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.” ••