by Jennifer Mahar
Editor’s note: If you have been anywhere near the Horticultural center in the past few weeks you must have noticed all the work going on in the park and the trees being cut down. The Casual Park goer probably pays little attention to the specific types of trees or other plant life found in Fairmount Park. Most of us simply see the ‘woods’ in the park they love and take for granted that they will always be there. However, that’s not guaranteed. Our Park lands take care and nurturing to preserve for future generations. The following article emphasizes why we must now take a more ‘hands on’ approach regarding plant life in our parks. It details what is being done to meet the critical challenge of ensuring the continued survival of a healthy, diverse forests in our city’s parks.
Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) and the Fairmount Park Conservancy selected the forests surrounding The Horticulture Center, one of the jewels of the Philadelphia park system, as the focal point for a major restoration effort. The Horticulture Center facility and grounds, which include an arboretum, are historic and provide the setting for horticultural excellence in our park system. The facility features a conference center, indoor gardens and greenhouses, and is a destination for ceremonies, including weddings, corporate events and holiday celebrations. Unfortunately, the native forests surrounding the site are being lost. The forest canopy is dominated by a large number of invasive tree species and portions of the canopy are over-run by invasive woody vines, which are tearing the forest apart. The understory is dominated by a limited number of non-native species of saplings and shrubs, and the native herbaceous layer (wildflowers, ferns and grasses) has disappeared. This forest is on a trajectory to become dominated by a limited number of invasive trees, shrubs, and vines, with little aesthetic appeal, diminished wildlife habitat and minimal diversity. Without intervention, the future forest will provide an unfortunate example of neglect and lost potential.
The Horticulture Center Forest Restoration and Protection project includes three distinct Project Areas, identified as Lansdowne Glen ( 12.8 acres); Montgomery Creek ( 10.7 acres) and Michaux Grove (5.9 acres), totaling approximately 29.4 acres in size. The project sites each abut the Horticulture Center and grounds. The current project will demonstrate to our many visitors that carefully planned restoration can transform a degraded forest into a diverse and functional ecosystem.
Urban forests are subject to a wide range of stressors that do not commonly afflict non-urban or “wildland” forests. The cumulative effect of these stresses is too slow to be observed, but over time, the impacts become obvious. The native trees and shrubs are replaced by non-natives, rampant woody vines tear off limbs and encroach into the canopy; regeneration (i.e. seedlings and saplings) disappear, diversity diminishes, and eventually the forest is lost.
One of the most significant stressors, surprisingly, is an over-population of white-tailed deer. Deer are a native animal; however, the abnormally high population that roams our park system takes a huge toll on the native forest. These herbivores selectively and continuously consume almost every native tree or shrub seedling growing within the forest floor. The “carrying capacity,” or ability of our native forest to provide sufficient food for the deer herd, has been overwhelmed. In addition, these same deer also prefer to consume the native plants rather than the non-native or invasive plant species, which have become increasingly common throughout Philadelphia’s forests. This is because that over the millennia, our native deer co-evolved with our native plants and as a result find the native plants far more palatable and nutritious than the non-natives. In addition to herbivory by deer, our forests have become overrun with non-native plants. The Philadelphia region has a high diversity and abundance of invasive plants due to our rich history of botanical introductions and horticultural plant promotion. These two factors – deer browse and invasive plants – will, over time, result in the replacement of our native forest with a degraded landscape dominated by a few species of non-native trees, shrubs and vines. Unlike most wildland forests, urban forests must be maintained and stewarded if they are to survive.
The goal of this forest restoration project is focused on the removal of nonnative species of plants (trees, shrubs and vines) using traditional forestry equipment in order to prepare the sites for planting and to promote the regeneration and establishment of native plants.
Following the removal of the undesirable vegetation, each of the sites will receive targeted herbicide treatment and then be protected with eight foot (8′) height deer exclusion fencing. Deer fencing is visually unobtrusive and the fence will include multiple pedestrian gates so as not to impede access by park users. A new walking trail for education and passive recreation will be constructed within the Lansdowne Glen project area. While performing clearing, the contractor will be “topping” a number of the undesirable trees that are being removed as part of this project. Standing dead trees are referred to as “snags,” which provide valuable wildlife nesting and feeding opportunities. The contractors will also leave large logs or “habitat logs” laying onsite. These provide habitat and help return nutrients back to the soil as they decay. In fall 2019, PPR and the Fairmount Park Conservancy will plant the site with thousands of native trees and shrubs. Some of these plants will be purchased from local native plant nurseries; however, many will be grown from locally-sourced seed at PPR’s Greenland Nursery (off of Ford Rd. near the Organic Recycling Center).
The project should result in the restoration to a regionally-native forest along with a significant increase in plant diversity. Plant diversity is closely correlated with wildlife diversity, so the project should provide improved nesting and breeding opportunities for resident and migratory wildlife. This effort will reset the trajectory of this urban forest and provide an example of ecological restoration that can be used to teach students and practitioners alike.
When you really think about it, “It’s all about the trees, trees are very significant.” These are the words that stayed with me after my meeting with Ms. Lori Hayes, Director of Urban Forestry for the City Of Philadelphia. Lori and her team are an important part of the tree Philly program. TreePhilly is an initiative of Philadelphia Parks and recreation that is dedicated to making Philadelphia the City of Arborly Love.
Lori has been in her position since the beginning of the year. She plans and coordinates tree operationsthroughout the city.
She oversees 8 geographical districts, 3 regional tree crews and the Tree Philly Program. Lori is a graduate of Temple University with a degree in Horticulture.
One of the tasks of the TreePhilly program is to give out yard trees to Philadelphia home owners. This is done twice a year in the Spring and Summer. The program has given out hundreds of trees. Lori and her Tree Crews handle all kinds of emergencies. When a tree falls they try to rectify the situation as soon as possible. The team also does a great deal of tree maintenance around the city to prevent tree failure. Assistance from the public is always helpful.
For immediate tree concerns citizens are encouraged to call 311. But there is also a stewardship unit; that includes 100 friends’ groups. Each spring and fall the city hosts ‘Love Your Park’ day. In her office there are many signs of Lori’s love of nature. One item stands out as she explains it’s significance to me.
It’s a picture taken in Germantown Philadelphia from the 1960’s. In the scene there’s a car that a tree has fallen on. She explains it was her grandfather’s car. And Lori was heartbroken at the time because her family did everything in that car. But she also tells me, that was her first tree job. She remembers a lot about that incident.
She also remembers when she started at Saul Agricultural School, Lori indicates it may be the largest vocational agricultural school in the country. What Lori finds most rewarding about her job is what she calls ‘The After’. After storm debris is removed. After fallen trees are cleaned up. After trash and old cars are dispatched from the parks. And after invasive plants are remove from native environments. ‘The After’ looks real good. Almost everything you want to know about West Parkside she can tell you. Lori managed the Fairmount Park Horticultural Center for many years, and she knows the history of the area. From the damaged caused by hurricane Hazel in the 50’s; the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, to the Virgin Mary visitation experienced by the young girls in the 1950’s. “ Lori Hayes knows it all.
Find Your Path” is the motto of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. Lori invests some her time in helping young people, especially children of color to develop a love for nature in the city. The city does sponsor a few groups that do just that. One such group that comes to mind is Tree Keepers. This is a program for somewhat trouble youth who help remove invasive species from the park.
Speaking with Lori was informative. The last thing we discussed was how the Holiday Tree for City Hall was chosen. She explained that this year she submitted 4 choices of trees from Biglersville. The mayor could choose from the four she submitted. Lori spoke of her former mentor, who used to say, Look up. Look down. Look all around. I think we should all remember those words when we journey through our parks in Philadelphia. Happy Holidays to all.
by Michael Burch
Chris Spahr, the Executive Director of The Parkside Community Development Corporation is in the news again this month after being awarded the Lindley Foundation Fellowship for Urban Innovation. Chris earned the fellowship for having an innovative concept about bringing positive change to East Parkside.
For the past few years he and Mr. Christopher Scott, Parkside CDC Board president, have been developing a plan to foster an energy development district here in East Parkside. The plan involves establishing solar panels in a network or solar farm configuration to generate green energy. These panels would be erected on land not generally in use, or on parking lots in the area. This plan will not greatly change the look of the community or debase the park.
The energy produced in this method would be owned by our Parkside Centennial CDC. The collected electrical energy could be resold to institutional partners like The Please Touch Museum or the Philadelphia Zoo, among others. According to Mr. Spahr both institutions have expressed interest in the plan and they hope to grow interest among other businesses and institutions.
The monies earned from these transactions would build capital for the CDC and allow them to invest in the Parkside community. This could mean money for sidewalk repairs, street light installations, home weatherization programs, etc. Where these funds would be spent would depend on residents. This program could become a national model that started here in Parkside.
The Lindley Fellowship brings with it a 15-thousand-dollar cash endowment and 6 months of technical support to the project. This is a plan with real growth potential and the Parkside Journal will keep you updated on their progress.
by Jasmine Bullock
Jamie Gauthier is the new Director of the
Fairmount Park Conservancy
Since 1998, the Fairmount Park Foundation, now the Fairmount Park Conservancy, has invested millions of dollars in the Philadelphia park system. The organization is a “Park Champion” and has been so effective because of its understanding of the importance of parks to our city’s neighborhoods. The Fairmount Park Conservancy takes pride in increasing public awareness of the park’s role in contributing to the health and vibrancy of neighborhoods in the Greater Philadelphia region.
Today the Park Conservancy works very closely with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to develop and implement projects and programs that support, improve, and enhance Philadelphia’s parks. One of its premier programs is the Oval at the Art Museum that provides not only a play area for children, but also a beer garden and food truck hub for adults over a six week period during the summer. The Conservancy also works closely with community groups and over 115 Friends groups. The Conservancy aids in forming new groups and in sustaining and supporting existing groups dedicated to their neighborhood parks.
As of July 2017, the Fairmount Park Conservancy is under the new leadership of Jamie Gauthier. Gauthier is a native of Philadelphia who began her career at DuPont working in the field of accounting. During that time, she had a desire to do more meaningful work that helped cities and specifically the struggling communities of Philadelphia.
With a growing passion to work intimately with the community, Gauthier embarked on a graduate degree in Urban Studies and Planning from University of Pennsylvania. With a new career focus, Gauthier gave almost ten years of service to the Local Initiative Support Coalition (LISC). LISC is a national non-profit organization that provides capital from private sources to promote and support low income housing projects and community revitalization. Gauthier described LISC as a great place to learn but wished to serve in more of a leadership position.
Gauthier then became the Executive Director of the Sustainable Business network, a “Chamber of Commerce for socially conscious businesses”, as Gauthier describes it. After four years with this group and her recognition of the new potential that the new Philadelphia soda tax would provide, she decided that now was the right time to make a career change.
She made the decision to take the leadership position with the Philadelphia Parks Conservancy in order to take advantage of the Rebuild Initiative that was the direct result of the revenue produced by the soda tax. Rebuild is a $500 million program designed to revitalize neighborhood parks, recreational centers, playgrounds, and libraries across the city.
The funds are acquired from both the soda tax and private donations. Gauthier’s vision is to “connect and partner with the city to see the mission come to pass”.
Reading Terminal Market will provide cooking demos, food share with fresh produce and more,
PHILADELPHIA – The first-ever Parkside Fresh Food Fest will come to life this summer thanks to support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and collaboration between the Centennial Parkside Community Development Corporation (Centennial CDC) and the Viola Street Residents Association (VSRA). The festival will bring healthy, fresh food to Parkside residents via a food share program and cooking demonstrations from Reading Terminal Market, as well as live entertainment and activities for families.
The series of six events begins Thursday, July 6 and will be held on Viola Street between 41st Street and Belmont Ave in West Philadelphia. The Food Fest continues on select Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. until September 21 (July 6, 20; Aug 10, 24; Sept 14, 21). The series seeks to use food as the foundation to build community, utilize common public space, and provide Parkside residents with access to fresh food.
“Every community in Philadelphia should have access to fresh, healthy food, and Reading Terminal Market is committed to helping facilitate that,” said Anuj Gupta, General Manager of the Reading Terminal Market. “Using food as an avenue for diverse communities to come together is at the heart of what we do at the Market. We want to thank Knight Foundation for involving us in this project and highlighting the need for community gathering spaces for relationship building in Philadelphia.”
In addition to the Reading Terminal Market cooking demonstrations led by Chef Tess Connors, attendees can participate in organized art activities, bicycle safety workshops from the Indego Bike Share, and a Philadelphia Free Library Book Nook for children. Activities will vary each week and may include live music performances and a movie night.
The idea for The Parkside Fresh Food Fest was born from a community-building program hosted in the neighborhood last summer – the Viola Alley Connector, part of the Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative. Reading Terminal Market used this event to gauge resident interest in a potential subsidized Community Supported Agriculture service for East Parkside. Thus, the food share concept was born.
Each food share includes fresh fruit, vegetables, locally-sourced eggs and/or dairy, and an assortment of other grocery items from two merchants at Reading Terminal: Iovine Brothers Produce and Fair Food Farmstand. Participation in the food share program requires a subscription, which may include either a six-event ($50) or four-event ($35) subscription, but some limited single shares ($10) will be available at each event. Information on each item in the food share package will be included along with a recipe card.
“The Parkside Fresh Food Fest is helping to support the wider goals of the Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative, bringing neighborhood residents and organizations together in one of our city’s great public spaces to promote collaboration and new ideas,” said Patrick Morgan, Knight Foundation program director for Philadelphia. “This project leverages the early actions as part of the Civic Commons and takes them to a new level to improve our civic assets and community connections.”
The Centennial Parkside CDC and VRSA are involved in the local Reimagining the Civic Commons Initiative, a pilot program supported by the William Penn Foundation and Knight Foundation, which seeks to connect public spaces such as parks, plazas, trails and libraries to bring together people from different backgrounds. The initiative expanded nationally additional partners in 2016. Centennial Commons, located adjacent to Parkside, is one of the five sites included in the initiative.
“I’ve lived in Parkside for 10 years and am in love with the neighborhood and its beautiful people,” said Joyce Smith, Development Coordinator of Viola Street Residents Association. “The general vacancy on our blocks is something the VSRA has been trying to tackle, and I’m thrilled that the Knight Foundation is implementing wonderful programs like the Fresh Food Fest. Some challenges of living in this area are the lack of a commercial district and stores to find healthy food. This is going to be a great resource for our neighbors and I look forward to seeing its impact.”
The Parkside Fresh Food Fest is made possible through funding from Knight Foundation, developed in partnership with The Centennial Parkside CDC, PennPraxis, the Fairmount Park Conservancy, and All About Events.
About Reading Terminal Market
One of America’s largest and oldest public markets, the Reading Terminal Market serves as a public trust providing a venue for independent local businesses to showcase the Philadelphia region’s culinary bounty and cultural diversity. Housed since 1892 in a National Historic Landmark building, the Market offers an incredible selection of farm fresh produce, meats and poultry, plus the finest seafood, cheeses, baked goods, confections, flowers, kitchenware, cookbooks, jewelry and crafts. The Market is managed by a not-for-profit management company as a tenant of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, which has owned the historic Reading Terminal since 1990. In 2014, the American Planning Association named Reading Terminal Market as one of the 10 Great Public Spaces in America.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.
About the Viola Street Residents Association
VSRA was founded in 2009 by a group of pro-active residents advocating for positive improvements in the East Parkside neighborhood through beautification, civic engagement and community revitalization enterprises. Through resident driven initiatives the civic seeks to empower the community by helping residents take ownership of community building initiatives. VSRA’s goal is to generate strength by connecting the community to resources and building on local assets.
About the Centennial Parkside CDC
Centennial Parkside Community Development Corporation (CPCDC) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit community development corporation located in the East Parkside neighborhood of West Philadelphia. The organization responds to a long-standing need for a Community Development Corporation in East Parkside that can align resources and leverage partnerships to spur equitable revitalization in the Community. CPCDC was established in 2015 with the intention of promoting an equitable development strategy that sustains an economically and culturally diverse community, improves the health and well-being of residents, strengthens the community’s identity and connectivity to Fairmount Park, and enhances the quality of the physical environment.
Contact: Alex Styer Bellevue Communications
By Michael Burch
Last month there was a special ceremony held on Parkside Avenue in Fairmount Park. It was the groundbreaking program to formally recognize the start of construction on Phase 1 of the Centennial Commons project. This venture is a major initiative of the Fairmount Park Conservancy. This project is designed to create a more welcoming public space along Parkside Avenue from 41st and Parkside to Belmont Avenue.
If you are a regular reader of the Parkside Journal, then you may be somewhat familiar with the project for we have often written about its planned start. The new layout designed by Studio Bryan Hanes will include innovative play spaces for kids and young people, seating areas, a rain garden, and better access for Parkside residents to nearby cultural institutions. The groundbreaking took place on April 20th and is considered the physical start of the project. The expected completion time will be the Fall of 2017.
Centennial Commons is part of the national Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative, which seeks to counter growing economic and social fragmentation in our cities by revitalizing and connecting parks, libraries, community centers and other public spaces. In 2015, Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park Conservancy and local partners embarked on a three-year, $11 million pilot project of Reimagining the Civic Commons, supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the William Penn Foundation. The project has since added additional partners and expanded to four other cities. The work that has begun is only Phase 1 of the Centennial Commons project, called “Parkside Neighborhood Edge.” This work will make it easier for pedestrians to cross Parkside Avenue, where they will be able to rest on new bench swings and benches or stroll among new ornamental plantings and trees – including 68 new shade trees and over 42 species of perennials, grasses, and shrubs covering 67,000 square feet.
“Centennial Commons is an outstanding example of what happens when our public agencies work together to bring innovative projects to our Parks and Recreation facilities,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “I want to thank the leadership at Parks and Recreation, Water Department, Streets Department, and Commerce Department for sharing my vision for a cleaner, greener city for all Philadelphia residents. I also want to thank Fairmount Park Conservancy, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and William Penn Foundation for their leadership on the Centennial Commons project.”
After speaking to the larger audience gathered the Mayor found the time to stop and talk to us and answer a few questions. I asked him what his thoughts were on the Parkside community and how this new park will enhance the neighborhood.
“I see Parkside as a jewel that’s in need of a little bit of polishing” said Mayor Kenney. “The Parks and Rec people have done a good job maintaining but they we were in need of an infusion of outside resources. Every neighborhood in our city should have amenities like this, a place where our elderly, can come and relax and where our children can enjoy recreational activities.”
Mayor Kenney continued to elaborate on other related issues such as how funds from project rebuild will help fund Parks, libraries and recreation centers around the city. Many local residents were on hand for this event. This was a big deal in Parkside. Residents are pleased to see the improvements to the park but many are uncertain as to what it means to their futures. Updates to the park system in Parkside is wonderful but just across the street is the Parkside community. A community that has suffered through years of disinvestment. It remains to be seen how this new park will positively affect the people that live here. One resident asked me at the event “what does this mean for me, I don’t use the park and I still don’t have a laundromat around the corner.”
Joyce Smith from Viola Street Residents Association and Centennial Development Corporation had a speaking role at the ceremony and represents the community on many issues.
Joyce Smith knows the improvements are going to make the park more user friendly, but she also hopes this will lead to greater investment in the part of the community where the residents live and not lead to the removal of current residents. Longtime residents Joe Clark and Harmon Thurman also have fond memories of the Park and both are concerned about the community’s future. These longtime residents have been the stewards of this community and the park for many years. Let’s work together to bring about a bright future for Parkside.