The ‘Model Block’ makes its debut

An "in­ter­act­ive" fence is part of an ini­ti­at­ive to bring new life to East Gir­ard Av­en­ue in Fishtown.

Rep­res­ent­at­ives from NK­CDC, PNC, LISC and loc­al busi­nesses un­veil the ‘Mod­el Block’ and fence on the 300 block of E.Gir­ard Ave. last week. MI­KALA JAM­IS­ON / STAR PHOTO

East Gir­ard Av­en­ue cuts right through the heart of Fishtown — it’s the per­fect thor­ough­fare upon which busi­nesses and res­id­ences can plant their feet, as rampant de­vel­op­ment on Frank­ford Av­en­ue creeps to the east. 

The lo­gist­ics aren’t so simple. East Gir­ard is es­sen­tially a high­way. It’s so wide and heavy with cars that it’s not ideal for foot traffic. There are “gaps,” some say, in the ser­vices offered by busi­nesses there — per­haps un­til now.

Something as simple as a fence, along with re­vital­iz­a­tion to the facades of ex­ist­ing busi­nesses, could be a cru­cial ele­ment in fur­ther de­vel­op­ing the up-and-com­ing Fishtown neigh­bor­hood. 

That’s the hope, at least, of sev­er­al city or­gan­iz­a­tions, in­clud­ing the New Kens­ing­ton Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion. 

NK­CDC, along with the PNC Found­a­tion and the Loc­al Ini­ti­at­ives Sup­port Cor­por­a­tion, un­veiled last Wed­nes­day an “in­ter­act­ive” fence on the 300 block of E. Gir­ard Ave., right next to Street Glit­ter Gal­lery, formerly Push skate­board gal­lery, 306 E. Gir­ard Ave. 

The fence, cre­ated by MAKE Ar­chi­tec­ture + Plan­ning Stu­dio, fea­tures three plat­forms that can be used as shelving or seat­ing, all in the hope that the busi­nesses along the block — Keys to the At­tic, NicNac­s4Pea­nuts, Dash De­liv­ery and Street Glit­tery Gal­lery — will use it to dis­play their wares dur­ing an im­promptu First Fri­day show or side­walk sale. 

Or, res­id­ents can simply gath­er along the fence to sit and chat, or food trucks parked nearby can use it as a space for pat­rons to eat and drink. The whole idea is that the fence is “in­ter­act­ive.” 

The fence is a key fea­ture of a “Mod­el Block” pro­gram de­signed to re­vive the East Gir­ard com­mer­cial cor­ridor. The Mod­el Block pro­gram also in­cludes store­front im­prove­ments to the four ad­ja­cent prop­er­ties on the 300 block of Gir­ard Ave. Those busi­nesses got new sig­nage, new coats of paint and ar­chi­tec­tur­al ele­ments in­stalled to their store­fronts.

NK­CDC calls the goal of the Mod­el Block pro­gram “tac­tic­al urb­an­ism” — com­munity-fo­cused, short-term, small-scale in­ter­ven­tions with real­ist­ic goals.

PNC fun­ded the $98,000 grant for the pro­gram, which went to­ward the East Gir­ard Mod­el Block de­vel­op­ment, as well as 52nd Street in Phil­adelphia, Lawrenceville and Mount Wash­ing­ton in Pitt­s­burg and the Quad Com­munit­ies and Up­town in Chica­go. 

Bri­an Szy­manik with MAKE Stu­dio said that the new fence stands in front of a private yard, so some de­gree of pri­vacy was es­sen­tial. The fence, however, is con­struc­ted of wood slats that let light through. 

“We wanted to keep it more open here,” Szy­manik said. “The prob­lems with Gir­ard are its speed and size. We want to make Gir­ard feel smal­ler.” 

The grant from PNC also provided for a “Store­front Im­prove­ment Menu” de­veloped in part by NK­CDC, which lays out guidelines that oth­er busi­nesses along Gir­ard Av­en­ue could fol­low to keep in step with what Szy­manik called the “lan­guage” of the av­en­ue. 

At the un­veil­ing of the fence last week, NK­CDC ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or Sandy Salzman thanked every­one in­volved in the Mod­el Block pro­gram, and said that de­vel­op­ment will only con­tin­ue.

Said Salzman: “It’s amaz­ing what a coat of paint can do.” 

Kath­er­ine Jen­nings, own­er of Keys to the At­tic, praised the pro­gram as well. 

“This block is go­ing to be a great thing for Fishtown. It’s an an­chor — we have bars and res­taur­ants at one end, [a shop­ping cen­ter] on the oth­er, now we have a middle,” she said.

All in all, it seems Gir­ard Av­en­ue now seems a bit more in­tim­ate, more open to ped­es­tri­ans and those look­ing to re­lax along­side sev­er­al new busi­nesses. 

“These four busi­nesses are go­ing to be a cata­lyst for change here. The gap in ser­vices will be ad­dressed, and make this a great mixed-in­come neigh­bor­hood,” said said Terri Cope­land, vice pres­id­ent of com­munity de­vel­op­ment bank­ing with PNC.

“In­stead of a fence be­ing a di­vide,” Cope­land con­tin­ued, “It’s a bridge.” ••

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