Northeast Times

Neighbors fighting for Emerald Street Park, again

Res­id­ents in East Kens­ing­ton are once again fight­ing to save Em­er­ald Street Park, which has been tar­geted for de­vel­op­ment sev­er­al times in re­cent years.

East Kens­ing­ton is a neigh­bor­hood without a park.

Well, not an of­fi­cial park, any way.

Non­ethe­less, neigh­bors have taken gaps left by the col­lapse of in­dustry and dec­ades of blight and turned them in­to lush pock­et parks, gar­dens, and com­munity gath­er­ing spaces.

One of the biggest and longest last­ing of these un­of­fi­cial parks is the Em­er­ald Street Park, a space that once hos­ted about nine row homes at Dauph­in and Em­er­ald streets.

And while the park has evolved in­to a well-main­tained com­munity meet­ing place over the last 15 years, res­id­ents are learn­ing the hard way that the dif­fer­ence between an of­fi­cial park and un­of­fi­cial park is a cru­cial one.

For the third time in two years, nearby res­id­ents and the East Kens­ing­ton Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation are fight­ing to keep Em­er­ald Street Park from be­ing broken up and sold to de­velopers.

It’s a costly, nerve-wrack­ing or­deal for the cash-strapped non-profit, which works to ad­dress va­cant land and pro­mote the gentri­fy­ing neigh­bor­hood, among oth­er things.

And with the rising prop­erty val­ues of Fishtown and North­ern Liber­ties spill­ing over in­to East Kens­ing­ton, Em­er­ald Street Park has been sub­ject to in­creas­ing de­mands for de­vel­op­ment. 

In 2009, 2303 Em­er­ald St. was forced in­to a sher­iff’s sale by a real es­tate de­veloper. When that lot came up for sale on the pub­lic mar­ket in 2010, Jeff Carpin­eta, pres­id­ent of the East Kens­ing­ton Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation, reached an agree­ment with the own­er, took out a mort­gage, and pur­chased the par­cel.

Last winter, the ad­ja­cent lot, 2305 Em­er­ald St., was forced in­to sher­iff’s sale by the same de­veloper.

EKNA scrambled to delay the sale through Coun­cil­wo­man Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez’s (D -7th dist) of­fice. With the help of about 100 res­id­ents, EKNA and the New Kens­ing­ton Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Corp. raised $8,650 to pur­chase the prop­erty at the sher­iff’s sale.  The NK­CDC cur­rently holds the title to that lot.

The latest battle cen­ters on 2315 Em­er­ald, a lot the cur­rent own­ers are look­ing to sell — something neigh­bors fear could lead to a home be­ing built on the site.

Over the last month, Carpin­eta and EKNA have been on an ex­haust­ive cam­paign to raise funds. With about two weeks left be­fore the sale date, they’ve raised roughly half of the $34,000 needed.

While there is no pur­chase con­tract in place, Carpin­eta said the own­ers of the prop­erty have been gen­er­ously work­ing with the com­munity.

Even if EKNA wins this fight and raises enough money, the park re­mains vul­ner­able to sim­il­ar scen­ari­os in the fu­ture.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port on the lack of loc­al parks pub­lished by EKNA, Core Re­alty pur­chased four lots at the cen­ter of the park through the city’s Re­devel­op­ment Au­thor­ity in 2005.

Two oth­er plots at the north end of the park are held by ab­sent­ee landown­ers, and are tax de­lin­quent. 

“It would be an in­cred­ible strain on the com­munity to have to ac­quire these prop­er­ties at sher­iff’s sale,” states the re­port, which was re­leased in May. “Such a pur­chase would re­quire sac­ri­fi­cing the en­tire EKNA budget ded­ic­ated to street clean­ing, chil­dren’s work­shops, land­scap­ing and tree plant­ings, com­munity events, and oth­er activ­it­ies.”

Still, Carpin­eta said Core Re­alty has been open to help­ing pre­serve the park­land, and the city is work­ing to pre­vent the tax de­lin­quent lots from go­ing to sher­iff’s sale. 

To Carpin­eta and oth­ers fight­ing to pre­serve Em­er­ald Street Park, the ef­fort is an im­port­ant part of bring­ing pro­tec­ted green space to this formerly in­dus­tri­al neigh­bor­hood.

“Pub­lic, lush green spaces were nev­er part of the neigh­bor­hood plan,” said Carpin­eta. “But, a healthy, happy neigh­bor­hood needs both de­vel­op­ment and green spaces.”

Today’s park evolved out of an anti-blight ef­fort tar­get­ing the burned and aban­doned homes that once lined the 2300 block of Em­er­ald Street. 

In 1996, through a pro­gram run by the Pennsylvania Hor­ti­cul­ture So­ci­ety, res­id­ents cleaned and greened lots throughout East Kens­ing­ton. Us­ing the col­lec­tion of lots at Em­er­ald and Dauph­in streets — just across the street from what is now a the Em­er­ald Street Urb­an Farm — res­id­ents in­stalled benches and planted trees to cre­ate a “neigh­bor­hood oas­is.”

And, Carpin­eta said, it was through the work of res­id­ents that the park was main­tained.

It’s not main­tained un­der the city’s De­part­ment of Parks and Re­cre­ation, he said, and all pro­gram­ming — Em­er­ald Street Park hosts mu­sic­al per­form­ances, vari­ous classes and art events as well as a re­cent wed­ding — is sched­uled by loc­al res­id­ents.

Oth­er pub­lic spaces in East Kens­ing­ton in­clude Pop’s Play­ground and a play­ground on Hagert Street, both mostly paved spaces — Pop’s is a skate­board park, play­ground, dog park and activ­ity cen­ter.

“Neigh­bors cre­ated this green space with their en­ergy, their hearts and mostly, their own budget,” Carpin­eta said.

And this year, loc­als have been likely been do­ing more work than ever be­fore. The city trimmed about $420,000 from its budget by cut­ting the Com­munity Land­Care Pro­gram, which en­abled groups to tend about 2,400 va­cant lots.

Yet, EKNA has kept the Em­er­ald Street Park a clean, green won­der­land in an oth­er­wise com­pletely urb­an en­vir­on­ment. And Carpin­eta said the idea wasn’t simply to keep a park open for loc­al use, but to cre­ate a place for fam­il­ies and chil­dren — a place where fu­ture gen­er­a­tions can re­lax and play in nature.

“It’s a place where the com­munity can re­charge their bat­ter­ies,” he said. “But, it’s not just about our good times. It’s about the com­ing gen­er­a­tion … Oth­er­wise, no one has really pro­tec­ted a site [in East Kens­ing­ton] for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

EKNA is gath­er­ing funds now, and Carpin­eta said he hopes the neigh­bors can save the place.

EKNA has a dona­tion pro­gram set up to help the com­munity pur­chase the lot. If suc­cess­ful, Carpin­eta said, sup­port­ers would set up a com­munity-based non-profit group to hold the title to the lot un­der the aus­pices of EKNA.

If you’re in­ter­ested in help­ing sup­port the park, vis­it www.EN­KA.org/dona­tions to learn more about the park and how you can help.

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215 354 3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com. Bri­an Rademaekers can be con­tac­ted at 215 354 3039 or brademaekers@bsmphilly.com

Note: This art­icle was up­ated with ad­di­tion­al in­form­a­tion from the NK­CDC and EKNA.

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