If there’s one thing the New Kensington Community Development Corp. (NKCDC) wants you to know it’s the fact that it’s an exciting time to live in the evolving neighborhood of East Kensington. The organization has emerged as an important fixture in the area ushering in important and effective community programs. Now the NKCDC is partnering with the local real estate development firm Postgreen to provide eco-friendly, affordable homes in this working class section of North Philadelphia.
“We aim to make positive changes in residents’ lives through a multi-faceted approach to community organizing,” says Kevin Musselman, NKCDC’s community relations specialist.
In every sense of the word, NKCDC’s outreach and programs are multi-faceted. It is a leader in community revitalization and development, turning abandoned buildings and vacant lots into creative, artistic and useful venues.
The Coral Street Arts House, on the corner of Hegert and Coral streets, is one of NKCDC’s real-estate development establishments. It is an attractive and affordable residence for artists, housed in a renovated textile mill.
Anyone who makes a quick tour around the area the organization deemed “New Kensington,” known traditionally as Kensington, Fishtown and Port Richmond, also reveals an abundance of vacant lots.
The NKCDC stakes the claim on being the first community in Philadelphia to utilize the management of vacant land as a revitalization strategy. They team with city, state and federal agencies to breathe new life into the area.
Many of the lots have been converted into unique community gathering places like the official Garden Center that has been constructed on the corner of Frankford and Berks. The Garden Center sells low-cost plants, gardening supplies, and is used as a site for gardening workshops. In fairer months, the community garden is filled with a variety of vegetables and herbs.
The NKCDC Neighborhood Plan deems the section of Frankford Avenue that crosses its service area as the Arts Corridor, which they’ve achieved through various beautification initiatives, murals and art projects.
All of NKCDC efforts funnel into making Kensington a sustainable, attractive and healthy place to live. Six main focuses characterize their efforts: “greening, recycling, energy, water conservation, transportation, and buy local, grow local.”
“Intuitively people have been more open and interested in being green. [NKCDC efforts] fit so well because it’s an evolving neighborhood, a lot of people are moving here,” says Musselman.
Green Blocks is an innovative strategy of NKCDC involving households in an effort to make 19125 the most sustainable, “green” zip code in the city. The three initiatives for the year 2010 include building green community structures, an alternative transportation campaign, and smaller “resident-driven” activities that make the neighborhood healthier.
Businesses, community residents, and both nonprofit and for-profit organizations have partnered with the NKCDC to aid them in their efforts. These organizations include Greensgrow Farms, Philly Tree People and Postgreen.
Greensgrow Farms has exemplified urban farming and been recognized as a national model. It provides a convenient outlet to the neighborhood for fresh and local food. Philly Tree People have planted over 300 trees on the streets of “New Kensington.”
But perhaps the most ambitious of the organizations is Postgreen.
The socially conscience property developer has succeeded in building what they dubbed the “$100K House.” The home is “the first LEED Platinum, single-family home in Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania,” says Chief Marketing Officer Nic Darling.
Following the company’s pillars of “People, Planet & Profit,” the organization sets out on an experiment to find out if it were possible to build a modern green home for an affordable, and yet profitable, price. The product of the efforts is a comfortable, contemporary and eco-friendly home, built for just under $100 per square foot.
“It’s fairly uncommon in the market sector that we’re aiming at, which is young working class, working professionals,” says Darling.
Current ventures under development include “Skinny Project,” three, side-by-side homes on the same block as the flagship $100K House, as well as “Passive Project,” a pair of Net Zero Energy loft town homes just down the street.
The NKCDC has directly partnered with Postgreen for a third project, tentatively called “Awesome Town,” which hopes to attract to the area an eclectic variety of interested customers with varying incomes.
“We’re working with them to do a 14-unit housing project,” says Musselman. Four of the units will be low income, sold at cost and without government subsidies.
“What the NKCDC project does is it allows us to do a mixed income project, which allows us to access an even greater cross-section of economic backgrounds,” says Darling.
As activity and development persist in the area it is clear that the neighborhood is onto something. A local priority for sustainable initiatives is attracting interested Philadelphians. The working relationship between the NKCDC, its commercial partners and involved residents is transforming this neighborhood into an innovative stand out not just within the city but now regionally as well.