Brewerytown park gets new spark

Vet­er­ans Me­mori­al Park on Gir­ard Av­en­ue is look­ing a little green­er these days.

Vet­er­ans Me­mori­al Park at 31st and Gir­ard, Monday, Ju­ly 4, 2011.

It might have taken some time, but thanks to help from res­id­ents, the Fair­mount Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion and the Pre­ser­va­tion Al­li­ance of Great­er Phil­adelphia, Vet­er­ans Me­mori­al Park at 31st Street and Gir­ard Av­en­ue is a now a lush green place.

Re­becca John­son, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Fair­mount CDC, said the renov­a­tions to the park took more than three years, and they still aren’t fin­ished. A fence and new flowers will be placed there be­fore the work is com­plete.

Last Monday, a free jazz con­cert was held in the newly re­done park, in­vit­ing res­id­ents to take in the new patch of green.

“We are really happy that this is hap­pen­ing,” said John­son. The park’s state wasn’t be­fit­ting the memory of the vet­er­ans, she said.

The park had once been a trash-strewn plot of land, filled with graf­fiti, but, through state dol­lars and funds provided through Vi­tal Neigh­bor­hoods, an ini­ti­at­ive of the Pre­ser­va­tion Al­li­ance, the park has seen a monu­ment re­stored and the in­stall­a­tion of a plaque ded­ic­ated to the vet­er­ans of all wars. There is also a new flag and flag­pole as well as newly in­stalled benches.

Around the peri­met­er of the park, trees have been planted to act as a nat­ur­al fence.

Mark Smith, a mem­ber of Fair­mount CDC’s Clean Streets team, now cleans the park reg­u­larly.

“We wanted to make it more of a mil­it­ary garden,” she said.

However, this pro­ject was only one of many the Fair­mount CDC is work­ing on as part of Vi­tal Neigh­bor­hoods.

Through this pro­gram, the Fair­mount CDC ren­ov­ated a com­munity garden at 29th and Harp­er streets.

On the 900 block of North 26th Street, the CDC is work­ing with res­id­ents there to im­prove the facades of homes as well as re­pair side­walks and do land­scap­ing.

John­son said the pro­gram works to pre­serve com­munit­ies that are the “back­bone of Phil­adelphia,” neigh­bor­hoods that aren’t the most high pro­file, well-off areas, but are stable middle-in­come com­munit­ies.

In places like Fair­mount and Brew­erytown, the pro­gram helps to sup­port and grow com­munit­ies where there is activ­ity, but a little ex­tra help could make it even bet­ter.

“It’s the idea that you need a chiro­pract­or in­stead of a back sur­geon,” said John­son.

Amy E. Mc­Col­lum, Vi­tal Neigh­bor­hoods in­ter­im pro­ject dir­ect­or for the Pre­ser­va­tion Al­li­ance, said that Vi­tal Neigh­bor­hoods, which works 15 com­munit­ies throughout the city, is a way to sup­port over­looked com­munit­ies that might not be able to oth­er­wise se­cure fund­ing for loc­al im­prove­ment pro­jects.

“We fo­cus on pro­jects the neigh­bor­hood would want to see done,” she said, not­ing the group tends to im­prove neigh­bor­hoods “block by block.”

“We want people to walk onto a block and say ‘Wow, there’s something go­ing on here,’” she said.

The funds come in three forms: grants of up to $30,000 for lar­ger pro­jects, up to $5,000 for smal­ler pro­jects and “ser­vice grants” that run between $15,000 and $20,000.

While the pro­ject fund­ing goes dir­ectly to sup­port plans that will im­me­di­ately im­prove com­munit­ies, Mc­Col­lum said that the ser­vice grants are for design ser­vices, in or­der to cre­ate de­tailed plans.

Cur­rently, a ser­vice grant is be­ing used to help plan­ners design im­prove­ments to the ex­ter­i­or at Bache Mar­tin School at 22nd and Brown streets. Im­prove­ments are also planned for the school’s cross­walks, en­trances and play areas.

“These are im­port­ant neigh­bor­hoods,” said Mc­Col­lum. “A lot of these neigh­bor­hoods know something needs to hap­pen in the neigh­bor­hood, but they don’t know what.”

Point­ing to the Bache Mar­tin plans, which could be presen­ted as soon as mid-Ju­ly, Mc­Col­lum said by pre­par­ing pro­jects through the ser­vice grants, com­munit­ies can go to con­tract­ors or de­velopers to im­ple­ment plans at a later date, be­cause the design work is already done.

“They can just say “We’ve done all of this already,’” she said.

Much of the work be­ing done throughout the city by Vi­tal Neigh­bor­hoods is cur­rently un­der way. Some of the pro­jects were sup­posed to be com­pleted already — like the Vet­er­an’s Me­mori­al, which was sched­uled to wrap up last sum­mer — but Mc­Col­lum said the Pre­ser­va­tion Al­li­ance only took over Vi­tal Neigh­bor­hoods in Feb­ru­ary.

Be­fore that, the now dis­solved Neigh­bor­hood­sNow com­munity group handled the ini­ti­at­ive.

Still, Mc­Col­lum said the groups in­volved are mak­ing steady pro­gress.

As for Vet­er­ans Me­mori­al Park, John­son said the fi­nal touches of the park’s renov­a­tion — a new fence and newly planted flowers — should be in place by the end of the month.

And, al­though the pro­ject has taken time, John­son said through Vi­tal Neigh­bor­hoods, neigh­bors are com­ing to­geth­er and work­ing to­geth­er in co­oper­a­tion on their own blocks.

“It’s really been great for old and new res­id­ents to get out and meet each oth­er,” she said.

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­ 

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