Making a Start at Reviving Two Parks  

by Linda Dottor — June 2nd, 2014   |   Clients, Open Space, Urban Energy

Most of our pro bono park plans get their start through local efforts to unleash the green and make room for good things to happen. Here are tales of two parks—Gold Star Park and Titan Park— that are moving forward thanks to the muscle (and heart) of their communities. As an added bonus—some of our volunteers lent a hand.

gold star park depaving_tom haliwell

A Gold Star for Tom Halliwell
In April, volunteer Tom Halliwell hosted a bachelor “depaving” party for Gold Star Park. His bachelors chopped out a big swath of asphalt to establish the communal lawn recommended in our pro bono conceptual plan for the park in 2011.

Wedding guests were asked to give to the couple’s favorite charities (including the Collaborative) instead of the usual wedding registry.And that’s not all! Tom is documenting the equipment, costs, and do’s-and-don’t’s of citizen depaving to help other communities take on similar projects.

Loving Titan Park
Earlier this year, the Collaborative completed a Do-It-Yourself master plan to resurrect this pocket park in South Philadelphia. Our work helped the Titan Park’s supporters take the next step—installing planters and turning the circle of concrete at the center of the park into a planting bed. They reclaimed the neglected park during Love Your Park, getting it ready for use in time for the summer.

Myles Goodman, director of the Friends of Titan Park, writes, “Our Love Your Park day was a huge success. We had almost 30 people show up, and we got more done than I ever imagined. New Collaborative volunteer Doug Maisey joined Titan for their work day. Myles writes, “Thanks for sending us Doug Maisey. He was a huge help. Very professional, worked hard, stayed late, and contributed some great ideas.”


Local Heroes: Remembering Paul vanMeter and Pastor Martha Lang

by Linda Dottor — February 18th, 2014   |   At the Collaborative, Clients

It takes a special kind of person to change a community—imaginative enough to see a different future, tenacious enough to make it happen, and, occasionally, bold enough to stir things up.

Recently, Philadelphia lost two such local heroes: Paul vanMeter, a Callowhill artist and unflagging champion for the development of the City Branch portion of the Rail Park, and Pastor Martha Lang, a pastor who turned a derelict vacant lot in East Poplar into Mt. Tabor Cyber Village Senior Housing.

The Collaborative and many of our volunteers had the honor of working with Paul vanMeter in 2012 and Reverend Lang in 2005. Given the nature of their projects and their leadership, our relationships with them lived well beyond our initial design work together. Their impact will live on too.

Paul leads the way through the City Branch on a tour. Image: JJ Tiziou

Paul  vanMeter leads the way through the City Branch on a tour. Image: JJ Tiziou

Richard Roark of OLIN worked with Paul vanMeter on a conceptual master plan for the City Branch and shares these thoughts:

“I can’t tell you how shocked we were to hear of the passing of Paul.  He was a well of history and imagination.  I don’t think I ever encountered anyone more knowledgeable about the rail industry or the ecologic complexity of this lost world corridor.  As a protégé of Oehme van Sweden it was clear his knowledge of plant communities was extensive, to say the least.  He was a fascinating individual, to me, because he was willing to make creative leaps and yet was equally committed to having an almost iron clad grasp of history and precedent. How many of us could claim to be so creatively rigorous?

“I will miss hearing from him and the feeling is deeply shared among the members of our Community Design Collaborative team.  I know we will all continue to be inspired by his ‘Ruderal’ dialogues; it will bring us to better places.”

Reverends Mary Moore and Martha Lang in the lobby of Mt. Tabor Cyber Village Senior Housing.

Pastors Mary Moore and Martha Lang in the lobby of Mt. Tabor Cyber Village Senior Housing.

Dick Winston of bwa architecture + planning worked with Pastor Lang on a preliminary design for Mt. Tabor Cyber Village Senior Housing.  She then asked him to join the team that designed, funded, and built this affordable apartment complex. He shares this remembrance:

“Reverend Martha Lang was a teller of stories.  Marvelous, long, inspirational stories.  Once she told me, and I am sure she told many others, how she came to her calling while still a child in Alabama and how she held fast to that course for her entire life.

“She was a spiritual leader. She became the pastor of her own tiny flock as a young woman and nurtured Mt. Tabor AME Church’s growth for thirty-one years.  She and her husband, Brother Larry Lang, founded the Christian Training Institute, which became, over the years, a region-wide resource, and she rose to leadership roles and prominence nationally in the AME Church.

“Reverend Lang was visionary.  With Reverend Moore, her close collaborator and friend, she imagined a future for the Mt. Tabor neighborhood, now well on its the way to being realized: a long road to acquiring the church property and making it the heart of the community; creating food, education and economic development programs; strengthening the neighborhood; building Cyber Village to provide affordable housing for seniors in their own community; planning a neighborhood garden.  As Collaborative volunteers, it was our privilege to get to know Reverend Lang over the last several years, while working on Cyber Village and, more recently, the community garden.

“Finally, she was a lover of life and of people.  She seemed to find joy in everything she did and took pleasure in those around her.  Her positive outlook was infectious.  In her presence one could not help but feel as she did.  We all achieved things because she believed we could achieve them. Her faith was absolute; her belief in her vision for her flock and community was unshakable.

Thousands returned her love and mourn her passing.”



Bridges to Health Filling a Gap

by Linda Dottor — February 3rd, 2014   |   Clients, Design Services

Steven Larson,

Steven Larson with patient Mery Martinez and med student Daphne Owens. Jessica Koulounis for the New York Times.

Puentes de Salud, a past design grant recipient, was featured in a  recent story in the New York Times, Nonprofit Clinic Offers ‘Bridges to Health’ to Philadelphia’s Legal Immigrants.

Steve Larson, Puentes founder and a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, explains how the clinic goes out on a limb to fill a gap: legal immigrants without health care coverage. “It’s not about me writing prescriptions. This is an underground health system.” 

Jon Hurdle reports, “Now, Dr. Larson is seeking financial help to open a 7,000-square-foot clinic where, in keeping with his emphasis on prevention as well as cure, half the space would be devoted to clinical services and half to education that includes nutritional advice, literacy tutoring and sex education.”

In 2012, the Community Design Collaborative helped Puentes with programming, space planning, and a conceptual design to move Puentes’ programs under one inviting roof.

Good, Green News from Nonprofit Clients

by Linda Dottor — November 4th, 2013   |   Clients, Open Space

A 2008 preliminary design for greening a vacant lot on Ridge Avenue bears fruit.

A 2008 preliminary design for greening a vacant lot on Ridge Avenue finally bears fruit.

It’s harvest time! Four nonprofit clients report that they’ve reached key milestones in projects to add green spaces in their neighborhoods.

Cook-Wissahickon School installed a native meadow and has received a PHS Community Greening Award for its schoolyard greening efforts. The Collaborative worked with the Green Committee of Cook-Wissahickon School in 2008 to develop a conceptual master plan to guide fundraising, DIY projects, and larger sustainable landscape improvements. In 2013, the Green Committee installed a native plants meadow recommended in the conceptual plan, thanks to a $27,000 grant from the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund and helping hands from Viridian Landscape Studio and the Emerging Professionals Committee of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council. The school was one of 89 nominated sites evaluated by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for this prestigious award.

The Roxborough Development Corporation received a $50,000 grant from the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund in October to transform a paved-over vacant lot into a mini-park serving the Ridge Avenue Commercial Corridor. The Collaborative worked with the group in 2010 on a conceptual design for the park, the site of a former storefront. The grant will enable the development corporation to install pervious pavers, a rain garden, and native plants and shrubs in the neglected space.

The Enterprise Center CDC completed Max Paul Park, putting the finishing touch on this multi-purpose open space at 46th and Market Streets. The pocket park combines bench and picnic table seating with native plants and trees. The Collaborative developed a master plan for the site in 2010 that helped this in West Philadelphia nonprofit realize its vision for an urban farm, community garden, and gathering space.

Over the summer, the West Philadelphia Coalition of Neighborhood Schools raised $270,000 to green the Lea Elementary schoolyard, a $10,000 PECO Green Region Matching Grant and a $242,000 Stormwater Management Improvement Program grant from the Philadelphia Water Department. The funding will be used to implement the first phase of schoolyard greening outlined in a Community Design Collaborative’s conceptual plan. Phase 1 will have an impact on a large area of the schoolyard, adding a new rubber play surface, expanding the play area, relocating the basketball court, establishing rain gardens along 47th Street, and adding bump-outs at two intersections.

From Viola Street, a plan for reclaiming blocks

by Linda Dottor — July 29th, 2013   |   Clients, Service Grants

When you walk down the 4200 block of Viola Street in East Parkside, it’s clear that residents are taking care of the block. The street and sidewalks are clean, there’s a thriving community garden, and homes are well-kept. But the block’s residents often feel they are working against a tide of steady neighborhood deterioration.

Abandoned homes and vacant lots are sprinkled throughout the block, but a particularly troubling cluster exists at the south side of the street. Residents founded Viola Street Residents Association (VSRA) in 2008 to advocate for reinvestment on their block and, ultimately, four adjacent blocks.

VSRA asked the Community Design Collaborative to put their “grassroots, resident-driven” vision down on paper. Project Reclaim is intended to complement the West Park District Plan.

Collaborative intern Anooshey Rahim met VSRA’s Community Development Coordinator and Viola Street resident Joyce Smith in July to talk about her neighborhood, what to do about vacant properties, and her own community revitalization journey.

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What makes East Parkside unique?

I think it’s just a beautiful neighborhood… I just moved here in 2007 and I fell in love with the homes on the street. I really believe that Read Full Story

Meet Our Clients: Amy Hirsch of CLS

by Linda Dottor — May 1st, 2013   |   Clients, Service Grants

The former North Philadelphia Law Center of the Community Legal Services (CLS) had only a handful of offices with windows, desks in the hallway, a series of floods, and even a few electrical fires. The staff was “eager for a building better suited to our needs and more respectful to our clients,” says Amy Hirsch, Managing Attorney of the Center.

Since the new Center opened in February, Amy observes, it has brought a new dimension to serving the community. “People come to us because they are in crisis… it’s just been interesting to see how much impact being in a calmer, nicer space has had.”

CLS was committed to staying in the neighborhood, which it has served since the ’70s.  So everyone  rejoiced when CLS found a vacant lot nearby to develop near its aging facility in 2009. But the staff, long-accustomed to an inadequate, dim workplace, needed a framework for thinking beyond the basics.

CLS called on the Collaborative to help them envision the new Center. “The Collaborative was fabulously helpful to us,” says Amy, “the design team spent a lot of time with the staff talking about what their needs were.”  The result was a conceptual design for an accessible facility with an airy stairway and courtyard to let in more light.

Mindful of the workplace it wanted to create, CLS ultimately hired Atkin Olshin Schade Architects  to design the new facility, located near Broad and Erie.

Video interview by Liz Jacobs, Penn Urban Studies Program Intern. 

Meet Our Clients: Alex Balloon of Tacony CDC

by Linda Dottor — March 21st, 2013   |   Clients, Commercial Corridors

Now in its thirteenth year, the Tacony Community Development Corporation aims to revitalize its historic Northeast Philadelphia community. The neighborhood dates back to the 1870’s, when it was founded as a planned industrial community. Many of the homes and buildings retain original historic architectural features. With easy access from Center City and New Jersey, housing options ranging from rowhouses to mansions, and neighborhood green space, the community has a lot to offer. But it was hit hard by the economic recession, and the neighborhood has seen a number of foreclosures, vacant properties and quality of life issues as a result.

Alex Balloon, Commercial Corridor Manager for the Tacony CDC, has spent his one-year tenure focusing on revitalizing the Torresdale Avenue Commercial Corridor, located at the heart of the community. From planting new trees to launching a marketing campaign around the Hoagie Trail to attract new visitors to the area, he has worked hard to highlight and promote the great things Tacony has to offer.


DeNofa’s Deli is the first of six Torresdale Avenue businesses to get a facelift.

Central to Alex’ work is a storefront revitalization project launched with help from the Community Design Collaborative. The Collaborative consulted with six storefront owners, who responded to Alex’ call to corridor businesses refresh their facades.  From removing aluminum siding to improving signage, Alex says the Collaborative offered “realistic and modest” suggestions for improvements that stayed within Tacony CDC’s recommended budget.

All six of the storefront owners who received design advice from the Collaborative are moving forward. Their financial investment in their facade has been supplemented by grants from the Commerce Department Storefront Improvement Program and Tacony CDC.

DeNofa’s Deli, one of the corridor’s anchor businesses, recently started construction, and the other projects expect to receive bids from the project’s contractor in the next few weeks, with work set to start immediately following. The hammers and drills you hear behind Alex during our video visit to Torresdale Avenue are  music to his ears!