by Michael Burch
Everyone knows that Philadelphians often face some steep challenges. What people don’t often hear about is the work scores of people and neighborhoods are doing every day to make their communities a little better. One such group is the Viola Street Residents Association on the 4200 block of Viola Street in East Parkside. The residents there have come up with a unique idea to enhance their neighborhood. The Viola Street committee is an active group of some 10 key individuals that are the driving force behind their community enhancement effort.
Through their hard work and efforts, they are among the 20 finalists, in Philadelphia, for the Knight Foundation Cities Grant. The mission of the Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that
promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. In all, there are 158 finalists in over 25 cities across the country, cities that the Knight Foundation
operates in. Philadelphia has the largest amount of finalists of any city to participate.
The Viola Street Residents Association (VSRA), in partnership with the Community Design Collaborative and the Fairmount Park Conservanc, plan to transform a little used alley in their
neighborhood into a community focal point and event space. Viola resident Joyce Smith took the lead on this project. I asked Joyce “how did you come up with the idea of transforming this mostly unused alley into a community hub and do you think this may be a design model for other neighborhoods in Philadelphia?”
“Back in October of 2015 – I received a call from Kathryn Lovell, the former executive director of Fairmount Park Conservancy, who told me about the Knight cities grant. Kathryn was interested in
doing a pocket park that connected Viola and Parkside but, that idea petered out because of logistical complications. but, while on the tour we discussed the potential of our alleyway.
“I as well as other residents have always noted that our alleyway was unique. I envisioned how this alleyway, connecting two historical blocks, could be transformed into a vital space for residents.
When Kathryn told me about the grant we both agreed that this was a great opportunity to fund the revitalization of the alley. My initial idea was to use the centennial district as a theme and create a
space for civic activities. And, then I hashed it out with other VSRA members, Randy Smith, Sean Solomon and Isabelle Dijols.”
Joyce believes that this project may be a good model for other communities in Philadelphia. Viola residents will have to wait until April to find if they will be among the award recipients. The Knight
Foundation will award about 5 million dollars to some 30 finalists from around the country. Viola Street area residents will have to wait until April to learn if their community organization (VSRA) is
among the grant recipients. The Journal will keep its readers informed about the final outcome of this important community endeavor.