Category Archives: Planning

Could A New Monorail Take A ‘Bite’ Out of Zoo Area Traffic Crunch?

by Manuel McDonnell-Smith

The image above is not the proposed Monorail for the planned zoo project. We show this file photo of what the Monorail could possibly look like.

Executives from the Philadelphia Zoo are on tour asking residents of Parkside and Mantua to support a new train plan from 30th Street Station. Anyone from Lancaster Avenue to Leidy Avenue knows the weekend routine – get into your car and avoid 34th and Girard Ave if you want to get anywhere fast. Zoo crowds are notorious for backing up traffic in and around the neighborhood. While things have gotten somewhat better in the past few years with the addition of the parking deck at the Zoo Transportation Center and other slight traffic pattern changes on Girard Avenue and 34th Street, backups are still a too-often occurrence.

So, with packed roads and less-than-ideal public transit options for Zoo Visitors, where should we look for solutions to the traffic nightmare around 34th and Girard? “Up high” says Kenneth Woodson, Vice President for Community Relations at the Zoo who has been circling around the neighborhood touting a new Zoo community outreach plan, part of which includes the monorail, which if built, would operate on a new line to be built between the Zoo and 30th Street Station, with a possible future extension from the Zoo up Parkside Avenue to the Mann Music Center.

With a high-flying idea like this, you might think Woodson is over-inspired by the runaway success of the Zoo Balloon, which sends huge crowds into the air over the Zoo each weekend. But a recently released study published by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) shows there is some merit to the Zoo’s idea.

In the DVRPC analysis, commissioned by both the Zoo and SEPTA, a 1.5-mile system is envisioned beginning at 30th Street Station and then snaking northward along SEPTA’s Powelton Rail Yard through University City and Mantua before making a stop at the Zoo. An expansion across Girard Avenue, and up Parkside Avenue providing access to the Please Touch Museum and the Mann Music Center “is only a possibility”, says Woodson, but it’s enough of one that conceptual plans for the actual Zoo stop have not been finalized. If the eventual monorail line stops in front of the Zoo, then future expansion north and west would be stymied by the large four track Northeast Corridor Bridge that abuts Zoo’s western boundary. “Going along Zoological Avenue could offer options for an overpass,” explains Woodson.

But those Parkside Avenue options are far-off in potential phase two plans. There’s still much to be decided in the first phase of the project. Two guideway options currently exist, one that stays closer to the rail yard, and another that would stop closer to the existing street grid along 32nd Street. Under either scenario, neighborhood access would be provided by stops at Race Street, Spring Garden Street and on Mantua Avenue. Authors of the study propose that operations be kept “simple, realistic, and easy to understand”, who plan service to operate with ten-minute headways.

While the report authors and Zoo Officials are optimistic about simple operation, much of the monorail concept faces complex questions. What would it look like, and how big would it be? Will residents in neighborhoods with historic character like University City, Mantua, and Parkside support a dual-track modern monorail running down the streets?

Another issue is ridership. If you build it, will they come? In the most optimistic ridership projections provided by the study about 6,000 riders would use the system daily. But that’s only if the system offered free fares. With full-fare added, the daily total of passengers drops to just over 1,400.

The Zoo is also promoting the monorail plan as a way to relieve congestion caused by crowds visiting the Zoo. But even free monorail service is only expected to capture just over 220 riders daily. Most riders using the potential service are forecast to use the neighborhood stops, not the one at the Zoo. Woodson says the Zoo prefers to see the project in terms of “total ridership: how many residents will get to ride and the opportunity for access to other cultural institutions in the area”.

SEPTA, the most-likely potential operator of the system, and one of the stakeholders in the eventual fare decision on the monorail system declined to offer formal comment other than to confirm their participation in the study and to commit to “continue to work with area stakeholders in the future.”

Marjorie Ogilvie, chairperson of the Business Association of West Parkside was one of the first in the neighborhood to learn of the monorail plan and is initially supportive of the plan. “We need more viable direct transportation in this community. What we really need is a train stop [along SEPTA’s Paoli Line] to allow our residents access in and out for work and play. But we’ll support a monorail if that’s what we can get.”

Woodson says additional community outreach events are planned for later this month where he hopes to get more feedback from neighbors as the Zoo plans the next steps in promoting the project. He says that there could be additional benefits beyond traffic relief from this project, adding that “this could be an huge opportunity for economic development.”


Could This Be the New Vision For Leidy Avenue?

by Michael E. Burch

A shot of the front of the Leidy School taken on November 28, 2013.
A shot of the front of the Leidy School taken on November 28, 2013.

It has been one year since Leidy school closed its doors for good as a public school. Leidy had a fifty year lifespan in the Parkside community but last June it lost that life when Leidy became one of 24 schools forced to close by the School Reform Commission. The closing of a neighborhood public school is painful to all involved (including teachers, students, parents and the community as a whole). Leidy is closed and that’s a fact, but what happens now? One result of the closing means that the community is left with a large vacant building in our neighborhood. Vacant schools can quickly become eyesores, and dangerous places. The situation is the same in every community this happens to. The question cries out: whado you do with these old buildings? In the best case scenario you sell these building to interested parties, and hopefully they can start a new life of service. However, it can often take years to find interested and responsible buyers.

In Leidy’s case, however, there is at least one young developer who has an idea, not for the school building but for the land area Leidy currently sits upon. Mr. German Yakubov is a young developer who along with his brother formed Haverford Square Properties a small property investment company working primarily in the Mantua section of West Philadelphia.

The Yakubov brothers began buying, rehabbing and then renting properties to university students along Haverford Avenue. In fact many of their properties still lie in Mantua. After working and going to college in University City the brothers have become very familiar with West Philadelphia, particularly Mantua and University City. Looking to expand their business and grow into a new community Mr. Yakubov was advised to take a look at the Parkside neighborhood.

A rendering of one developers' vision for the Leidy School Property
A rendering of one developers’ vision for the Leidy School Property

His company has already purchased land in our area with the intention to build new homes and stores for residents. Mr. Yakubov has real hopes for continued development in our area, but his real ambitions are directed toward Leidy School or to be more accurate the land it sits on. His company
envisions a triangular shaped, four or five story, mixed use building structure.

The building will have retail space on the first floor levels, and one, two, and possibly three bedroom apartments above. This new building would use the entire perimeter of the Leidy school footprint.

According to Mr. Yakubov “The retail space would be filled with stores that support local residents such as restaurants, barber shops, frozen yogurt shops, or coffee shops; something that complements the residents in the community and the people who live above the retail space. “The proposed structure would have an open courtyard at its center where people could meet after dining, or having coffee at one of the restaurants on the first floor. German Yakubov’s hope is that his building will attract new residents to the area, as well as appeal to current residents. He seeks to attract people who visit the area, but don’t live here. People who visit the Zoo, Please Touch Museum, The Mann Music Center, The Shufuso Japanese House and the other events and
attractions that take place in our area. These individuals visit our area but never cross Parkside Avenue.

Mr. Yakubov;s question is “why not live here in Parkside?” German Yakubov’s hope is that his building will attract new residents to the area, as well as appeal to current residents. He seeks to attract people who visit the area, but don’t live here. People who visit the Zoo, Please Touch Museum, The Mann Music Center, The Shufuso Japanese House and the other events and attractions that take place in our area. These individuals visit our area but never cross Parkside Avenue. Mr. Yakubov;s question is “why not live here in Parkside?”

If things progress the way Haverford Properties envisions, they will have tenants who may be recent college graduates, professionals from University of Pennsylvania, Drexel or even Saint Joseph’s. During my conversations with Mr. Yakubuv he enthusiastically points out all the selling points of our area, easy access in and out, close proximity to City Line Avenue, and equally close to Center City or University City, and we have a new shopping center also. Parkside meets all of the requirements to attract new residents. The proposed plan is bold but with any plan there are problems. If the above shown building is built where is the parking space for the added people? What will the traffic patterns be like during peak driving times? How will current residents fair during such a transition? German has been paying close attention to community residents, and we hope this type of attention will continue throughout the construction process and beyond.

Like any development in our area this is just a proposed plan right now. Mr. Yakubov has not been awarded the project from the city. There are many more community meetings to be held; and I’m sure major discussions with Councilwoman Blackwell’s office before any such project would be allowed to

It’s our understanding that there are least two individuals interested in the Leidy space. Mr. Yakubuv has been the most direct in meeting with community residents, and this project will stir moreneeded development in the area.

It should be noted that on May 6th. 2014 Leidy school was placed on the available school sale list from the City of Philadelphia and given a price tag of 2.3 million dollars. Haverford properties has placed a bid in for the property.

If all goes as the Yakubuv brothers would like, and they do get to purchase the Leidy space, and they get the necessary funding, he sees this as a two year project from breaking ground to finished project.

What do you think of this project, is this something our community wants? Send you comments to The Parkside Journal at:

Parkside Edge Project Update

by Jennifer Mahar

There is exciting news for the West Fairmount Park and West Parkside community! On Tuesday,February 4th representatives from the Fairmount Park Conservancy and Studio: Bryan Hanes presented initial design ideas for a new recreation zone’ and other immediate interventions planned for the edge of West Fairmount Park to a group of key community stakeholders in the Parkside neighborhood.

Fairmount Park Conservancy staff meeting with Parkside stakeholders about the Parkside Edge Project.
Fairmount Park Conservancy staff meeting with Parkside stakeholders about the Parkside Edge Project.

Eight years removed from a Centennial District Master Plan that produced several important changes to the area but few that directly impacted the adjacent neighborhood on a daily basis, the Conservancy believes that the time is right to bring community-inspired changes to the park that will dramatically improve the experience of and interaction with the park among Parkside residents.

This planning work has been guided by a set of principles established by the Conservancy and Studio: Bryan Hanes, namely that the project must benefit the surrounding community, celebrate the rich history of the Centennial District, connect to existing local, citywide and regional assets, and offer diverse programming that provides options for all age groups during different seasons.

  1. With these guidelines in mind, the Conservancy identified and presented five key project areas:A gateway where Girard and Parkside meet that will calm traffic at the corner and provide sculpture or signage that designates the historic area.
  2. Parkside Edge improvements, including a plaza-like edge alongside Parkside Avenue, safer crossing features, and bringing some of the park’s gorgeous trees across the Avenue and into the neighborhood.
  3. A new youth play area near Kelly Pool , which would include a small building with restrooms and other amenities that would be open to the public, natural playground feathers, a spray water feature and a ‘trail of water’ that could be waterplay in the summer and ice skating in the winter.
  4. A creative play area just south of Smith Memorial Arch, which would provide recreation opportunities for kids who are slightly older but are still looking for imaginative play and exercise, potentially with giant swings, climbing walls, climbing nets, hammocks and trampolines.
  5. Restoration of the historic Smith Memorial Arch.

At the February 4th meeting the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society was also on hand to report that they have hired Studio: Bryan Hanes to conduct a planning study for improvements to the once-iconic and long idle Welsh Fountain in front of the Please Touch Museum at Memorial Hall. In addition to hardscape and planting improvements, Studio: Bryan Hanes will be exploring ways to make the fountain functional again. Meanwhile, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation recently scheduled improvements to the Abstinence Fountain located near the Mann Center.

In other West Park news, the Conservancy is now working with an engineering firm to determine why Concourse Lake has been losing water. Knowing that so many residents enjoy Concourse Lake, the Conservancy made improvements to the area surrounding the lake several years ago, installing a native plant garden, signage, walking path, and benches. Knowing that maintaining an adequate water level long-term is key for the health of the thriving local habitat, our current work at the lake will allow us to determine the cause of water loss at the lake and ultimately solve the problem, restoring Concourse Lake to proper levels to ensure that it continues to provides a beautiful visiting experience for both people, birds and other animals.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell at the Parkside Edge meeting at Christ Community Baptist Church
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell at the Parkside Edge meeting at Christ Community Baptist Church

Finally, this we spring will be bringing a fabulous project to communities surrounding West Park. On Saturday, May 10th, the Conservancy will kick off our third annual Love Your Park Week at Parkside Evans. All residents and park user are welcome to join us for a volunteer service day from 9am – 12pm followed by the first ever ‘PUMPJAM’ at the new public Philly Pumptrack from 1pm -4pm.

All are welcome at this event, which will feature demonstrations, raffles, music, giveaways and more, and celebrates the grand opening of Philadelphia’s first pumtrack- the fast-growing attraction in biking among cyclists of all ages.For more information on LOVE YOUR PARK WEEK and the volunteer service day at Parkside Evans, please call 215-988-9334

Fact Sheet: President Obama’s Promise Zones Initiative

excerpt from a January 2014 White House Press Release


Promise Zone Map released by the City of Philadelphia.
Promise Zone Map released by the City of Philadelphia.

For decades before the economic crisis, local communities were transformed as jobs were sent overseas and middle class Americans worked harder and harder but found it more difficult to get ahead.  Announced in last year’s State of the Union Address, the Promise Zone Initiative is part of the President’s plan to create a better bargain for the middle-class by partnering with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety.  Today, the President announced the next step in those efforts by naming the first five “Promise Zones”. 

The first five Zones, located in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, have each put forward a plan on how they will partner with local business and community leaders to make investments that reward hard work and expand opportunity.  In exchange, these designees will receive the resources and flexibility they need to achieve their goals.

Each of these designees knows and has demonstrated that it takes a collaborative effort – between private business and federal, state, tribal and local officials; faith-based and non-profit organizations; children and parents – to ensure that hard work leads to a decent living for every American, in every community.

Philadelphia, PA (West Philadelphia)

The City of Philadelphia’s key strategies include:

  • Putting people back to work through skills training and adult education; classes on small business development to support entrepreneurs; loans and technical assistance for small resident-owned businesses; and the development of a supermarket providing both jobs and access to healthy food.
  • Improving high-quality education to prepare children for careers, in partnership with Drexel University and the William Penn Foundation, through increasing data-driven instruction that informs teacher professional development; developing school cultures that are conducive to teaching and learning; mentoring middle and high school youth with focus on college access and readiness; and increasing parent engagement.
  • Preventing and reducing crime in order to attract new residents and long-term investments, through strategies such as focused deterrence, hot spots policing, and foot patrol. 

Fattah on Promise Zones: It’s not Parkside’s turn

by Manuel McDonnell Smith, Special Correspondent

With a bold declaration that the nation has “cleared away the rubble of crisis” during his fifth State of the Union address, President Obama pledged to refocus his second term efforts on the middle-class and “expanding opportunity for every American and every community willing to do the work to lift themselves up.” He used the rest of the speech to unveil several several initiatives that he plans to use to deliver on that commitment, including the much publicized Promise Zone Initiative.

The initiative, intended to deliver on the President’s promise of a “better bargain for the middle class” pledges investment in partnerships with business and community organizations in twenty designated areas in the nation by 2016. The first five zones were announced by the President just before the State of the Union, one of which is West Philadelphia. There are no specific federal dollars allotted to the execution of the program, but many specific benefits were promised to the area in a White House press release including job training for adults, loans for resident-owned businesses, investment in education, and a focus on the prevention and reduction of crime “in order to attract new residents and long term investment” through hot spot policing and foot patrols.

Quite naturally, interest around federal attention and potential investment directed towards our neighborhood sparked a lot of interest among neighbors when news of the new Promise Zone designation began leaking out, prompting meetings among community leaders and major area institutions about what long-term strategies could be supported by the new plan. But the excitement quickly turned to confusion, and disappointment once maps of the new Promise Zone were released. While the Zone does cover much of West Philadelphia from 30th Street to 47th Street going east and west, and from Market Street to the South, it comes to a halt at Girard Avenue, almost specifically leaving out Parkside and many of the neighborhoods that residents have been working for years to maintain, support, and redevelop.

Given the area’s historical overwhelming support of the President and the area’s federal elected leadership in Washington, The Parkside Journal began looking for answers. We quickly hopped on an opportunity to meet with our local Congressman Chaka Fatta, who was bound to have answers about the Promise Zone and the lack of Parkside’s inclusion in it as a Senior Member of the House’s Appropriations Committee and as lead Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and related agencies.

Parkside Journal (PJ): Congressman, thanks for meeting with us. What exactly is a “Promise Zone”?
Fattah: “One of the things the President asked, last year, for us to do is Promise Zones. The commitment was to do twenty of them, and the first five have been announced. Philadelphia got one of the five nationwide. …..We got one. It is just what is says. A promise zone is around collaboration and creating opportunities around educational attainment for the long term residents of that community.

PJ: And who was it designed to include?
Fattah: It’s everybody from the People’s Emergency Center through Drexel and others who made a commitment to work in this regard, and a lot of work has already happened for at least the last five years. Everything [has been included] from embracing a number of schools there for STEM education purposes.

PJ: Some here in Parkside have feel “left out” of this Promise.
Fattah: With five promise zones in the nation, it dosen’t include everybody. And it doesn’t even include everybody in West Philadelphia. And it wont even benefit everybody in Mantua. It will benefit young people in Mantua, and children in Mantua. It will interrupt the generational cycle of poverty, and hopefully it will create some models that we can use in other places.

Promise Zone Map released by the City of Philadelphia.
Promise Zone Map released by the City of Philadelphia.

PJ: Does that mean that the zone could be expanded to include us?
Fattah: This is in some ways kind of like history repeating itself. You talk about Parkside Avenue. When I started in Congress, we won one of five empowerment zones in the country. We won it for West Parkside. And in what used to be an industrial tract, there now is a major shopping center. It’s got the highest grossing supermarket in the nation, its got a whole set of resources about 400 jobs for people in the neighborhood.

PJ: But this grant specifically targets Mantua. Is your commitment to Parkside still a top priority?
Fattah: I walked along Parkside Avenue 20 years ago when all of those Parkside Mansions were vacant and abandoned. I could show you the pictures on the covers of some publications in Philadelphia, and I said that we were going to re-do [the area]. All of those mansion have been redone, and on the back streets major rehab has been done. You take the Microsoft High School and you go all the way up through to the new Carousel House, The Please Touch Museum which we funded, to the new transportation [center] at the zoo. I could show you that whole area and major transformation has taken place, and at that point Mantua was left out.

PJ: So you’re saying that this time, the attention needs to be focused on another part of the neighborhood?
Fattah: These choices are based on a set of dynamics, and the dynamic here is that for the city to win one of these, we had to make our best case for a neighborhood that life chances were less than they needed to be. Mantua has got a set of challenges, and we were able to make a case that here was palace that the country wanted to indicate that the American Dream, the promise of it, could be made real. And we wanted a very challenging place to make that statement and Mantua fit the bill.

PJ: Congressman, thank you for your time.
Fattah: It has been my pleasure.

Leidy School sits silent for first time in 50 years!

For the first time in its Fifty year history Leidy school sat silent as September school bells rang at nearby schools in the area. For residents it was a little strange to experience the silence and emptiness at Leidy. . The good news is that the school system now has a web site that is up and running that is being used to sell the 27 closed schools. Leidy is among the 27 schools on the site. Some schools on the list have already received attention from potential buyers. University City for example is one such school. Leidy School has also received some attention from at least two developers; where this attention will go is anyone’s guess. To learn more visit the school web at and see for yourself.

A look at how Leidy School is already showing signs of neglect:

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A Community Vision for East & West Fairmount Park

by Andrew Goodman 

I am pleased to give an update on the “Community Vision for East and West Fairmount Park” initiative that was first reported by the Parkside Journal in August 2013. We have been making some great progress, thanks to the input we received from neighbors, park users, and community leaders.

English: "Smith Memorial Arch" (Civi...
English: “Smith Memorial Arch” (Civil War Memorial), North Concourse and Lansdowne Drive, West Fairmont Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1897-1912), James H. and John T. Windrim, architects. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In May 2013, PennPraxis received a grant from the William Penn Foundation to work for Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, the Parks and Recreation Commission, and the Fairmount Park Conservancy to create a “community vision” for the biggest and most signature park space in our city: East and West Fairmount Park. When complete, this vision will be the City’s guide for future decision-making about improvements in the park. For this reason, we want to think big about the future of the park, starting by asking residents how they use the park and how they would like to use the park in the future. We know there have been many “plans” done for West Park, and we hope this can help further elevate community interests.

We have spent the summer and fall learning as much as we can about the park. This outreach culminated in four community meetings we organized to get public input into the process, with emphasis on near neighbors.
Thanks to the great help we received from the community, our public meeting at Discovery Charter School was the best attended to date! Thanks so much to those who helped pull it off: Mr. Burch, Ms. Gomez, Ms. Hudson, the Business Association of West Parkside, Discovery Charter School, and everyone who attended. It was an evening of rich stories and sincere hope for the future of the park.

During the meeting, citizens reviewed our draft “guidelines” of key issues we thought were important that the vision address. These guidelines were:

  • Start by improving how people enter and access the entire park.
  • Protect and enhance all that we already have in Fairmount Park, both natural and man-made
  • Allow people to better enjoy the water.
Help citizens better understand the park and all it has to offer.
  • Improve Fairmount Park for all residents, starting with near neighbors.
  • Make the park safer and more accessible for people walking and biking; reduce the emphasis on people driving.

We received great feedback from residents about what was missing from these guidelines. Some important points that we heard:

  • The park and nearby neighborhoods are linked: the health of one affects the health of the other.
  • Safety must be addressed as part of future improvements.
The Park should serve all ages, especially youth.
  • Don’t plan everything! Part of the park’s beauty is how it allows people to “choose their own adventure.”
  • Community organizations and residents need to be more involved in developing park activities.

We want to make sure we hear you accurately, so please let us know if there is something we are missing. Please call us at 215-746-3849 or you can email at

More project updates can be found on the following website: Full copies of the notes from our public meetings can be found online.