Along Baltimore Avenue in the Cedar Park section of West Philadelphia a transformation is taking place. The avenue, which is at the center of the community, has begun to go through renovation due in large part to the attraction of new businesses both large and small to the neighborhood. Yet one section of the avenue has not gone through the drastic changes.
The stretch of Baltimore Avenue between 49th and 52nd streets has not gone through much restoration. This area was once a bustling business district. The three-block section was the epicenter of the business community that characterized Baltimore Avenue through the early to mid-1900s. However, by the end of the century the area was merely a shadow of its former glory.
Recently, residents have started to envision what can be done to this section of Baltimore Avenue to restore that former glory. As a response to the community’s concern over what should be done to the area, the Cedar Park Neighbors association has begun the Baltimore Avenue Conversation.
Monica Allison, president of the Cedar Park Neighbors Association, explains what the Baltimore Avenue Conversation project entails. “It’s a conversation with the community to see what types of businesses and other things we want to attract to the area.”
Cedar Park Neighbors is a civic association that addresses the concerns and needs of the community’s residents. Since about 1960 the association has been the voice of the people of Cedar Park. Staying true to its purpose the association began the conversation to address the interests of members of the community.
The conversation began in January through a questionnaire along with a series of workshops that will run through April. At the final community workshop The Community Design Collaborative will present a design draft to members of the community. After the results and ideas have been summarized the collaborative will release a final design draft in June or July.
Allison says, “We are working with The Community Design Collaborative to develop a prospective.”
The Community Design Collaborative is a volunteer-based community design center. The collaborative offers pro bono initial design services to nonprofit associations and organizations. A team of architects, designer and planners takes the ideas of these groups and transform them into a design prospective.
The collaborative is joining the Cedar Park Neighbors at the community workshops to get a general idea of what will be included in the design enhancements that will possibly take place in the three block area.
The conversation will allow residents to have a say in what they want in their neighborhood. Furthermore it will make clear to the Cedar Park Neighbors Association what they should advocate to bring to this section of Baltimore Avenue that has not experienced much renovation.
The conversation is the first step in community development. This is the type of commercial community development that Mayor Michael Nutter is advocating for through the Recovery Projects of Philadelphia. The push for these projects came out of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. The act was enacted by the federal government in February 2009. The Recovery Act offers funds for projects that will help to stimulate the economy.
One relatively new business that is indicative of the types of businesses that benefit the community is Philadelphia Community Acupuncture. PCA, located at 701 S. 50th St. and Baltimore Avenue is a center that offers affordable acupuncture treatment to residents of the community. Acupuncture, which is usually unattainable to the average individual because of high cost of treatment, is offered on a sliding scale of $15 to 35 based on income.
“Philadelphia Community Acupuncture is not a non-profit. Instead it is a sustainable social business model in which funding comes directly from customers & supporters,” Ellen Vincent, Philadelphia Community Acupuncture practitioner, says.
The business, which has been at this location since July 2007, represents the change that is being brought to the community. However, not every resident is enthusiastic about gentrification of the neighborhood.
“I live just off of Baltimore Avenue on 51st street and a lot has changed recently but not necessarily for the better. I think new businesses change the dynamics of the neighborhood and will be the reason that many longtime residents will be forced out,” says longtime resident Dante Brown.
Yet business owners and residents attempt to explain the benefits of new businesses coming into the community.
“I’m well aware that I am a part of the gentrification process that is taking place in the neighborhood,” Community Acupuncture practitioner Korben Perry says. “However, new businesses along with the older more established ones add a lot to the community.”
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