens to be W Rockland Street and hope our idea for a neighborhood bulletin board inspires you!

Germantown United is looking for projects with the potential to create a catalyst for future beautification and development in the neighborhood, foster community ownership of public spaces and increase community pride. We like the sound of that!

While the deadline for proposals has past for the other three project locations, the deadline for W Rockland St has been extended until we find the right match. 

Community Exchange

To help shape the Stone Soup project on W Rockland St, we’re offering applicants some suggestions for a community exchange tool we’d like to experiment with on the block.

Recognizing that communication is paramount, we’re looking for a designer, architect or builder to help us create a neighborhood bulletin board. Our plan is to build two and install the boards at the highly visible vacant lot at the corner of Greene St and W Rockland St and outside of the community garden at 15 W Rockland St.

Our hope is that the bulletin board will become the go-to place for W Rockland St Project flyers and community news, helping to connect and inform nearby blocks. We would like the design to feature an accessible space for anyone to post flyers and a protective enclosed case for official W Rockland St Project communications (we distribute A LOT of flyers). The design must be able to withstand outdoor weather conditions and an urban environment.

Our project is all about the community. After the winning proposal is selected, we’ll organize a build-day with GUCDC and the designer and invite neighborhood residents to participate in the installation.

How Neighborhoods Share Information

Sure, lots of neighborhood communications have moved online, but here in Germantown we know there is still a place for the paper flyer. Over the past couple of months, we’ve been snapping photographs of outdoor bulletin boards at parks and gardens around Philadelphia for inspiration. Here are a few examples from Fishtown, Mt. Airy and Northern Liberties.

My favorite example is a neighborhood bulletin board in Lutheran Settlement House's garden on Frankford Avenue in Fishtown, near Master Street.

My favorite design sits in Lutheran Settlement House’s garden on Frankford Avenue in Fishtown, near Master Street.

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Submit Your Idea!

Grants of up to $1500 will be awarded for materials and artist stipends. There is a total of $7,500 available for implementation of all selected proposals. This program was made possible by a grant from the Samuel S. Fels Fund.

The W Rockland St Project will also help to assist with additional fundraising and materials donations to help lower the cost of the project.

The three other Stone Soup project locations identified by Germantown United CDC are: the unit block of West Haines Street at the garden space on the south side of Germantown Town Hall, the wall at the southwest corner of Chelten and Greene along the southbound bus stop at Greene St and Chelten Ave, and parking lot entryway of the Germantown Life Enrichment Center (GLEC) at 5772 Greene Street. GUCDC is no longer accepting applications for those projects.

To submit your project for W Rockland Street, download the Stone Soup Saturday application and email your pitch to info@germantownunitedcdc.org. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us!

Developer Ken Weinstein’s growing presence along Germantown Avenue to be discussed at June 3 community meeting

4811 Germantown Avenue, part of the former Germantown Charter School Campus.

4811 Germantown Avenue, part of the former Germantown Charter School Campus.

Ken Weinstein of Philly Office Retail will host a community meeting about the redevelopment of the former-Germantown Settlement Charter School Campus on Germantown Avenue this Tuesday, June 3 at 7pm. The meeting is open to the greater Germantown community (not just near-neighbors) and will be held on-location at 4811 Germantown Avenue in the former St. Michael’s Church. (Download a PDF of the flyer shared by Ken Weinstein.)

Over the past few years, Weinstein has acquired a growing number of properties in the area, many of which are concentrated along Germantown Avenue, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare which features several business districts.

Ongoing development of the five building six acre Settlement campus has the potential to redefine a significant portion of Germantown Avenue nearby Wayne Junction Station.

At Settlement, the youth drama school Greatness Is In You will join New Directions for Women, a residential penal facility for female ex-offenders that has operated on the campus for over 20 years, and the for-profit adult daycare center Tori’s Garden of Eden, also under renovations. Two other buildings remain vacant.

After two contentious zoning meetings about the adult daycare in February and April, near-neighbors are eager to engage in a healthy dialogue with the developer and build a vision for the entire campus.

A diagram of the former Germantown Settlement Campus, courtesy of Ken Weinstein. Click to enlarge.

A diagram of the former Germantown Settlement Campus, courtesy of Ken Weinstein. Click to enlarge.

The Schaeffer School at 4701 Germantown Avenue. Photo taken on November 16, 2013.

The Schaeffer School at 4701 Germantown Avenue. Photo taken on November 16, 2013.

Weinstein also owns several other significant buildings in the immediate vicinity, including the former C.W. Schaeffer Public School at 4701 Germantown Avenue, adjacent to the Settlement campus. Together, these large scale properties front nearly an entire block of the Avenue, less than half a mile away from Wayne Junction Station.

Beyond Settlement, there is currently a rising debate about 5301 Germantown Avenue, a six-story property owned by Weinstein on a largely historic stretch of the Avenue. That building is less than one mile away from the Settlement campus and currently under redevelopment.

The property is said to feature a 1,600 sq ft cafe and restaurant space on the ground floor and 11 market rate apartments (one and two-bedroom units), as confirmed by the developer on a neighborhood Facebook group and advertised on the building facade. The primary use of the building is rumored to be a 100-bed shelter, managed by an unnamed non-profit.

When pressed about the unadvertised building use at a recent Baynton Hill Neighbors civic group meeting, Weinstein said that he could not legally disclose the name of the non-profit or the nature of the additional residential use.

Further along the Avenue, Weinstein recently toured Germantown High School – perhaps the largest vacant building on Germantown Avenue at 355,372 sq. ft. – and is considering purchasing the property from the Philadelphia School District.

W Rockland Street is looking for a Junior Block Captain

Marianna, Junior Block Captain, with the Neighborhood Transformation Award

Marianna, Junior Block Captain 2010, holds the W Rockland St’s Neighborhood Transformation Award

We’re on the hunt for a new Junior Block Captain on the unit block of W Rockland Street for 2014. Being a block captain is more than just organizing block parties, it’s a real (volunteer) job worthy of a serious job description. How will we find the right kid? Outlining what is expected of the Junior Block Captain at the outset should help. Some of the responsibilities below were suggested by children at our first block meeting of the season.

Download a PDF of the flyer.

W Rockland Street Junior Block Captain
Job Description

Responsibilities

  • Spray weeds in the sidewalk on your assigned section of the block once per week.
  • Sweep and pick up trash on your assigned section of the block twice per week (from April to September. Once per week from October to March).
  • Talk to children about putting trash in its place and recycling properly.
  • Attend Block Meetings.
  • Organize and help lead two youth block meetings per year.
  • Help spread the word to residents on the block about meetings, events and activities through word of mouth and flyering.
  • Communicate ideas and concerns from the children on the block.

Qualifications

  • You are a natural leader.
  • You set an example for the other children living on W Rockland Street.
  • On time for all block events.

Benefits

  • If job responsibilities are completed in a satisfactory manner you may receive up to two gift cards each month.

This is a volunteer position available immediately though December 31, 2014. Beyond that, there may be the opportunity for the Junior Block Captain to renew their position each season.

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