Where we last left off with some of the year’s biggest stories…
What a year it’s been! Here’s a look back at some of the top reports of 2019, updated with the latest info for that pleasing “fresh news” scent. This December retrospective includes links, videos, infographics and all the text we edited out to fit the paper edition.
Dog Park Survey Says…! (January 11, 2019)
Off-leash play for pups? Yes please! East Falls has been crying for a dog park for years, and last January the generous folks at NewCourtland/Innovage Senior Services gathered representatives from three neighborhood groups for input on a public dog park they’d be building in the last stage of construction for their senior residential complex on Henry Avenue (East Falls Forward passed along survey results from 100+ members). This November, they invited the same groups back to unveil their design, provide a timetable and answer any questions.
View the plans at nwlocalpaper.com and meanwhile please let’s stop calling it the “East Falls Dog Park” – it’s actually in Allegheny West (across from Mimmo’s) and, also, it will serve more than just our community. Let’s try to share! How about just “Henry Avenue Dog Park?” Doesn’t that sound nice and inclusive?
Truth Be Told (February 27, 2019)
This winter we were glued to Gtown Radio every Wednesday afternoon for “The Missing Branch,” a spirited show hosted by our favorite local disruptor Lawanda Horton Sauter and her smarty-pants husband Henry Sauter. The two tackled a grab-bag of community and political issues, but really hit their stride when they turned their focus inward, toward their personal experiences moving to Germantown from New York. They were featured on BillyPenn.com, and our transcript of the show is still getting traffic.
Alas, the show ended its run this summer. Lawanda, however, has been more visible than ever as an advocate for voter education/registration/participation. She even opted to close the Germantown Avenue office of her non-profit consulting company, Mission Incorporated, so she could focus on fieldwork. “There has never been a more important time to examine our role as citizens in securing the kind of future we all want to see, “ she said.
Hello Again (March 25, 2019)
Annnnnd goodbye. Remember that “little free food pantry” outside the Bulogics/StratIS office on Midvale? The one that was bolted down after a good Samaritan found it on Craig’s List following its sudden disappearance one night? And restored everyone’s faith in humanity? Yeah, well it walked off again this summer. Sigh.
Ironically, StratIS is a global leader in security – for wireless technology, though, not curbside furniture. Still, it’s worth noting that this November, Google Nest launched a pilot program with StratIS because their systems are so tight and hackproof. CEO Felicite Moorman says she hopes whoever wound up with the cabinet got what they needed, adding that it’s not easy to find indoor/outdoor cabinets that size.
Caught in the Act (April 5, 2019)
Facebook blew up early last year with news that historic Germantown High School – and its sprawling green grounds in the heart of the neighborhood — had sold for a mere $100,000. District Councilmember Cindy Bass first pretended she’d been blindsided, then readjusted her position to admit that she was long-time besties with the developer’s attorney. The cringe-worthy video that accompanies this meeting recap includes booing, shouting, accusations… and promises by leadership to provide full transparency and community process. So where are we with that?
This summer, GUCDC knighted POWER Philadelphia to coordinate almost 50 local organizations into a dizzying array of committees who were supposed to be reporting back to the community at monthly public meetings. As far as we could tell, though, they just kept having the same meeting over and over: committees introduced themselves and what they felt their responsibilities were.
In September, the Germantown Fulton Campus Coalition (a Facebook group) announced they’d be sharing the first draft of a Community Benefits Agreement. Instead, the meeting was just like all the other meetings, except at this one we were asked to put our camera away (we didn’t) and the moderator chided unnamed committee members who apparently had been going rogue with the Developers. There was a Steering Committee meeting October 22nd, but no further meeting announcements or activity on either of three Facebook groups set up for this development.
Double Play for The Falls (April 15, 2019)
A month before spring primary elections, 4th District Councilmember Curtis Jones announced to our cameras at Murphy’s Irish Saloon that he was providing a quarter of a million dollars to both McMichael and Mifflin playground projects. Curtis went on to handily win his seat again, earning nearly 90% of the vote this November.
Both playground committees have reported updates on their Facebook pages:
McMichael Park’s “Activate McMichael Playspace” (not to be confused with the “Friends of McMichael Park”) announced in July that the $250,000 from Curtis will fund Phase One of the Natural Playspace plans you can view on mcmichaelplayspace.com (this first part of construction includes the North Pod, near West Coulter Street). They’re looking forward to a Spring 2020 groundbreaking and future fundraising for Phase Two, which includes lighting, seating, a sensory garden and more. Follow them on Facebook.
Mifflin School’s “Friends of Mifflin” is leading fundraising efforts for the school playground, pledging $10,000 and ramping up efforts to raise $60,000 by the end of the 2020 school year, they announced this fall. Mifflin teachers and students have pledged an additional $5,000.
So far the FOM has not shared any actual details with the public regarding this project or budget (just some renderings and general whereabouts “by the gym, visible from Conrad”). In April they published plans for a million dollar renovation, the first phase in a $1.9 million project initiated by EFDC, with experts from the Community Design Collaborative & Jefferson College of Architecture. At that time, their fundraising goal to break ground Spring 2020 was $99,000 — $60,000 for the playground and $30,000 for landscaping. However, now the target amount appears to have been reduced considerably (to $60k).
So many questions! Does this mean there will be no landscaping? What exactly is being built? Can we see the plans? What’s the protocol for a community playground on public school grounds? Who can use it and when? Why does a financially-strapped public school serving an under-resourced demographic have to shake down its own body so their kids don’t have to play on a treeless asphalt lot? What the hell, East Falls?
Two Timer Trish (May 25, 2019)
That title raised a lot of eyebrows but East Falls’ most lovable artist Trish Metzner just rolled with it. “You guuuuys!” she laughed when she saw her headline. But we’d used up all our tile puns when she won the first time. This year on top of the global accolades for her spectacular mosaics, she also scored a huge donation. And by “huge” we mean both in value and also in volume.
A famous tile company donated six tractor-trailer’s worth of tile – high-quality pieces in every color and design. It’s truly spectacular to see, like a football-field stacked waist-high with boxes topped by a single tile for identification. It’s like a giant mosaic of art waiting to be born! Trish has big plans for it, too – can you imagine a “Tile Mile”?! Oops, we’ve said too much. Trish can fill you in on Facebook or join one of her workshops/projects on madeinmosaic.com for more scoop how we can help her make NW Philly sparkle.
GSSDone (July 7, 2019)
Germantown did it. In a move described as a first in Philly history, business owners here in successfully blocked the reauthorization of the community’s Special Services District, a municipality in charge of taxing commercial property owners for supplemental trash collection services. Except in Gtown, such services were not provided and furthermore there seemed to be some serious shadiness going on.
Perhaps we’ll know more soon. This September, City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart announced the department is auditing GSSD, a move that Councilperson Cindy Bass (who appointed GSSD’s Board and staunchly defended it throughout all the backlash this summer) told the Inquirer she welcomes to “clear the district’s name” as she prepares to unveil a “new chapter” soon.
Meanwhile Ken Weinstein and other Gtown property owners have been meeting to discuss a Business Improvement District to handle the corridor’s trash problems. This would basically be the same thing as GSSD but instead of a Board appointed by Cindy, it’s elected by other property owners.
Maplewood Stall (September 6, 2019)
Folks were skeptical back in September. But then this November — after an awkward walk-thru with Mayor Jim Kenney – construction trucks showed up and began clearing out the first of 37 old/sick/infested trees that will need to come down for the renovations. They’ll be replaced by 39 trees, 67 shrubs and all kinds of landscaping: grasses, flowers, groundcover, bulbs, etc.
The quaint old (cracked/chipped) bricks will be going, too. No worries! The area will be refreshed with a new brick walkway with plaza seating and integrated public installation art reimagining an historic lumberyard as a public meeting space. The artist’s vision includes “planks” of colorful tile molded to look like aged wood. Whorls and knots in the tiles will become silhouettes of the people of Germantown captured in automated pictures at upcoming community events.
We found the artist’s presentation at Vernon Park’s Community Flea Market this October kind of interesting, but is anyone else a little disappointed the lead artist is a white woman who doesn’t seem to live in the area?
Meanwhile, near neighbors have launched a Cease and Desist petition, citing lack of community process. They kind of have a point – in 2013 when Cindy Bass first proposed revitalizing Maplewood Mall, the community was asked to consider three different themes: Reimagined Lumberyard, Contemporary Play and Sleek & Modern. The first meeting, about 60 neighbors came out to hear about the plans. There do not seem to be any reports of any second meetings or community votes. Soooooo… Lumberyard it is!
More importantly, nearby residents have no timelines, no plans for construction parking and material storage, or communication structure for road closures, utility outages and other expected inconveniences. They have questions, “But good luck getting answers from the City,” some guy said to us in passing. The Mall really needs a Makeover, people seem willing to look the other way.
Mr. Market (October 25, 2019)
East Falls flipped when news spread this fall that the old Tilden Market had sold to a neighborhood guy with big dreams to make an old-school corner store happen here again. Ed Lampe’s “NouVaux Market” has sailed through the first round of City inspections and is now open for groceries! Fresh fruit, canned goods, dairy – they even carry soy milk.
While the store’s got plenty of staples, Rodney the manager is gradually rounding out his inventory based on neighbor requests. Stop in with your suggestions or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Up next for NouVaux: coffee, Lotto and deli (which require special certifications, currently underway).
Rage Against the Machine (November 3, 2019)
This November, the angry Caucasians (mostly) who dogged and jettisoned GSSD took direct aim at Cindy Bass with a video that called out her failures and promoted challenger Greg Paulmier. Despite vigorous support in certain parts of Germantown, Cindy easily held her 8th District Council seat with more than 80% of the vote. You’d think that would be enough to quash her critics but, if anything, a resistance seems to be growing and branching out across traditional racial lines.
Councilmanic prerogative is a thing in Philadelphia – our District Councilmembers receive literally millions of dollars in discretionary funds for their district every year. Every public land deal in their boundaries is theirs to orchestrate. They can pull laws out of their butts if they want.
Imagine if our Councilmembers allowed constituents in on this power! A voice in budgeting, development, community resources… With transparency and democracy, Councilmanic prerogative could ensure jobs and affordable housing far better than any “Community Benefits Agreement” ever will.
The people don’t want to take your power, Cindy. We just want a say in how you use it. Count on more neighbors with cameras showing up at your meetings. More recaps with tough questions crowdsourced from social media. And a smarter, feistier 8th District on your hands.
How fitting that we’re heading into 2020 – and seeing more clearly than ever. Here’s hoping your third term will redefine your political legacy and set new standards for openness, engagement and accountability. You got this, if you want it (we really hope you do).
Happy Holidays to our favorite people ever: our readers!
YOU’RE INVITED for free food, drinks & surprises December 12th at our cozy new office at 245 W. Chelten Ave. We’ve got some big announcements for the New Year, and unique opportunities to share the best our neighborhoods have to offer. Follow us on Facebook for Fun and Festivities all season.