The 900 block of New Market Street typified what much of Northern Liberties looked like.
On this one small block, there was a mixture of old row homes occupi0d by longtime residents of the area mixed in with newly constructed condominiums occupied by renters attracted by the gentrification of the neighborhood.
During the day, this working class street was desolate aside from the occasional professional dog walker leading a four-legged charge. In this animal-loving community, dogs almost outnumbered their human companions.
In addition to residential houses, there was an empty fenced-in lot with overgrown weeds, suffering from lack of upkeep. Against the fence was a receptacle filled with excrement; the odor permeated the air, while the pops and beeps of engines from the bridge created the soundtrack for the 900 block of New Market Street.
The lot, considered a vermin-infested eyesore by residents, was owned by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Longtime Northern Liberties resident Carol Oleksik has lived on the 900 block of New Market Street for more than 25 years. She was only one of many neighbors livid over the conditions of the vacant lot across from her house.
“I live across the street. If I want to open my windows, the stench is horrible. Some of these people are pigs, they will not clean up,” said Oleksik, who is a dog owner but refuses to walk her dogs in the lot due to its unsanitary conditions.
Between late 2011 and early 2012, Matt Ruben, president of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, headed a meeting for the neighbors of the 900 block of New Market Street to brainstorm ideas for the future of this “blight on the neighborhood.”
Ruben has been a resident of Northern Liberties for over 12 years. He has served as president of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association from 2002-2006 and from 2008 to present. NLNA has served the needs of the residents of Northern Liberties for over 30 years.
PennDot came through once or twice a year to maintain the lot, Ruben said. The transportation company has been through a few times and replaced the padlock on the fence after neighbors complained the lock was cut and people were using the lot. Neighbors had cut the lock either to walk their dogs through the lot or simply mow the grass.
Aside from the poor conditions of the lot, a sudden surge in temperatures attracted non-residents to the local nightlife, which brought the need for additional parking to the forefront once again. This year, 26 businesses in Northern Liberties signed on to participate in First Friday events, which take place the first Friday of every month.
Some ideas for use of the lot included a dog park, a green space with or without a parking lot or a memorial to a local resident killed overseas.
“They ruled out a dog park. I was adamant about that. We have two dog parks,” Oleksik said.
There was a dog park located at New Market and America streets and another at Second and Poplar streets both within a few blocks of 900 New Market.
Ruben said the dog park idea was more like shorthand for green space and people wanted to at least have accessible space.
The problem with putting in a parking lot would be an increase in traffic, which could be avoided by making the lot permit parking to be used by the residents, Ruben said. Permit parking is issued by the Philadelphia Parking Authority would give residents access to parking on their street as long as they have proof of address.
“They voted on either a green place like with trees and a bench or subdividing it for some people to park–which would be fabulous,” Oleksik said. “Even if I had to pay $20 or $30 a month, it’s better than a $75 ticket every time I park.”
Oleksik obtained 22 signatures from residents of the 900 block of New Market Street on a petition to get permit parking on their street, but no specifications have been made to create a parking lot with permit parking.
No final decision had been reached in terms of what the neighbors want to do with the lot.
“Once a consensus is reached, Northern Liberties Neighbors Association will go to PennDot and elected officials to make it happen. We can then draw up a site plan, a blueprint laying out what the space would look like,” Ruben said.
One more round of discussions would move things forward, Ruben Said.
Charles Metzger, community relations coordinator, said PennDot had planned to go out on June 11 to mow the lot.
Elaine Elbich, project manager for the I-95 Project, said this area was part of improvement project for the Girard Avenue interchange and was needed for equipment until the project is complete. Once completed, community groups can put in an application to lease the space.