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APM and LISC Unveil Community Plan

June 30, 2011

SCI Eastern North from LittleVideos.com on Vimeo. The Community College of Philadelphia put together a documentary about the SCI-Eastern North planning process. We showed this at the event. Enjoy!

The community of eastern North Philadelphia shared its vision for a healthier, happier and more prosperous future with hundreds of the city’s most influential redevelopment leaders Monday afternoon, the culminating event in a year-long planning process coordinated by Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation.

“We could not be more excited about this plan. This is not something developed in that faraway place in the depths of government somewhere,” said Mayor Nutter, who was at the event to receive and accept the plan. “This came right up from the ground. This is yours. And we are proud to be a part of it.”

The plan is called Our Community, Our Ideas, and it seeks to match the community’s best hopes for itself with concrete, real-world steps necessary to make those goals a reality.
Monday’s event – held, appropriately enough, in an old barrel factory that has been renovated and re-purposed for modern use – served both to celebrate the plan’s completion and to solicit the support of elected leaders, private and non-profit funders, city officials and leaders of community organizations.

It was part party, part pitch.

“We need your help,” said Andrew Frishkoff, executive director of Philadelphia LISC. “Each action needs a lead sponsor and partners to make it happen. APM has signed on to lead a number of actions; so have the 26th District of the Police Department, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Village of Arts and Humanities, among others.  …  We need you to sign on, as well.”

The plan seeks to build off the extensive redevelopment work APM has been doing in eastern North Philadelphia for more than 20 years. That track record, and APM’s historic dedication to careful planning, is what led LISC to select eastern North Philadelphia as a sustainable communities site, said Michael Rubinger, LISC president and CEO.

Rubinger also succinctly described the philosophy behind LISC’s approach.”There really is more to community development than buildings,” he said Monday. “If we want to create truly healthy, sustainable communities we realized we had to take on the other issues that impact inner city communities, like jobs, education, safety and so on. And we need to take them on simultaneously and in a comprehensive way.”

Our Community, Our Ideas represents that thinking. The 69-page plan is driven by seven resident-selected priority areas: the physical environment; income & wealth; economic development; education; children & youth; healthy environment & lifestyle; and arts & culture. The plan also highlights key opportunities and challenges for each area, and then identifies – and prioritizes – action steps for each objective. Just as important, the action steps have been assigned whenever possible to stakeholders within and outside the community.

For instance, the goal of reducing blight by better managing vacant land and abandoned buildings (which falls under the physical environment priority area), has been paired with six real-life activities: the creation of a neighborhood stewardship taskforce to maintain vacant lots and step up reporting of code violations and illegal dumping; the creation of a comprehensive inventory of vacant land in the community, to make it easier to acquire and redevelop empty parcels; a vacant land management pilot program targeting nuisance properties and egregious eyesores; using empty lots for short-term community purposes such as community gardens, art installations and pop-up stores; a longer-term campaign to convert vacant land into permanent parkland and recreation space; and offering aid to residents interested in acquiring vacant lots on their own for use as side yards, driveways and playgrounds.

On Monday, the assembled crowd of local residents, funders and redevelopment experts heard from people and organizations who have already begun working to bring to life pieces of the plan.
Longtime resident Priscilla Preston and Captain Michael Cram of the 26th police district took to the podium to describe the renovation of the Rainbow de Colores playground on the 2300 block of N. 5th Street, a project that is designed to fight crime by returning control of the park to the community.

“We all have to work together to make our neighborhood work for us, for our children, for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” said Preston, who has lived by the park most of her life.
Bob Grossman of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society highlighted his organization’s partnership with APM, which has cleaned up acres of vacant land in eastern North Philadelphia. Betsy Casañas of the Semilla Arts initiative spoke of her organization’s work connecting local children to their communities through public arts projects such as murals and student-crafted sculptures. And Bishop Royster of the Living Water United Church of Christ noted how the work of crafting the plan had built-up the community’s leadership capacity.

“This process has been a tool to teach many of us how to be better leaders; how to cross ethnic lines, how to talk to political people, how to talk to our neighbors,” Royster said. “So we can go forward today. We are ready to see eastern North Philadelphia transformed.”

By Patrick Kerkstra

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