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LISC partners with National Park Service and Mantua residents to create a community trail

November 5, 2013

Philadelphia LISC is pleased to be partnering with the National Park Service Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance program (RTCA), who will be providing technical assistance to a community-driven effort to create a community greenway in Mantua. RTCA staff will lend their expertise helping communities revitalize urban trails to engage necessary partners and stakeholders, build consensus on a community vision and implementation plan, and helping organize residents and stakeholders for long-term planning and maintenance for the trail project.

national_park_serviceThe Mantua Greenway project is a collaborative effort engaging residents and community stakeholders (We Are Mantua! Beautification Committee aka “The Committee”) in planning and renovation of a greenway along Mantua Avenue and Parrish Street from the Spring Garden bridge at 31st Street to the 40th Street bridge, and potentially up to 40th Street and Girard Avenue. The Committee includes representation from the Mantua Civic Association’s Beautification Committee, Mantua Ave Residents, and other Mantua residents and leaders.

In fact, residents like Bessie Washington have already been improving the land along Mantua Avenue at the site of the future trail. Washington has added seating, potted plants, and lawn ornaments to a 30 foot section of the empty land as a memorial to her parents. As Project Leader for the Mantua Greenway project, Washington also helps create a bridge between The Committee, other institutional partners and Mantua residents. Local leadership is an important component of the project and will lead to greater sustainability for the trail in the long run.

The project in Mantua falls under LISC’s comprehensive community development strategy or Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI). Through SCI, LISC invests its resources in a multi-faceted approach that expands investment in housing and other real estate, increases family wealth and income, stimulates economic activity, locally and regionally, improves access to education, training, and family services, and fosters livable, safe, and healthy environments. The Mantua Greenway is also a priority project of LISC’s Healthy Communities Initiative, a collaboration among community based organizations and public health stakeholders to improve neighborhood-wide health outcomes and lower rates of obesity, hypertension, and Diabetes.

The Greenway would connect to Philadelphia’s existing Schuylkill Trail system, which runs along 31st Street to 34th Street north to Girard Ave. The current vision calls for adding trees, permeable pavement and other stormwater management infrastructure, murals and art installations, and a tribute to Mantua history and community leaders.

Residents and stakeholders see the trail as an opportunity to address challenges impacting the quality of life for the Mantua neighborhood. Isolation and a lack of connectivity present the greatest challenges. Mantua’s northern border, Mantua Avenue, is bounded by Amtrak tracks, with only three access points: the SpringGarden bridge, the 34th Street bridge, and the 40th Street bridge. As a result, outsiders rarely traverse the neighborhood, Mantua residents struggle to connect with opportunities nearby, investment in the area is limited, and community cohesion is eroded. These barriers have also led to low economic opportunity and high unemployment and poverty rates, high crime rates, problems with blight and vacancy (32% of properties are vacant), and population decline. In Mantua, 83% of residents are African American, 12% are white, 2% are two or more races, and 3% are other races. In addition, 54% of residents live below the poverty line.

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Residents and partners conduct a “walking audit” of the Mantua Greenway and visit the section beautified and maintained by Mantua neighbor Bessie Washington.

Health outcomes in Mantua demonstrate the impact of these aspects of the physical and social environment. In the LISC Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI) West target area which includes Mantua, 63% of children are overweight or obese, 45% of adults have hypertension, and 39% of adults are obese, rates which exceed city averages of 47%, 36%, and 32%, respectively.

Until recently, a lack of local capacity has prevented Mantua from addressing its problems. An award of a HUD Choice Planning grant to Mount Vernon Manor in 2011 allowed LISC and other agencies to support the We Are Mantua! (WAM) planning effort. LISC helped WAM engage residents in the planning process and in early action items, including establishing a new civic association and securing a three-year $600,000 Byrne grant for community safety.

WAM’s Physical Development Task Force identified the Mantua Greenway as an early action priority due to its potential to break down barriers for mobility and investment. The We Are Mantua! Beautification Committee (WAMBC) represents a coalition of organizations and residents now overseeing the Mantua Greenway project.

The project:

  • Enhances proximity to CenterCity
  • Addresses barriers to connectivity
  • Welcomes visitors into the neighborhood
  • Strengthens the existing trail network by extending the West Schuylkill Banks Trail
  • Connects Mantua and University City to cultural and recreation destinations, such as FairmountPark, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Zoo, and the PleaseTouchMuseum
  • Engages residents in the planning process and in the use of the Greenway
  • Encourages safe and healthful activities, such as such as uGO! community fitness initiative, senior walking groups, and Mantua In Action, an out of school time sports program for youth
  • Achieves one of WAM’s objectives: development of a greenway along Mantua Ave
    nue, in connection with major housing developments and other improvements.
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