PSA or political billboard? You decide.
The neighborhood Olde Richmond Civic represents is a Philadelphia oddity: a neighborhood that can never agree on its own name. Few people living outside the river wards could identify it for you (I have a map below to help you). Google Maps proudly places large letters across the neighborhood: “KENSINGTON”. But what does Google know?
Some locals refer to the neighborhood (self-included) as a part of Kensington, or Port Richmond, or even Fishtown. Real estate agents sometimes name-drop “Port Fishington” because they gave up trying to figure it out, which native residents now pick-up on as a clue that you may have just recently moved in. Long-time residents refer to a bunch of other names as well, such as Cione, after the rec field on Aramingo; St. Anne’s, after the local parish; or Flatiron, after the galvanizing plants that used to exist here. Interestingly enough, few who live in Olde Richmond actually refer to the neighborhood as Olde Richmond.
Huddled into the now-former Stephen A. Douglas high school which the SDP just recently as a month ago shut down (and is now as of last week converted to a charter academy), consultants from Keating Consulting working on the Wynn project flipped through PowerPoint slides while over 200 people stuffed into a cafeteria with failed air conditioning looked on. After questions mostly centering around the design of the property, ORCA then chose to take a vote to gauge neighborhood sentiment over the proposal and the results were probably the loudest ever in support of the Wynn project:
191 in favor, only 20 opposed.
Interestingly enough, the Wynn design is the lowest-rated of all 6 casino proposals, according to the Design Advocacy Group, a planning group that tries to instill better thoughtfulness in designing private and public space. Last night the first signs that Keating and Wynn might finally consider taking a fresh look at their plans were dropped on the crowd: “there’s some ‘wiggle room’ to change things”.
That’s probably good news to CDAG, the Central Delaware Advocacy Group whose own waterfront master plan was approved by Philadelphia City Council. CDAG hasn’t been happy with the generic motif-less design of the casino, or the ocean of parking that swallows up much of the surface area of the site. Wynn Resorts has a carbon-copy of the same generic plan proposed for its Everett, MA casino site. Voters in the Massachusetts town there also voted in favor of Wynn.
So if the design isn’t all that great, why isn’t there any NIMBYism?
ORCA residents definitely have a large reason to say yes and it shows in the voting. The last time a casino was proposed close to these parts the noise and pitched activism battles over the simpler topic of just having any kind of casino (then Sugarhouse) close-by was ferocious in neighboring Fishtown. During that fight Sugarhouse was far enough away from ORCA that the neighborhood took a back seat, grabbed popcorn and watched as activism turned into legal action and a PA Supreme Court appeal and at the end of all the rancor the final result: court-ordered gaming.
But something changed. It may be residents are resigned to casinos or don’t feel they are such the spooky threat as originally feared. For the closest neighbors, the reason to support the casino has less to do with what is going on inside the property as what will happen outside the property; ORCA finally gets what is arguably “public” space in the form of its own riverfront access and park.
There are no public squares or parks in ORCA’s boundaries. Sure, residents can walk over to Fishtown or Port Richmond, and they often do, but many don’t.
Some new privately-owned green spaces appeared after giant lead refineries and galvanization plants in the neighborhood shut down to turn Aramingo Avenue into a surburban-style auto-oriented commercial area. Greensgrow Farms, a city-block sized urban nursery, community kitchen and CSA and one of Philadelphia’s largest success stories with Superfund sites is one of the more widely-known businesses within ORCA.Even with Greensgrow, Olde Richmond is a neighborhood most Philadelphians outside the area don’t recognize, or could even point to where it is on a map. There is no great public square with park benches and places to relax a short distance from home. The river is an overgrown barren wasteland cut off from the neighborhood by I-95 and owned mostly by Andersen Construction, who has been speculating on the land forever, along with a private investment shell company State Senator Mike Stack is connected to. The current use of the land? Mostly illegal shit, like riding ATVs, teens dragging kegs of beer and having parties.
Many ORCA residents have concrete-capped back yards due to toxic levels of lead contamination out of a settlement agreement with the neighborhood’s largest lead refinery and the neighborhood still has the highest lead soil concentrations within Philadelphia. Soil contamination is probably also present at 2055 Richmond as well, which residents expect to be gone as part of the site prep if Wynn Resorts gets the gaming license.
If Wynn gets the license, Wynn’s backyard will suddenly become the public square for the Olde Richmond neighborhood. Cumberland Street is the only pedestrian connection linking rowhouse neighborhoods directly to the Wynn property.
Open, lead-free, and beautiful unadulterated views of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
For a neighborhood that can’t ever agree on what to call itself, suddenly having a signature “Wynn” name-plated tourist attraction with a pedestrian connector to a coveted waterfront park on the Delaware River is certainly a change that piques interest to park-starved residents.
Not only that, we’re talking privately-managed quasi-public space. That means no homeless people (sorry Occupy tent farm), bad behavior won’t be welcome, and there will be plenty of activity facing the waterfront behind the casino, such as concessions and possibly other amenities. And dogs? Yes, you can take your dogs to the riverfront, says Keating Consultants. These features, while irksome to some, could draw in plenty of others seeking a “managed” environment such as this along the water.
This almost seems too good to be true.
And in the end, it might turn out that way. Even though the Bart Blattstein-themed Provence casino has no registered community organizations speaking out in favor of it or any of the other competitors for the license for that matter, or the “A”-rated Market East casino getting rave design reviews, and all three South Philadelphia casinos generating negative hubbub over stadium + casino congestion, the neighborhoods bordering Wynn Philadelphia’s site all coming together to say “yes! we want it!” might just be what ensures the Wynn proposal’s demise.
This is Philadelphia after all. We’re a city of fairly low expectations.
The six gaming applicants find out late this fall who will win the coveted license. For the river wards of Philly, the neighborhoods have all their chips down on Wynn.
In today’s Philly Post, Maya K. Francis takes on anti-development attitudes with gusto. First:
“This is ‘Northern Liberties,’ I said,” with cynical air quotes. “This is actually North Philly, too. But it’s been rebranded for the developers and hipsters.”
“And the white folks. Yeah, I see now.”
Yeah… the white folks.
Northern Liberties has existed long since Philadelphia annexed it in the Great Consolidation of 1854. A consolidation that was brought about due to rioting between Irish Catholics and Protestant Nativists and in the name of preventing ethnic cleansing, but really using it as an excuse to start capturing taxes of all those people living just outside Vine and Pine, Philadelphia was made co-terminus with its county. Northern Liberties (the town) became Northern Liberties the neighborhood.
But wait, it gets better:
Efforts to “revitalize” areas affected by poverty often result in the unfair and uncomfortable displacement of long-term residents. Gentrification often results in increased rents, property taxes and real estate. Development coincides with affluence — or perhaps more accurately, the perception of affluence, as commercial development seldom follows people of color — as seen in kitschy new neighborhoods like Newbold within Point Breeze or the ever-expanding “University City.”
It’s way more complicated than this. Long-term homeowners simply just don’t flee en-masse when gentrification sweeps over an area. Those who rent do see rents rise. Sure, some homeowners are tempted by the gains in equity. Others still will tap into their equity and take out new mortgages against their property and many others still will simply sit on the gains. Overall, the neighborhood gains.
As for non-profits? 10.8% of all otherwise taxable land in Philadelphia is already swallowed up by non-profits. That puts tremendous pressure on the remaining land in Philadelphia that is privately owned and taxable.
10 of the largest landowners in Philly are all non-profits.
And among the largest philanthropy organizations, the William Penn Foundation is busy destroying an arguably black institution in Philadelphia: the public school.
So tell me Maya: who do you prefer to put the squeeze on to pay for your interpretation of shared prosperity? The City made it clear it wants to capture the increase in property values the city has experienced in places with the Actual Value Initiative.
And finally, this drivel:
The cultural impact of this is burdensome, leaving the identities of city neighborhoods neutralized, if not outright destroyed as communities are renamed and each corner becomes littered with cliche.
Would Maya ever dare write this same sentence in the defense of what Nicetown looks like right now, marred by the empty space left by NTI-funded bulldozers?
Something tells me she would if she saw white people there.
This little something popped up on the Twitterverse:
Hmm it looks like just some ol’ blotter. But wait…
It’s not just any old Twitter blotter feed. The bot is smart enough to compare crime reports and arraignment dockets together to see if they are related. If they are, the crime bot tells you who the police arrested for a particular crime that happened at that location. (And of course, an arrest is no indication of guilt.)
RWCW is the River Wards Crime Watch, the local townwatch organization covering Fishtown and parts of Kensington.
When I think of what Pennsylvania has to be proud of… I look at this video:[iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/AQakPtOQCJo”]
He’s Mark Kessler, and he’s Chief of Police in Gilberton, PA.
Since the whole field of candidates to replace Mayor Michael Nutter is total shit right now, we could do with some fine entertainment. Milton Street, won’t you please run? Pretty please?