The Parkside Neighborhood: Rare Roots Run Deep

by Nikia Brown

From every corner of Philadelphia, its anthem rings true, “Philadelphia is the city of neighborhoods.” Historic in nature and diverse in form, the Parkside neighborhood, in particular, provides a vivid illustration of a historic, yet re-inventive Philadelphia. Several eras ago, Parkside was a destination for Sunday strollers and carriage rides, street vendors and park parades. It’s artistically designed Victorian buildings became the home and hope for many European immigrants and African-Americans migrating from the South.

An overview of the Exposition Grounds as seen from the Main Building in 1876. Courtesy:
An overview of the Exposition Grounds as seen from the Main Building in 1876. Courtesy:

In the 19th century, Parkside, formerly known as Blockley Township, was mostly utilized for its lush green lands. The neighborhood’s proximity to the railroad and Center City made it the ideal location for the nation’s 100th birthday celebration—The Centennial Exposition of 1876. The Exposition attracted tourists and settlers from all around the world offering a wide array of ethnic foods, vaudeville theaters, a grandiose soda fountain, hotels, and beer gardens. While the Exposition was a lauded success, Parkside suffered a grave decline after the 6-month long celebration. It took the courage of German-American entrepreneur, Frederick Poth, and the creative genius of 26-year-old architect, Henry Flower, to revive the deteriorating neighborhood.

The 20th century ushered in a surge of newly designed homes, German-born merchants and manufacturers, and a range of occupations from brewer to distiller, lithographer to mechanical engineer. On Viola Street, between 1900 and 1910, many households were owned by second and third generation middle-class European-Americans with Scottish, English, Irish, and German backgrounds. Interestingly, in the 1920s, the overly animated open markets of South Street pushed the newly emerging middle-class Russian-Jewish population to Parkside. The synagogue built on 41st and Viola Street continues to stand as a representation of yet another community that chose Parkside as their settling grounds. Today that synagogue is a Baptist church.

The southwest corner of 42nd and Parkside Avenue as it appeared in 1954. Courtesy:
The southwest corner of 42nd and Parkside Avenue as it appeared in 1954. Courtesy:

Nonetheless, with the devastating blow of the Great Depression and World War II, urban life increasingly proved difficult to navigate driving many of the Jewish residents to more outlying neighborhoods. This, as well as other episodes of, “White Flight” provided African-Americans an opportunity to find refuge in an unfair and uncertain America. Though the neighborhood remained fairly integrated for approximately 15 years, the African-American residents of the Parkside Historical District are the longest residing group to inhabit the area since it was built in 1897. With resilience and gracious tenacity, they weathered the cumbersome economic challenges of Parkside’s past and contributed to what is now one of Philadelphia’s most urban tourist attractions.

Another rendering of a future Centennial Commons area.
Another rendering of a future Centennial Commons area.

With Philadelphia’s recent designation as a World Heritage City and Parkside’s continuing development, this neighborhood is bound to attract, once again, the diverse communities that planted its roots to opportunity. The Fairmount Park Conservancy, with assistance from the William Penn Foundation and the Lenfest Foundation, has funded the creation of the Centennial District Master Plan. The projected 300-million dollar 20-year plan includes streetscape improvements along Parkside Avenue, renovation of the Park’s Concourse Lake, play fields opposite Memorial Hall, and a new transit line that will connect the area to Center City. Today, Parkside residents can envisage a neighborhood that pays homage to the bustling economic activity and immigrant engagement of its distant past. Parkside symbolically stands as the bridge between rich Philadelphian history and the promise of greater cooperation, civic engagement, and community progress.

Urban Adventures In America’s National Parks

Bikers enjoy a fall day at Philadelphia’s Valley Green in Fairmount Park, the largest urban park in the nation.Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™
Bikers enjoy a fall day at Philadelphia’s Valley Green in Fairmount Park, the largest urban park in the nation. Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™

Each year over a million people visit the

Wissahickon Valley in Beautiful Fairmount Park.

The Valley has over 50 miles of trails that offers

runners, hikers, and mountain bikers the opportunity

to explore Fairmount Park’s rich forests, woodland

and creeks. However, many of us urban dwellers

rarely visit places like Forbidden Drive, Devil’s Pool,

Andorra Meadows or Climbers Rock. Some of us just

don’t get out there. Keep reading and you will

discover David McCullough’s efforts to change his

community’s mindset regarding the outdoors.

In just about every way, I feel better when I can get

outside. It’s hard to find the time, though. I’m a

father, husband, graduate student, and professional

science educator. Like a lot of us, I’m really busy.

But when I get out into nature, I feel better physically

and emotionally. I get exercise and push myself to

get stronger. I have time to think. I can smell fresh

air and see new things. I can reflect. I can meet new

people. I feel more alive. And anything helps – from

walking the dog to blowing bubbles in the yard with

my kids.

For me, nothing beats hiking in the woods. It’s a

perfect combination of being grounded and

transported at the same time. A nice hike makes me

feel connected with nature and all of us in it, but I

also feel like like I’ve gone to some other world.

Maybe that says something about how wrapped up

we are in our daily lives that just walking through

trees and listening to the sounds of nature can seem

like you’re on another planet. There’s no feeling quite

like it.

Part of Philadelphia’s 4,400-acre Fairmount Park, Valley Green is located along the Wissahickon Creek. Visitors to the park often partake in hiking, fishing and biking activities.Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™
Part of Philadelphia’s 4,400-acre Fairmount Park, Valley Green is located along the Wissahickon Creek. Visitors to the park often partake in hiking, fishing and biking activities. Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™

This year, I wanted to do more than just be better

personally – I wanted to join with and help others

experience the same thing. Fortunately, I was chosen

to serve as a Philadelphian leader for Outdoor Afro, a

non-profit organization spreading around the country

with a simple, but powerful, mission: to celebrate and

inspire African American connections to nature. I get

the honor of being the leader for bringing that

mission to Philadelphia.

So how exactly do we celebrate and inspire black

people’s connections with nature? By getting outside

and sharing knowledge about the world around us,

including our special connections to nature. Of

course, this celebration isn’t to exclude anyone–we

just want to bring out stories that are all too often

forgotten, about how Black people have and continue

to be essential to our planet’s health and well being.

At the same time, we’re working to improve our own

health and well being.

A child enjoys the outdoor pleasures of Kelly Drive, one of the gateways to Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, the largest urban park in the United States.Credit: Photo by B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia™
A child enjoys the outdoor pleasures of Kelly Drive, one of the gateways to Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, the largest urban park in the United States. Credit: Photo by B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia™

In fact, our personal health and the health of our world are

deeply connected. Natural places aren’t intrinsically mysterious

and scary – they belong to us. They nourish us and help us feel

strong. But they also need us. When each of us is interested and

invested in nature, we make choices that benefit our natural world

and each other. We start to make small changes in what we eat

and how we get around, and think more about big choices like

how public money should be used to support parks and green

spaces. Our voice – the voice of Black folk – is important, and

needs to heard. Believe it or not, we can start speaking just by

getting outside.

This, of course, is all a bunch of great ideas. Let’s get down to the

nitty gritty of how a hike with Outdoor Afro – or even on your

own – can make your life and world a richer, happier place.

Exercise – We all know we need exercise. Hiking

just happens to be my favorite kind. There are small

hills and declines that give you a bit more activity

than you might find on a simple walk. And even the

most well kept trails have tree roots and rocks that

you have to step over and navigate, all giving your

body a little more stuff to do. All of this while being

distracted by serene surroundings and great


Of course, hiking is just one of many outdoor

activities. Outdoor Afro gatherings can include

activities like biking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing,

and even sailing! The sky is the limit…so far.

Healing time – This one is hard to explain until

you’ve experienced it. But trust me – the outdoors

has healing powers. As your body moves and your

mind relaxes, you find yourself reflecting and

thinking about your life, and yourself, in new ways.

You release tension and embrace the calm sights and

sounds of nature. Make no mistake, a good hike does

the spirit good, too.

Fellowship – While Outdoor Afro is new here in

Philadelphia, the program has been going strong for

five years and most participants come for the

fellowship. Outdoor Afro draws in people from all

walks of life through a common interest in getting

outside and enjoying nature. It’s an amazing way to

meet new friends, hear new stories, and get new


There’s a special kind of togetherness that comes

from enjoying healing exercise and beautiful

surroundings with good people.

Rollerblading enthusiasts enjoy the smooth and flat 8.4 mile path that winds from the Philadelphia Museum of Art along Kelly Drive and West River DriveCredit: Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™
Rollerblading enthusiasts enjoy the smooth and flat 8.4 mile path that winds from the Philadelphia Museum of Art along Kelly Drive and West River Drive.Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™


Learning – One of my favorite things about

Outdoor Afro is the emphasis on sharing

knowledge. We talk about the plants, animals,

rocks, and waterways that make up the environment

for each of our hikes. Also, it’s important that we

talk about the history of these regions, and in

particular, the history of black people. We have

been so important to this country, but our

contributions are too often overlooked. Outdoor

Afro wants to bring those stories back to forefront,

and make them part of our common knowledge.

While my job as leader is to find and share

information, we know all of you have deep

knowledge, too. Outdoor Afro is a great place to

share your own expertise about nature, history,

Philadelphia, or even stories about your own family.

We all know so much. Come share your knowledge

with Outdoor Afro!

Members of Outdoor Afro in Yosemite National Park Photo courtesy of Outdoor Afro
Members of Outdoor Afro in Yosemite National Park Photo courtesy of Outdoor Afro

If you want to join Outdoor Afro-Philadelphia on

the trails and wherever our journeys take us, you

can find us at

Afro-Philadelphia and on Facebook by searching

for Outdoor Afro-Philadelphia. All of our

scheduling is online, so log on in and join us in

feeling better, one hike at a time!

Homeschool: A Complicated Issue

The following article is a editorial

comment on one aspect of a larger issue

(education) that has generated widespread

debate and comment within our

community. This subject is of particular

concern and interest to the writer, C. Fox


How a society educates its children has

always been of paramount importance.

There was a time in America where many

children were homeschooled. Many

families lived far away from any type of

school setting. Therefore, out of

practical necessity, much education took

place in the home. Reading, writing, and

arithmetic formed the core of the basic set

of skills or knowledge that was

considered necessary or sufficient for an

educated person to function or survive in

a primarily agrarian society.
Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 11.53.49 PM

For a society to function well, it needs the

majority of its population to be well

educated. In order to do this in today’s

highly diverse and urban centered society,

our school systems have created large

bureaucracies. In order for a large

bureaucracy to be effective, key societal

groups need to “buy in” to it: parents,

educators, administrators, politicians,

taxpayers, etc. For a long time in our

country this system has functioned

reasonable well.

Recently, however, we’ve begun to see a

significant new trend or challenge to the

traditional school system. More and more

children are being homeschooled. Current

statistics show at least 2 million

homeschoolers in the U.S. Many Black

families are beginning to explore this

option. What are the benefits &

disadvantages of this?

Phillip Daniel brainstorms with homeschoolers about mechanical engineering project ideas on a farm outside of St. Louis, MO
Phillip Daniel brainstorms with homeschoolers about mechanical engineering project ideas on a farm outside of St. Louis, MO

Parents seem to choose the

homeschooling option for a variety of

reasons. There is evidence to suggest that

parents, who have a strong belief system,

use homeschooling as a way to ensure

their beliefs remain a strong presence in

their children’s lives.

While most school systems try to

maintain a secular environment, no such

requirement is necessary if children are

taught at home. A parent can be as

religious or as non-religious as he or she

chooses in a private home. There is also

the perceived added benefit of developing

a stronger bond between parent(s) and

child than the one that would normally

exist when relying on others to teach your

child outside of the home. For some

parents, this is very significant or


There is also an increased need or desire

among some parents to “protect” their

children. In today’s society, children may

seem to be less safe than in earlier times.

Parents who homeschool often feel that

they will have more direct control over

their children’s safety. And yet, this same

perceived benefit may contain some

pitfalls. Many children judge what

obstacles they can overcome based on the

obstacles they encounter everyday.

Removing a child from a traditional

school setting could eliminate many of

the obstacles or challenges they might

otherwise learn from.

It has been said “you cannot discover new

oceans unless you have the courage to

lose sight of the shore”. Some parents

can be overprotective. A sheltered child

may become a child unsure of himself or

herself, afraid to explore new challenges.

While a parent can protect his or her child

in the short run, sooner or later that child

will have to learn to protect himself or


It is a significant step to remove children

from the mainstream educational system.

Parents need to be aware of all the

implications that such a decision entails.

First and foremost, educating your child

at home does not mean you will be

completely free of oversight by the

government. Therefore, a parent needs to

be well prepared for such an






Ten Transformational Projects Set for Parkside

by Manuel McDonnell Smith

For years, the homeowners and neighbors of Parkside have heard the repeated promise “development is coming.” Now it appears that 2016 will signal that promise’s fulfillment with a series of transformational projects underway in and around the Parkside community. Here’s a list of ten new construction projects to watch that have the potential for positive impact on our neighborhood for years to come.

    • University Place 3.0, 41st and Market Streets                      Status: Demolition complete, groundbreaking in Spring 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 6.25.01 PMDeveloper Scott Mazo reportedly is investing $70 million dollars to transform the former Pep Boys site into a five-story office building. He’s hoping to lure tech firms (and their good-paying jobs) to the sleek,all-glass tower on the now-dormant corner.

      • Public Safety Services Complex , 4601 Market Street Status: Phase 1 under construction, expected to open in 2018

Public Services ComplexThe City is spending $250 Million Dollars to transform the long-shuttered 4601 Market Building into the “Public Safety Services Campus” that will house the headquarters for the Police and Health Departments, along with the Medical Examiners Office and City Morgue.

Another rendering of a future Centennial Commons area.

The Fairmount Park Conservancy is working with neighborhood groups and private foundations to raise over $7 Million dollars to “soften” the edge of Fairmount Park at Parkside with new playgrounds, picnic areas and other amenities.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 5.41.54 PMThe busy store is set to break ground on a major expansion project to add a 200 seat jazz café to the store along with a new headquarters for the 900AM WURD radio station.

      • UCity Square, 36th and Filbert Streets.                               Status: Demolition Complete; construction TBA

UCity SquareUniversity City Science Center has partnered with Drexel University on a $1 Billion Dollar plan to transform the five-block, 14-acre former U-City High Site into new offices, apartments and stores for the growing area. Also planned, a new park and K-8 school to be partially operated by Drexel.

      • 4050 Apartments, 4050 Haverford Avenue                     Status: Under construction, no opening date set

4050_rendering_1_0People’s Emergency Center recently broke ground on a three story building rising on the long vacant lot near 40th and Haverford Avenue. When opened, it will feature 20 one, two, and three bedroom apartments for low-income artists. The new building will also feature a shared workshop/exhibit space and a community room open to the public.

      • Schuylkill Yards, 30th and Market Streets                         Status: In planning, groundbreaking scheduled for late 2016

JFK_esplanade_Schuylkill Yards-webDrexel University is working with a private developer on a $3.5 billion dollar plan to transform the sea of parking lots and “dead space” west of the train station into new living, educational, office, and retail spaces. First up, transforming the parking lot at the northwest corner of 30th and Market into a new public park.

      • Good Food Flats, 4000 Baring Street                                    Status: Under construction, set to open late 2016

imgThe nearly complete building will feature 44 student apartments along with a fitness center and gourmet public kitchen.

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 11.55.01 AMCommunity Ventures has secured funding to complete a combination of apartment buildings, single family homes, and commercial space for senior and disabled residents.The project in financed in part with $3.4 Million Dollars in federal funds along with $1.3 Million in Tax Credits.

Brown’s ShopRite Plans a Coming Jazz Attraction To Parkside!

by Nikia Brown

Parkside is an emerging community bustling with residents, businesses, and culture aficionados. It has undergone a number of transitions over the past several decades and continues to welcome changes that positively impact the community. One change, in particular, is the addition of the Brown family ShopRite located at 1575 N. 52nd. Street. Prior to the arrival of Brown’s ShopRite in 2008, the community was a food dessert with little to no access to fresh groceries or produce. In 2002, the Brown family partnered with the state’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative to bring healthy groceries to inner city neighborhoods. Brown’s Shop Rite was the answer to a 20-year cry for food justice in the Parkside community.

ShopRite Supermarkets is a co-operative chain of supermarkets that span across six northeastern states: New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. With eleven stores in and around the Philadelphia area, the Brown’s pride themselves on a commitment to four brand pillars: authentic products, affordability, community responsibility, and the promise of an enjoyable shopping experience. The store has strong ties with local organizations such as the Parkside Business Association, Parkside Community Association, and Please Touch Museum.

Brown's Shop Rite in Parkside (Photo Credit: Brown's ShopRite)
Brown’s Shop Rite in Parkside (Photo Credit: Brown’s ShopRite)

“It is important to understand the people we serve and what’s going on in the community,” says Paul Brauer, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Brown Superstores.

By summer 2016, the Brown family intends to take the promise of an enjoyable shopping experience to a new level. Soon, the store will break ground on an innovative development plan that will include a 15, 000 square feet expansion toward Lowes. “With the rise of e-commerce, there is a need for more of a destination and entertainment space,” explains Brauer.

The development will encompass an upstairs mezzanine with 165 seats, stage, and sound system for live musical performances. Brown’s ShopRite will partner with Settlement Music School and 23rd Street Jazz Café to display a wide array of local talent. “The stage will be a place for people to practice their craft,” says Brauer.

There will also be a Chef’s table upstairs that will offer food for guests during performances as well as cooking classes for interested community members.

Patrons will have the option to dine and wine on the mezzanine or enjoy an open beer garden on the lower level. Other attractions include an open flame grilled chicken station, salad bar, and more food options.

“We want to bring more of a higher end experience at an affordable cost,” enthuses Brauer. “People want more places to go that are safe and inexpensive.”

The Brown family is endeavoring to do something that no other grocery store has done before. In addition to the many new attractions, Philadelphia’s only black owned talk radio station, WURD, will be making Brown’s ShopRite its new home. “This is the first time that a local supermarket has incorporated a stage, sound system, and broadcasting station,” prides Brauer. With the aim of becoming a one-stop destination for their 2-3 mile customer base, the store will also add a health clinic, pharmacy, and nutritionist.

This development will not only bring a new flare to the neighborhood, but also more employment opportunities for community members. Brauer predicts a rise from 280 to 300 job associates. He has a very positive outlook on the project and is eager to unveil Parkside’s coming inner city attraction.

Snapshots: Happenings In and Around Parkside

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 5.45.09 PM
Representative Vanessa Lowery-Brown with Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, at Brown’s Reelection announcement.
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Students from Global Leadership Academy and Discovery Charter School brainstorming design concepts for a new play space behind Lowes in Parkwest Town Center.
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Congressman Chaka Fattah at dedication ceremony naming the Driveway at 852 North 46th Street, “Grace H. Daniels Way”.
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PEC’s Groundbreaking Ceremony at 4040 Haverford Ave. This new construction will provide affordable housing for low income artists.
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Grand opening ceremony for the New Good Will store on Parkside ave. Photo courtesy of Mr. Ron Allen.

Centennial Commons Update: Phase One to Break Ground This Spring!

by Jennifer Mahar

After years of planning and design, the Fairmount Park Conservancy is gearing up to begin construction on Phase One of the Centennial Commons park improvement project! We plan to hold a groundbreaking ceremony during LOVE Your Park Week, May 7 – 14, 2016 and everyone in Parkside will be invited. LOVE Your Park Week is a citywide celebration of Philadelphia’s parks with a citywide volunteer day at 100 parks and over 75 events and programs at different parks throughout the city.

Phase One of the Centennial Commons project focuses on improvements to the Parkside Avenue edge of West Fairmount Park. Improvements include dynamic rain gardens that will filter storm water off of Parkside Avenue, a mid-block pedestrian crossing between Memorial and Marlton Avenues and other traffic calming measures. The highlight of the project will be ‘neighborhood rooms’ along Parkside Avenue. Designed to highlight the beautiful porches across the street in the community, these rooms will feature innovative lighting and giant porch swings. We hope the improvements bring a creative touch to the park border and make the park feel like an extension of the community.

Another rendering of a future Centennial Commons area.
Another rendering of a future Centennial Commons area. (Photo Credit: Fairmount Park Conservancy)

Construction will occur on Parkside Avenue from 41st Street to just past West Memorial Hall Drive and is expected to last six to nine months. West Fairmount Park will still be ‘open’ but there will be temporary parking disruptions on Parkside Avenue in the lane closest to the park. We are working with SEPTA to ensure little to no disruption in service along the Avenue.

And more projects are on deck for West Fairmount Park! We are actively fundraising for the new Youth Area which will be PhaseTwo of the Centennial Commons project.

To keep things moving, Studio Bryan Hanes is working on design development while we fundraise. This means working with engineers, architects and other entities on the design of allof the new features next to Kelly Pool including climbing structures and creative natural playgrounds for kids, a small pavilion with amenities, and a fun, interactive spray ground.

We will be holding a community meeting before the groundbreaking so stay tuned for more information. And we promise to keep you posted via The Parkside Journal!

In the meantime, if there are any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Jennifer Mahar at 215-988- 9334or via email at

News that is from, about, and benefits our Parkside Community in West Philadelphia.


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