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Bills in City Council

Vacant and abandoned property in Philadelphia is a plague on all of us, dragging down property values and leading to more flight from the city year after year.  I am linking to to a story on two bills recently introduced to City Council.  The Land Bank bill and Tax Delinquency bill.   Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez was the primary sponsor of the Land Bank bill and cosponsored the Tax bill.  Both of these bills are a  long overdue acknowledgement of the obvious, something isn’t right in Philadelphia.

The story by Patrick Kerkstra in the Inky lays out all the pros and cons and there are a ton of them but the big story is that someone has stepped up to try to do something about it.

Last month, a pair of laws were introduced in City Council that would upend the city’s approach to vacant land and tax delinquencies. If adopted, the bills would create a powerful agency, a land bank, and give it the authority to snap up tax-delinquent properties as it chooses.

The measures would also compel the city  to foreclose on or seize tax-delinquent property within one year. That change alone would have a massive effect on the city’s real estate market, as there are more than 100,000 tax-delinquent properties in Philadelphia, or roughly 19 percent of all parcels in the city. Philadelphia has the worst property-tax-collection record of any big city in America, as detailed last year in an Inquirer/PlanPhilly investigation.

The objective is eliminate the huge number of tax delinquent properties. Either the taxes are paid or the property is foreclosed on promptly.  Letting the property sit for a decade with no movement one way or the other does not work.  The Land Bank is a separate issue in which the city will have the option of taking property and collecting it in a land bank for future development.  I see all sorts of issues there.  The city does not take care of the property it owns now so something has to change before it add thousands of new parcels to its collection.

Hopefully this will be a step in the right direction.  Thank you Maria.  The full bills are linked above.



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Banners Gracing the Entrance to Harding Middle School Tell Part of the Story!

You get a feeling that good things are happening at Harding Middle School! We went to visit on Friday, 2/24, the day that three banners, now hanging at the main entrance of the school on Torresdale Avenue, were dedicated. ArtsRising is an effort to make quality arts education available for all of our children in the city. When you visit their website, you will see their partners and sponsors. These wonderful programs need funding and our support. Schools can apply to be an “Artzone Hub” and there are site visits, surveys and consideration of other criteria before you are selected. If you would like your school to get involved, you can find out how here. Seven artzones or communities have been identified in the city thus far and Harding Middle School is our “hub” here in Frankford. You can read a profile about Harding here on the ArtsRising website .

These banners are a sight to behold but just as important is what they represent. Principal Michael J. Calderone explained that the banners depict the Arts, Academics and Athletics at Harding. It is by design that the Academics banner hangs in the middle because Academics is at the center, the heart, of all that Hardings’ staff and students are achieving. For the last three years, students have improved their proficiency levels as measured by the state’s PSSA tests. In the spirit of the moment, I am getting ahead of myself here. When you enter Harding Middle School, you are struck by the grandness of the lobby, even after 85 years. This school was built to showcase design and achitecture at the height of our Roaring 20’s! We were immediately greeted warmly by three students, Raina, Johnathan and Joe, who after reminding us that we needed to sign in, would be our escorts to the Independent Media Center. The IMC, which houses the library and a wall of Apple iMAC computers for sutdent use, had a classroom of students waiting expectantly. Due to the weather, the dedication ceremony could not be held outside.

Ambrose Liu, ArtsZone Coordinator, welcomed everyone. The Director of ArtsRising, Varissa Mickens, explained that while 45 students directly participated in the banners we see, they are meant to represent the dreams of all of the students and the community’s dreams for them. In a very visual and vibrant way, these banners express the dreams that Harding Middle School administration, teachers, parents and students are working to bring to life. These dreams go beyond the school walls to the larger Frankford community and beyond as well. Ms. Mickens congratulated the students telling them that they should be proud of their efforts and she thanked Principal Calderone for his belief in the power of arts education and his support of the program.

Mr. Liu explained that the teaching artist, Betsy Casanas, co-founder of Semilla Arts Initiative, partnered with Harding teachers  John Papiano, Technology Teacher, and Jon Tietz, Visual Arts Teacher, and students to design and create these banners. Semilla, meaning “seed”, is how Ms. Casanas describes the way that art “plants” in students a feeling of empowerment, where as young as they might be, they are able to use their “strong and powerful voices today” to impact their communities. Ms. Casanas went on to say that this was just a beginning in future projects with the students that would integrate with their curriculum. Stained Glass depicting events in History and learning about light in Science. If you teach students “how” to do something, they will continue to use this creative power in their lives.

Speaking of student voices, several students from the Def Poets Club shared their works with us. You can see it here for yourself.

State Representative Tony Payton  and Jason Dawkins, a representative from City Councilwoman’s Maria Sanchez-Quinones’ office were in attendance as well. Kimberly Washington, Coordinator of Northeast EPIC Stakeholders, spoke about growing up in the immediate area and that the Northeast EPIC Stakeholders are working to improve the quality of life in Frankford and Northeast Philadelphia. What impressed me, also, is the collaborative effort that went into this initiative. It does take all of us to work together for the good of our young people and the future of our communities! To experience this uplifting moment, you can watch it here. To all who participated and supported this project, you have both our congratulations and thanks!






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Brightside Academy Hosts “Meet Your Legislators” Event for Parents and Students!

Our local Brightside Academy, located at 1627-29 Meadow Street, hosted a “Meet Your Legislators” event on Friday, 1/13/12, to bring our local legislators, parents and students together. Part of the program included a photo display of students’ concerns about our community. The students had been given disposable cameras to capture and record what they would like to change about Frankford. Students also prepared questions to present to the legislators. As I looked at the photo display, there were pictures of littered streets and abandoned buildings. We, too, share these young citizens’ concerns. Parents gathered in the meeting room of Brightside Academy, munching on provided snacks, to await the arrival of the legislators.

This was our first visit to Brightside Academy and we were warmly greeted and impressed with the brightly painted and decorated classrooms. This Brightside Academy is one of 30 academies in the city according to Davida Garr, Community Affairs Specialist. Brightside Academy is a part of many of our city neighborhoods and are reaching out to connect with their families and support the local communities. Early education and care are provided for children aged 6 weeks – 12 years. Academies are open year-round from 6 AM until 6 PM (may vary slightly by location). Juana Ramos, Area Business Director, explained that Brightside Academy opened in 1999 at this location. The name “Academy” is very important to staff as they provide an educational environment, work to enhance their own qualifications through staff development and work to reach higher levels in the Keystone Stars program. Keystone Stars is a PA Early Learning initiative that gives accreditation to day-care centers based on the highest performance level they achieve – Star 1 through Star 4.

I had a chance to speak with parents who are unanimously very pleased with this facility. They feel staff are pleasant, there is a family atmosphere and they recommended them highly. One mother has had three children in Brightside Academy and the oldest is now 11. We visited a class where a student was celebrating an 8th birthday and cupcakes had been shared!

State Representative Tony Payton arrived, as did City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez. Unfortunately, State Senator Christine Tartaglione had a previous commitment. Students welcomed them and introduced themselves asking questions about litter, jobs and money for education. These future voters did themselves well!

The Northeast EARN Center (located on Frankford Avenue) had representatives and a table of information at the event. This agency provides support for those transitioning from welfare to work in northeast Philadelphia. You must be referred to them by your caseworker if you are receiving assistance from the Department of Public Welfare. If you have any questions or think you might be eligible, talk to your caseworker.

For more information, visit their website at Brightside Academy or call 215.289.0641 or 877.868.2273. Kudos to all those involved in this event! Our Frankford community is the better for them!



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Historic Wilmot Park

Wilmot Park saw a crush of volunteers Friday from Honeywell and Rebuilding Together Philadelphia.   Volunteers at the event replaced backboards, built benches for basketball spectators, planted trees, installed a flagpole and a commemorative sign to honor the park’s previous life as a cemetery for veterans, and carried out a general cleanup of the site.

Additionally, to further honor the park’s history as a cemetery for veterans, Honeywell employees were building a ramp at the American Legion Post 224. Commanders from Post 224 were to be on site to later in the afternoon to raise the American flag and direct the park’s first flag raising ceremony.

This is continuation of the improvements which were started by a grant from Councilwoman Sanchez office last year for the removal of the old playground equipment and the installation of new in the Spring.  The basketball league that was restarted this year played under difficult circumstances though with the old backboards and hoops.  These improvements will make a big difference for the kids and neighbors using the park.

Continue reading Historic Wilmot Park

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Frankford Civic Meeting

The was a good crowd on hand last week for the Frankford Civic Association Meeting.  Chris Wink has a great report on which hits all the right notes.  He was tardy and missed a short but important discussion we had at the very start concerning the property at 1520 Orthodox Arrott Street.

This is the location of the former Primo’s Sports bar that was closed as a nuisance.  That closure is only effective for a year and then the premises are free to be reopened.  Given the location and unregulated drug market that has surrounded the area, it is clear that it will once again become a problem.

Construction is now underway in the building.  It has been reported on  Calls have been made to Councilwoman Sanchez office and to Tony Payton’s office.  Jason Dawkins commented on our previous post linked above:

Our office did report out about the above location, the bar does not have a liquor license, which means it will not be a bar…. The location was shut down 7yrs ago and the owner never renewed his license, and there is no current application on file for another license. Folks should not make statements that are not true, if anyone has any questions please call our office and ask for me.

The reason why the folks are up in arms about this bar is that they have a history of ignoring the law and regulations.  Not having a liquor license but still in business for the next 6 years would be one cause for concern.  Building construction with no permits is another.  So if it did not stop them before, it will not stop them now.

In fairness to Jason, I am sure he will do his best to keep it closed.  You can call him directly at Councilwoman Sanchez office at 215-686-3448 or 3449.