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2011 in the riverwards

St. Anne’s school final walk through, Saturday, June 18, 2011 in Philadelphia.

With the birth of the new year, it’s a good time to reflect on the year that has passed and, perhaps, speculate on what the future holds.

We know you’ve probably read your fill of these types of lists in the past week or so, but 2011 was quite a year for Philadelphia. To make this list a little different, let’s look at some stories from the year that had specific impact on the riverwards.

In fact, let’s start with the story of a national movement that also set up camp in our back yard.

Occupy Philadelphia

Whatever you may have thought of the movement or its myriad goals, there’s no disputing that through the peaceful protests — held in front of City Hall and around the country in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City — occupiers made politicians and their targets, the wealthiest “one percent” of America, sit up and take notice.

Through public sit-ins, occupiers outside of City Hall shined a light on what they felt were unfair banking practices, the plight of the homeless, and other concerns that, as far as demonstrators were concerned, all too often don’t get enough attention inside that building.

Here in the riverwards, the movement took on a life of its own when about 30 homeless members of the protest set up a small camp just as the occupation downtown was coming to an end.

After only a few days, the camp — sometimes called “Camp Liberty” — at Cumberland and Richmond streets was disassembled by an eviction order, forcing the inhabitants to find a new place to stay.

However, during its brief existence, the camp was evidence of the very real problem of homelessness that exists in many neighborhoods of this city.

Pizza Brain’s World Record

The year also saw Fishtown represented in the Guinness Book of World Records thanks to resident Brian Dwyer, who brought the honor to the neighborhood because of his mad passion for pizza.

The 26-year-old Dwyer has accumulated so much pizza-themed trinkets, knick-knacks and memorabilia that when he opens his planned restaurant and museum later this year, he’ll will have a world-record plaque for the largest collection of pizza stuff to display amid all the memorabilia.

Dwyer and Michael Carter, along with South Carolina pizza chef Joe Hunter and Ryan Anderson, a local designer and sculptor, hope to create a real slice of pizza heaven with Pizza Brain, the pizza museum and restaurant planned for 2313 Frankford Ave. later this year.

Port Richmond Violence

The year also was not free of violence; shockingly tragic attacks occurred in several areas throughout the riverwards. Two of them resulted in the deaths of Shane Kelly, who was gunned down on Nov. 13, and Mustafa Shaker, a clerk at Girard Avenue’s Trax Foods who was shot to death on May 26.

These truly were tragic events, but it was a “flash mob” invasion of a home on Indiana Avenue in Port Richmond that particularly rankled the locals, who filled community meetings to convey their anger and safety concerns to police administrators.

The victim, Mark Lavelle, was assaulted in his living room by what he described as an angry mob targeting two young boys he had pulled into his home for protection.

In fact, due in part to that attack, along with an unrelated neighborhood shooting within a matter of days, a new organization sprouted in Port Richmond to target crime issues and other community matters.

However, what this group, the Port Richmond West Community Action Network, might achieve for community improvement remains to be seen.

DiCicco’s Departure and Zoning Changes

After 16 years in office, it can be argued that City Councilman Frank DiCicco (D-1st dist.) has had more impact on the changing riverwards than any politician.

Among his many contributions, DiCicco drafted legislation that has created a blueprint for orderly development along the Delaware River. In fact, even as he leaves office, locals will be affected by his legacy: As one of DiCicco’s last acts in office, he sponsored legislation to support a 34,000-square-foot, 2,700-patron music venue on Richmond Street.

But that isn’t the only significant project planned for the riverfront. Last year also saw the unveiling of the Master Plan for the Central Delaware Riverfront. The plan calls for major changes to the waterfront, from Oregon to Allegheny avenues, with new parks, bike trails and a broad range of development.

Although the plan could take more than two decades to achieve, supporters firmly believe that it could start the ball rolling on a world-class waterfront that all Philadelphians would be proud of.

St. Anne’s Closes

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times to report on the closing of yet another Catholic school, but for 155 years, St. Anne’s School on Lehigh Avenue served as a staple of Catholic life in the riverwards.

After the school’s alumnae association saved the school from closure in 2010, the inevitable resurfaced — St. Anne’s graduated its final class last summer.

In June, alumnae filled the school at Memphis and Tucker streets to share memories of what the school had meant to their lives.

Northern Liberties gets a SuperFresh

To paraphrase a shopper during a news interview at the August grand opening of the Superfresh supermarket in the Piazza complex at 2nd Street and Girard Avenue, “What’s the big deal, it’s just a supermarket?”

Well, the big deal, in an urban environment such as Philadelphia, is food access for residents. Especially for residents west of Front Street — for more than a decade there hasn’t been such a food store in walking distance, other than corner stores that folks often dissed because of lower-quality foods and little or no produce. The last local supermarket, on Girard Avenue, was destroyed by fire.

The new $37-million, 51,000-square-foot store also will serve as an anchor for a block of shops in the project.

Looking Ahead

For starters, much of the riverwards will be served by a new city councilman, Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.), who is taking DiCicco’s seat. Also, the city recently passed a new zoning code that will affect commercial and residential development.

The Star wants to wish readers a healthy, happy new year, and we look forward to seeing you in 2012. We will be right there, on your doorstep, every Wednesday morning. ••

Star newspapers managing editor Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215–354–3124 or by email at hmitman@bsmphilly.com

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