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Frankford Gateway Gets an Urban Orchard

Strong community engagement and planning - including a Design Grant from the Collaborative - laid the groundwork for a volunteer work day to establish an orchard at the Frankford Gateway.

In 2015, the Community Design Collaborative helped residents living north of Lehigh Avenue envision gateways to reconnect their neighborhood to the larger Kensington community. A major focus of the collaboration was the massive Lehigh Viaduct at Lehigh Street and Frankford Avenue, which they called the Frankford Gateway.  

The Frankford Gateway has since been enlivened with a pop-up art installation and LED lighting. In Spring 2017, the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC) and New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) led a crowdfunding effort and volunteer work day to take the Frankford Gateway to the next level by building an urban orchard. 

Spirit News spoke with New Kensington CDC and community leaders at the June 10, 2017 work day. Here's an excerpt from their A Greener Gateway news story: 

Junior Rodriguez has lived on Coral Street in Kensington since 1991. But within just the last few years, he said he’s witnessed the most positive change he’s seen yet. “In two years, they did a lot,” said Rodriguez, a member of the Somerset Neighbors for Better Living civic organization. “Hopefully, it continues like that for another 20 years.”

In 2013, after several years of studies and community meetings, the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) launched its North of Lehigh Revitalization Plan, a multi-year project focused on improving the quality of life for Kensington residents living north of the Lehigh Viaduct, a large railroad trestle located by Lehigh Avenue.

Last Saturday, Rodriguez joined more than 40 other volunteers to “green” three vacant lots along Frankford Avenue near Sterner Street, an underdeveloped area one block north of the Lehigh Viaduct known as the Frankford Gateway. The NKCDC partnered with the Delaware Valley Green Building Council and Apiary Studio, a Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm, to design and execute the project. Residents and businesses raised over $13,000 in funding, according to an NKCDC press release.

During the build day, Rodriguez supervised the construction of raspberry trellises and fig tree plantings on a thin lot stretching between Frankford and Coral Streets. On the opposite side of Frankford, a group of volunteers planted cherry and apricot trees. Others, armed with large buckets, paced across an expanse of grass spreading wildflower seeds and fertilizer. Andrew Goodman, the community engagement director at the NKCDC, said these greening projects work to address a “gap in the urban fabric” created by years of commercial divestment in Kensington.

“It’s much more significant than just looking pretty,” Goodman said. “When greening in this section of Kensington, it improves individual health, it mitigates environmental injustices, it reduces crime. It has so many different impacts than just that beautification.”

John Tracy, the NKCDC’s land use and sustainability coordinator, said the improvements to the Frankford Gateway lessen the Lehigh Viaduct’s divisive effect. Located at the intersection of two Kensington zip codes, the Viaduct currently serves as an obstacle to the bustling redevelopment that has transformed lower Kensington and Fishtown. “The Viaduct creates a barrier between 19125 and 19134, and it’s a massive structure,” Tracy said. “The neighbors really wanted to make the Frankford Gateway a welcoming and vibrant entrance [to] the 19134 area.”

Goodman added that Saturday’s landscape work represented one step in a five-year-long progression of projects targeting the Frankford Gateway. The NKCDC has previously conducted community cleanup days, installed LED lighting underneath the Viaduct and sealed off access to a quarter mile of the railroad to deter criminal activity. “There is never [just] one phase for anything we do,” Goodman said. 

A 2015 conceptual plan by the Collaborative helped the community envision the Frankford Gateway.

Notes from the Field highlights the successes of our nonprofit partners and documents the ongoing impact of the Collaborative's Design Grants. Learn more about the preliminary design services and volunteer expertise contributed through this Design Grant here

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