Since the founding of the New Kensington Community Development Center in 1985, the Kensington community has seen many changes as a result of projects the organization was involved with. In recent years NKCDC has taken an aggressive approach to making the neighborhood look better.
“We do everything from organizing street cleanings to turning abandoned factories into low-income housing,” said Tom Potts, neighborhood advisory committee director at NKCDC.
Potts grew up in Kensington and now expresses much pride in how he has been able to give back to his community. He, along with other staff members, organize many of the projects NKCDC takes on in Kensington. Potts said he is passionate about making Kensington a better looking neighborhood.
One of the major success stories that NKCDC can tell is its help with the creation of a public skate park at Pop’s Playground, a playground that NKCDC helped restore after years of deterioration and absence of maintenance. By hiring professionals, organizing resident volunteers and gathering funds, including a $10,000 donation from the Tony Hawk Foundation, the NKCDC was able to help bring a skate park to the neighborhood. The skate park replaced what was formerly a hockey rink that was in undesirable condition. Since its grand opening on July 25, 2009, the skate park has been kept in good shape. Now on most days you can walk by, where Potts said used to be a high drug trafficking area, and see local youth practicing their skating.
Recognized with a Preservation Achievement Award in 2006, NKCDC spent a year renovating an abandoned factory that stood from Kensington’s historical industrial days. Known as the Coral Street Art House, this former factory now houses residents and caters to low-income residents. The revitalizing of the building was possible partially by volunteer work by neighboring residents, some of which even provided input which influenced the interior design of the building. The renovation was funded by multiple organizations and businesses as well as low-income and historic tax credits.
“I feel like more neighborhoods need skate parks, its keeping kids busy and they’re not out doing bad stuff,” said Antwane Blagmon, an amateur skater who said he spends a majority of his leisure time using the skate park at Pop’s Playground.
In its mission to giving Kensington a better look, NKCDC has approached the community with an offer to help make the neighborhood look better one front door at a time. NKCDC has been working with Kensington residents to take advantage of the state funded Elm Street Program. The program offers to pay for 75 percent of façade work to improve the front of homes, as well as 100 percent of infrastructure improvements such as sidewalks and street trees out front of homes.
The mission doesn’t stop with public or residential improvements in Kensington, NKCDC helps businesses within the community by providing them with direction. At 2033 E. York St. stands Leotah’s Place, a vibrant café that sought and received the assistance of NKCDC. The sidewalks surrounding the corner coffee shop are clean and lined with benches and the store front is neatly decorated.
“They moved us in the direction to get a grant by the city after we were opened, that helped get our grates fixed,” said Brittany Lewis, owner of Leotah’s Place. Lewis also said that the NKCDC has provided Leotah’s Place with advertising with the surrounding businesses.
Potts said that NKCDC likes to see good business open up in the community, as it helps Kensington look more attractive.
Furthering their attempts to enhance the physical appearance of Kensington, NKCDC has turned vacant lots, once considered an “eyesore” according to Potts, into maintained fields of grass.
Along with their mission to give Kensington, as Potts said, a face-lift, NKCDC is heavily focused on environmental activism. Kensington High School has been split into four buildings, each with a particular academic focus. NKCDC was involved in the opening of the newest branch of the school, Kensington High School of Creative and Performing Arts. This building is the first leed platinum public high school in the nation, running entirely off of self sustainable energy and equipped with grass and gardens on the roof tops.
Potts said that NKCDC believes in brightening up Kensington, and this concept was taken quite literally when the organization approached businesses in Kensington about installing energy-efficient and cost-effective HID bulbs for pedestrian level lighting along Frankford Avenue. NKCDC was able to get 11 businesses, covering a five block stretch, to install light fixtures that automatically turn on and off at dusk and dawn each day. NKCDC believes that the lighting of the neighborhood not only makes the community look better but it provides a sense of security at night.
Although the NKCDC symbol can be seen on many of its successful projects, not all residents are fully aware of the organization’s activism in the community.
“Yes I have seen their office on Frankford Avenue, I think they deal mostly with welfare programs,” said Andrew Jarmaluke, a lifetime resident of Kensington.
“A lot of people don’t realize the opportunities that are available to them, which is why we find them and let them know,” said Potts when explaining how NKCDC locates homeowners who are in danger of losing their home to foreclosure and offers them help with keeping their home.
When pursuing these various projects around the city, NKCDC also employs the neighborhood. When a project is ready for action, such as sidewalk repaving, NKCDC puts the job up for bid. Often these bids go to local businesses that have less travel expenses and can offer lower prices. By giving local businesses work NKCDC effectively puts money into local circulation.
Potts said that in tough economic times organizations like NKCDC have a difficult time pursuing their mission, but he insists that doesn’t stop NKCDC. Receiving 83 percent of their funding from grants, Potts said that NKCDC just works harder when times are tough but the funding is always there.
From multiple houses with new façade improvements to Pop’s Playground, Kensington has seen some changes in appearance recently, and according to Tom Potts there is still much to be done and NKCDC is seeing that it does get done.