Patterned in pink and perfumed with newly planted garden greens, Frankford Pause Park is not something you would expect to see placed in the hub of a commercial corridor. Positioned adjacent to the Arrott Transportation Center on Frankford Avenue in the lower-northeast neighborhood of Philadelphia, the eye-catching park is hidden in plain sight.
“I would see people come by, and I don’t think they recognize it as a public space at first,” Kim Washington said, executive director of Frankford Community Development Corporation.
Since the first phase was completed in 2017, the unique design and color (always pink) have had travelers flocking to check it out.
Located on the small 4600 block of Paul Street, Frankford Pause Park is at the center of a neighborhood with a rich economic and cultural history. The once industrial powerhouse of Frankford has steadily been reduced as manufacturing jobs have left the area.
“One of the things that we’re big on as an organization is not necessarily trying to change a neighborhood. [We] take from a neighborhood what people know and are familiar with and are comfortable with. But how do we incorporate the old with the new?” Washington said.
The initial step toward the park was in 2013 when Destination Frankford, an arts-based plan that was included in the city of Philadelphia Planning Commission’s 2035 plan, was announced. The plan called for upgrades that would help integrate the artisanal history of Frankford at stops along the Frankford Avenue corridor. By adding new wayfinding signage and improved lighting, the goal was to pull as many people off the L as possible. The scope of the redevelopment project expanded to 4667-69 Paul St. once Frankford CDC identified a vacant building to be used for a pop-up art gallery.
“I think the original plan was to pretty much activate the space (the art gallery) to get people to have a reason to come to Frankford,” Washington said.
In the past, the structure housed a dress shop but then sat empty for decades.
“So at the time, this building was in pretty bad disrepair,” Ellie Devyatkin, the commercial corridor manager for the Frankford CDC, said. “There were a few minor improvements made to make it safe for the art gallery installation downstairs. But it was still basically a shell that was structurally safe enough for people to come into.”
The art gallery proved to be a success for Frankford early on as it highlighted local artists and presented a space for residents to have community block parties. But the Frankford CDC didn’t stop at the Daral building.
To this point, the street had only one permanent tenant, the Frankford Beverage Distribution at 4655 Paul St. The other lots were vacant and rundown or, in the case of the lot to the right of the Daral Building, a site for dumping debris and trash. The issue became a little more serious when, because of no running water in the Daral Building, visitors to the art gallery would have to use portable toilets in the side lot. Washington said at first they would partner with the city in trying to keep it clean, but it wasn’t working.
“People would come down to see this really cool like art gallery showcasing, and then they would have to if they needed to use the bathroom pretty much go on the vacant lot with all the trash,” Washington said.
Washington also grew up in Frankford and said that during a meeting with the planning commission, she was embarrassed over the site of the lot.
Put even more bluntly, Devyatkin said the site was turning into an eyesore.
Partnering again with the city and other nonprofits, the Frankford CDC secured approval to transform the lot into a multiuse public space.
“There have been multiple initiatives in the past that have looked at things individually, like lighting, art, wayfinding, etcetera,” Tya Winn, executive director of Community Design Collaborative, said.
The Community Design Collaborative canvassed the space and highlighted the position and size of the space as having the ability to accommodate multiple functions.
“It was really important to Frankford CDC that those pieces sort of be brought together around a plan that makes sense but also addresses some greater community concerns,” Winn said.
The Park was completed in two phases starting in 2017. The pilot phase cleared the site of debris and transformed it by retrofitting the space with grass and facade upgrades. Toward the back of the space, designers planned out a stage that would be used during events.
Part of the pilot phase included studies being conducted by Community Design Collaborative and Frankford CDC that aimed to identify community suggestions for what they wanted to see added to the park. The final design incorporates those suggestions. The park will include more garden beds, three sculptural benches, and a 135-square-foot climbing wall that is due to be finished by late spring 2022.
For the multiple phases, Frankford CDC has received funding with the help of local politicians like Councilwomen Maria Quinones-Sanchez and State Rep. Jason Dawkins in conjunction with various state of Pennsylvania’s agency’s grant programs. The total cost of the project was around $325,000, according to the Frankford CDC.
“These project awards were all a result of applying for one of the Department of Community & Economic Development’s grant programs,” Allison Brubaker, deputy communications director of Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development, wrote.
As the park nears completion, it is clear that the project has gained enough enthusiasm from residents and local leaders to warrant further efforts to revitalize Paul Street. However, Washington and Devyatkin were quick to point out how important neighborhood pride is, and for many, they evoke a feeling of nostalgia.
“Our vision as an organization, which is really about not necessarily changing things ourselves, but empowering people to take part in a change or affect community ownership,” Devyatkin said.
Pause Park falls under what the Frankford CDC calls “Reimaging Margaret-Orthodox,” in order to highlight the terminology Frankford citizens use when talking about the area around the Paul Street projects. The name is a reference to the former transportation hub’s name, known as the Margaret-Orthodox stop, which changed once SEPTA announced a $25 million project to upgrade the station in 2009.
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