Frankford Gateway to become orchard getaway

NKCDC release plans for future orchard site in Kensington.

Urban oasis: NKCDC released updated plans on how it will transform the Frankford Gateway into a community orchard and green space. RENDERING: HANS HESSELEIN, APIARY STUDIOS.

By Lindsey Nolen

Right before the spring clean-up season comes to a close, the New Kensington Community Development Corporation and Delaware Valley Green Building Council will team up for one day to transform the Frankford Gateway from a “nuisance property” into a thriving community asset.

To achieve this goal, the organizations have plans to prepare the Gateway site, which is centered around the intersection of Frankford Avenue and Sterner Street, and plant native shade trees, shrubs and a cane fruit orchard during a volunteer planting day on Saturday, June 10 to turn the location into a safer connecting point to the areas of Kensington.

Additionally, the NKCDC hopes this endeavor will turn the space into a source of pride for the community and serve as a positive representation of the “New Kensington.”

While the NKCDC initially came up with the idea for the project, the DVGBC has assisted in leading the overall fundraising effort.

Thus far, the project has raised more than $7,000 from its Go Fund Me page, and additional contributions from businesses including the family-owned Fishtown construction company, Mr. Contractor, Inc., are expected.

Funds will go toward buying supplies, plant materials and building materials that will need to be installed.

According to Lisa Shulock, research project manager of the DVGBC, this was the first year her organization sought to award funding to a “community impact project.”

The Delaware Valley chapter’s initiative was modeled after the “legacy project,” completed each year in the city the U.S. Green Building Council hosts its annual conference in. As part of this project, the GBC puts $10,000 toward a project with longlasting impact in its host city.

Community Design Collaborative/BWA Architecture + Planning

“Instead of just spending money and leaving each city, the council wishes to leave meaningful work behind,” Shulock said. “We wanted to be a part of a similar project in Philadelphia that would be repeated every year, and this was our first year taking part in a project separate from the national GBC.”

In searching for a local project to commit to, the DVGBC put out a request for projects around the city last fall.

Ultimately, the NKCDC submitted a strong project proposal for the Frankford Gateway, so the DVGBC committee made the project its selection, according to Shulock.

“The NKCDC is an organization that is very deeply embedded in the community. We knew that working with them, and with a somewhat limited budget, that this project could still have a meaningful impact,” she said.

The NKCDC has been serving neighborhoods along the River Wards in a number of ways since its inception in 1985. In particular, its community engagement department has been working to connect residents in troubleshooting, block-related challenges and in encouraging them to come together in advocacy.

Leading to the development of the Frankford Gateway project idea, the NKCDC spoke with more than 400 community members and learned a common concern was public safety around the freight rail viaduct that runs parallel to Lehigh Avenue and creates a barrier between the sections of Kensington.

“This vacant land opened up when the freight rail line shut down and industrial workers moved away,” said Andrew Goodman, who has been community engagement director of the NKCDC for three years. “The area became dreary and unsafe, so we committed to working with registered community organization, Somerset Neighbors For Better Living, to improve public safety for this stretch of Frankford.”

Carlos Morales Mitti, vice president of the SNBL, explained through their combined efforts, the two organizations have been able to install various cameras, add numerous solar-powered light fixtures and initiate clean-ups on different blocks every three months.

Additionally, they have exchanged ideas with neighbors and discussed which neighborhoods are the most in need of increased security.

“The orchard is going to increase the traffic of people and get more people looking around in the neighborhood,” said Morales Mitti, who has lived in Port Richmond for eight years. “It will also increase the quality of the traffic in the area and help people to feel more welcome in the neighborhood.”

Although both organizations realize this multi-year physical transformation process won’t happen overnight, they believe the Frankford Gateway project is another step toward a substantial long-term impact on the community.

Goodman also noted that while there is a focus on improving the designated lots, the challenges facing the area still extend beyond the two properties.

“Improvements to the Frankford Gateway are by no means the first action being taken in the area, nor will they be the last,” he said. “In the recent past, the NKCDC has also installed fences to seal off vacant lot sites used for illegal activity, encouraged property owners to plant trees along Frankford Avenue, engaged with local business owners and installed LED lights under the overpass at the end of 2016.”

While these are all steps toward making the area safer, the planned apricot, English walnut, pie cherry and sweet cherry trees will add more than increased security to the natural landscape amidst an urban setting.

Despite being designed to be a place to pass through rather than a hangout destination, the two organizations also plan to optimize the use of this green space by installing a parking area with recycled concrete for pop-up shops to use.

“The lots are located in a relatively long block with few uses and that is under the darkness created by the shadow of the freight rail,” said Goodman, a 33-year-old West Philly resident. “Our hope is that, although it will certainly take time for the plants to mature and show their true colors, the community will be able to use the space right after the planting. The power of green can have so many benefits.”

For more information on the Frankford Gateway project, visit: Frankfordgateway.causevox.com.