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 firstname.lastname@example.org