Fishtown: Neighborhood Growing Pains Include Parking Issues

A restrictive parking sign implement on residential block in Fishtown


A restrictive parking sign implemented on a residential block in Fishtown
A restrictive parking sign implemented on a residential block in Fishtown

The recent placement of signs restricting parking for more than two hours rattled neighbors in the Fishtown area of Philadelphia.

As neighborhood residents tried to solve the area-parking problem, the restrictive parking signs have been an indication of a larger change occurring in Fishtown.

Fishtown, once a largely working-class community, has shifted its demographics due to the current revitalization efforts and recent developments of business and housing in the neighborhood.

Comparable to other neighborhoods around Philadelphia that experienced a decline in economic resources, the Fishtown neighborhood, once noted by its shad fishing industry, experienced a decline in population coupled with an increase in blighted vacant properties during the 1940s, largely due to the area’s diminished fishing industry.

Historian John Connors, a former resident of the Fishtown neighborhood for more than a decade, recalled that Fishtown was a very different neighborhood when he first moved to the area in the late 1970s.

Connors mentioned that he moved to Fishtown when he was 28-years-old and bought his first home which overlooked the river for $1,000. Fishtown was not his ideal neighborhood but the cheap homes made the move ideal for him although his parents warned him that it was a bad neighborhood.

With Fishtown’s fishing industry no longer lucrative for the community and the abundance of blighted houses in the neighborhood, Connors said that the construction of I-95 only made the neighborhood worse.

Historian John Connors discussed Fishtown history.
Historian John Connors discussed Fishtown history.

“I-95 knocked a path through the neighborhood,” Connors said, calling that road project a “dagger through the heart of the longtime residents.” The construction suggested to the residents, Connors said, that they were no longer wanted in the neighborhood.

The beginning of the neighborhood transformation can be traced back to Sandy Salzman and the civic organization New Kensington Community Development Corporation. New Kensington is a nonprofit organization aimed at revitalizing Fishtown and the surrounding neighborhoods. Admiringly, Connors mentioned that it was Salman’s vision and determination that allowed the changes in the neighborhood to happen.

Salzman, the executive director of the civic organization, mentioned that revitalization efforts in the neighborhood started with residents in the neighborhood purchasing abandon homes and renovating them with funding help from the Office of Housing and Community Development.

“I paid $1,000 for my property and now place rent for $1,200 a month” Connors mentioned.

Revitalizing the Frankford Avenue Arts Corridor also helped to make the neighborhood more appealing. The main goal for the arts corridor was to make the Fishtown, Kensington and Port Richmond an up and coming neighborhood for artists.

Diana Jih, community relations specialist for the New Kensington Community Development Corporation mentioned that the appeal of a lively commercial corridor attracted businesses and eventually led to residents moving to the neighborhood. It is mentioned in the Frankford Avenue Arts Corridor Plan that, “the commercial corridor’s assets –its buildings, businesses and public spaces –are the things that make the district unique and thus able to make money.”

When the exact change occurred in the neighborhood is unclear but evidence of a change is clear when neighbors are troubled with parking.

Residential permit parking is a common initiative used in metropolitan areas as a tool to create accessible and available parking for residents in a particular densely populated area. The Philadelphia Parking Authority, an organization aimed at managing parking and related traffic issues, provides citizens with the appropriate information to enact restrictive parking for their block.

Charlie McGill, a resident of the neighborhood for more than 60 years who lives on the 700 block of Thompson Street, remarked on the change happening in the neighborhood. “This is what they need [permit parking],” McGill said referencing the limited parking spots in the area. “As you can see, there is no parking right now. I have to park two and three blocks away from my house.”

The advantage of living in an urban area offers many perks, such as accessible transportation, close proximity to goods and services and employment opportunities. With the gleaming prospect of urban living, young, single professionals often times migrate to cities to take advantage of the opportunities.

Maggie O'Brien said that permit parking has been discussed on her block due to the increase in business.
Maggie O’Brien said that permit parking has been discussed on her block due to the increase in business.

Maggie O’Brien, one of the founders and President of Fishtown Action, a civic organization in the community, mentioned that the new found vibrancy of the community has ushered in new restaurants, bars and art galleries. While the new businesses are good for the community O’Brien mentioned there is no parking for patrons adding to the parking problem.

New developments and businesses are constantly coming into the area to add to Fishtown community. Envision Group recently built the IceHouse Complex with 35 residential condominiums, located at the corner of Thompson Street and Columbia Avenue.

Jim Maransky, the developer for IceHouse Complex, mentioned that he chose to develop in the Fishtown area because of it prime location to Center City and accessibility to various transportation routes, which “is next to the 15 trolley and the Market-Frankford Lines.” Taking into consideration the stringent parking problem in Fishtown, the complex has a 32-space indoor parking garage.

“Better planning can help the neighborhood parking problem,” historian John Connors said. “Parking will continue to be a problem for years to come until we come up with different forms of transportation in society.”

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