Close Menu
  • Design grants
  • Housing and community development

Design grants set the stage for Somerset

Orinoka Civic House and the Frankford Gateway Pop-Up take on big neighborhood landmarks in very different ways, but each project has roots in our work with New Kensington CDC and Somerset Neighbors for Better Living to think ahead. 

New Kensington CDC (NKCDC) has been instrumental in Kensington's renewal since 1985. As the once-troubled blocks south of Frankford Avenue took off, NKCDC began to work more closely with community to the north—where drug use and prostitution shadowed the massive Lehigh Rail Viaduct, residents were still battling vacancy and poverty, and the demise of a neighborhood organization had left a leadership vacuum. 

NKCDC established a relationship with this diverse neighborhood through housing counseling, food referrals, tax rebate assistance, and other basics. It also supported the growth of a new community organization, Somerset Neighbors for Better Living (SNBL).

Getting the Big Picture

NKCDC approached the Collaborative to help them move beyond community services to community development. Our Lehigh/Somerset Conceptual Master Plan (completed in 2011 by a volunteer team from Kitchen & Associates) gave NKCDC and Somerset residents their first chance to do some big-picture thinking about the neighborhood. The conceptual plan got community engagement rolling—and helped set the stage for NeighborWorks America funding for the in-depth North of Lehigh Neighborhood Plan by Interface Studio.

This fall, NKCDC and Somerset launched two very different community development ventures—Orinoka Civic House and the Frankford Gateway Pop-Up—with roots in that very first planning effort.

Orinoka Civic House
< >

On October 27th, NKCDC celebrated the groundbreaking of Orinoka Civic House. The five-story former carpet mill was a neighborhood landmark. But it was also a neighborhood danger...“a hiding place and shooting gallery”. Sandy Salzman, executive director of NKCDC says, “We have been dogged in this project… We knew nothing would happen in this neighborhood if something didn’t happen with this building.”

NKCDC is refashioning the heavy timber and concrete bones of Orinoka Mills into 51 units of affordable rental housing and first floor retail. The $17.8 million project marks a turning point for NKCDC too. Its entire staff will move into Orinoka Civic House once the project is completed.

Frankford Gateway Pop-Up
Frankford and Lehigh: The street, viaduct walls, and trestle can all be part of transforming this dark underpass into a neighborhood gateway.

Our 2011 Lehigh/Frankford plan identified several locations for neighborhood gateways.  This year, NKCDC and SNBL asked us to to take that idea further. Volunteers from BWA architecture + planning and ThinkGreen LLC created conceptual designs for two gateways, including the underpass to the Lehigh Rail Viaduct. 

PennPraxis used our work as the springboard for a recent Social Impact Project, one of five implemented this summer by student-faculty teams to produce positive social impact for Philadelphia communities. 

Students created a pop-up installation at the underpass for the neighborhood’s Community Day on Spetrmber 12th. With a power wash, paint, lighting, fabric, a drawing booth, and a really good band, PennPraxis helped residents see the gateway’s potential and share their ideas.  Learn more about this PennPraxis Social Impact Project. 

You are here: Somerset residents add their silhouettes to the viaduct’s freshly-painted walls.


More Info